Newly elected Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts has written to UK minister of state for farming George Eustice, backing calls for an independent inquiry into the compulsory use of organophosphates (OPs) sheep dips on farms.
Farmers were previously required by law to dip their sheep with OPs in order to control infestations of sheep ectoparasites, however, mandatory dipping came to an end in 1992 amidst growing concerns over the impact the chemicals were having on farmers’ health.
“Successive UK governments have denied they knew of the dangers of OP exposure,” said FUW animal health and welfare committee chairman Dr Catherine Nakielny.
“However, the FUW now understands that numerous government documents, including some revealed under the freedom of information act, have revealed that officials were privately warned of the dangers farmers faced through exposure to OPs.
“By failing to provide adequate advice and health warnings to those who were mandated to dip their sheep, successive governments effectively increased the exposure of tens of thousands to a dangerous chemical.”
Dr Nakielny said that while compulsory OP dipping was a valuable tool in the fight against parasites such as the sheep scab mite, the apparently blasé attitude of past governments to a chemical the 1951 Zukerman Report had warned should be labelled as “Deadly Poison” had led to the unnecessary exposure of entire families.
“Dipping on a family farm meant all hands on deck, with children and adults all pitching in without any idea of what they may have been exposing themselves to,” said Dr Nakielny.
Speaking in parliament last month, Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, called for a full inquiry, independent of DEFRA, to question why farmers might have been compelled to use OP dips with no guidance if governmental research pointed to health impacts.
In response to the debate the minister of state for farming, George Eustice, told MP’s that he was sympathetic to farmers suffering from ill health and he acknowledged that some of them associate their illness with the use of organophosphate sheep dips.
In his letter to George Eustice, FUW President Glyn Roberts said “As you will be aware, numerous peer reviewed scientific publications have now demonstrated a credible link between the use of organophosphate sheep dip and producer ill-health. To date, several hundred farmers from across the UK have cited debilitating health problems from exposure to organophosphate concentrates which occurred during the then Government’s compulsory dipping programme.
“We now believe the evidence supporting the establishment of an independent inquiry into organophosphate poisoning is incontrovertible and would urge you to support the widespread calls for such an inquiry.”
“We must congratulate Ms Morden and all others involved in bringing this debate to parliament and calling for an inquiry. We very much hope that government will give this topic the attention it truly deserves,” added Mr Roberts.