DEFRA is threatening to cut short the UK’s most comprehensive research into the effect of organophosphates on health.

The £750,000 study, which is halfway through its four-year term, could be terminated early due to concerns voiced by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

It says that the lack of a farmer control group jeopardises the validity of the research – but the project’s principal investigator, Sarah Mackenzie Ross, from University College, London, claims that such a group is impossible to find.

“We cannot find enough farmers who have never been exposed to OPs – we have put forward a lot of other rural workers as alternatives but the VMD is just nitpicking over everything we’re doing,” said Dr Mackenzie Ross.

“This is very important research – it’s much more detailed than anything that’s been done before and will filter through into future government policy-making. I can’t believe they’re looking to shut us down halfway through the data collection.”

The research team has spent the past two years recruiting 160 working and retired farmers in the South West and North of England exposed to OPs, and is seeking to put together a similar group of unexposed workers to act as a control.

It is now visiting farmers for a day of psychological testing, blood testing and interviewing, to see if some people are more vulnerable to the effects of OPs than others.

Dr Mackenzie Ross is meeting with DEFRA and the VMD this week to learn whether the research will be allowed to continue.