9 July 1999

Be safe and dont panic over OP dips

By Emma Penny

FLOCKMASTERS worried about last weeks report into effects of organophosphorus sheep dips on human health are urged not to panic, to take safety precautions when handling dip and to consider alternative options if concerned.

The Institute of Occupational Medicine report, commissioned by MAFF, says that ill health in some sheep dippers surveyed was due to low-level exposure to OP sheep dips (see News).

In the study, the main source of OP exposure was found to be contact with concentrate sheep dip; OP-related health effects were found most clearly among those who handled concentrate.

Flockmasters who feel unwell after dipping should visit their doctor as soon as possible, says NFU policy advisor Peter Rudman.

"But not all GPs will recognise the symptoms – if you believe its due to exposure to pesticides you must tell them that. Take background information and copy of the product label if you suspect thats whats affecting you."

According to the National Office of Animal Health, OPs account for 25% of sheep ectoparasite products sold, with sales rising this year, says NOAHs Steven Dawson. "A ban on OPs isnt imminent; its something the Minister for Agriculture will decide after consulting expert committees."

But National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley warns that any move to ban OP dips would be a concern for the sheep industry. "We would need an alternative product to protect sheep and their welfare."

Speaking to FARMERS WEEKLY, Mr Dawson said he had not yet seen the full report. "We dont know whether the people surveyed in it were wearing full protective clothing or not. However, trials before OP products were licensed show that where recommended precautions are taken, exposure is minimal."

Label recommendations are that dippers wear non-lined synthetic rubber gloves in a heavy gauntlet style, which are made from nitryl and are at least 300mm (12in) long and 0.5mm thick, says Mr Dawson.

"Wellies, and nitryl or pvc coat or bib apron and trousers must also be worn while dipping. In addition, wear a protective face mask while handling concentrate, and ensure you deal with it in a well ventilated area."

Agreeing with that advice, Mr Thorley says the reports information is nothing new, and urges producers not to panic. "Take a balanced approach. Read and obey the label on dipping products and wear recommended protective clothing.

"Many producers choose OPs because of their persistence, but if you know you have a health problem with OP dips, choose an alternative product."

According to SAC vet specialist Brian Hosie, dipping is the best option for controlling scab and lice, with the only dip alternative to OPs being synthetic pyrethroids. "The crucial message is that you must have a plan of how you will control scab.

"If you dont want to dip, injectible products are available, and are becoming increasingly popular."

Its vital to dose to the heaviest sheep in the group, and to ensure all sheep are treated. Where you are relying on injectibles, an untreated animal, or a scab infected sheep coming on-farm will act as a reservoir of infection for the rest of the flock," he warns.