Sheep farmers may be forced to use organophosphate sheep dips this spring after the Veterinary Medicines Directorate suspended the sale of cypermethrin-based products.

The immediate suspension, not considered to be permanent, is based on evidence presented to the VMD that cypermethrin dips pollute the environment through watercourse contamination.

Farmers holding stocks will still be permitted to use them, but the marketing suspension will continue while the manufacturers provide further assessment of the environmental risks.

They are also to make recommendations for risk management strategies to reduce the risk to the environment.

It is not clear how long this process will take.

Once this information has been received, the VMD will assess whether the additional controls proposed will enable farmers to use these products in a manner which is acceptable for the environment.

The proposed controls will be considered by the stakeholder group set up jointly by the VMD and Environment Agency to consider the problem.

National Sheep Association chief executive Peter Morris said it was frustrating to see cypermethrin suspended and called on the government to fund research into alternatives.

“It’s disappointing that the government has withdrawn it.

It’s an important tool for treating scab and other tick related problems, but we understand the need to investigate any environmental damage,” said Mr Morris.

He added: “If the government is going to suspend products then they should fund research for suitable alternatives to protect the welfare of the sheep which is similar importance to protecting the environment.”

A spokeswoman for the National Office of Animal Health was keen to remind farmers that there are alternatives to dips.

“There are a number of alternatives available to sheep farmers including pour-on solutions.

We hope the information we receive will allow the resumption of their use just as long as farmers follow best practice guidelines.”

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk