9 June 1995

Anger flares in dip


Can sheep farmers ensure their stock is protected from scab and other diseases without risking their own health? The dilemma was discussed at a London seminar organised by the NFU and the British Medical Association. Liz Mason reports

SHEEP dip sufferers clashed with manufacturers representative Roger Cook during an often acrimonious debate.

Mr Cook, director of the National Office of Animal Health, was interrupted by shouts of "absolute rubbish" when suggested the lesson to be learnt from a recent study, which found evidence of nerve damage, was the lack of protective clothing used by sheep farmers.

He was also laughed at when he suggested farmers should continue to have a choice of products. But Elizabeth Sigmund of the South West Environment Protection Agency drew applause after she called for any product, causing the symptoms seen by OP dip sufferers, to be withdrawn until proper tests had been carried out.

She also challenged Mr Cook to provide evidence that the three OP compounds used in sheep dip formulations did not cause nerve damage.

Only last year Mr Cook told farmers that it was possible that under certain conditions they could cause damage and they should use respirators, she said.

Collective advice

Mr Cook said the advice given over the years was "collective advice" given by various safety experts. "All we can do is update advice as information becomes available and that is what has been happening," he said.

But in a voice cracking with emotion Brenda Sutcliffe, responded by telling Mr Cook, that her family was very badly affected by sheep dip in 1982. Blood tests showed they had been affected but she knew there was "something dramatically wrong with my family". In an angry and tearful outburst she attacked Mr Cooks attempts to persuade farmers that this "bloody stuff" was safe to use.

Vera Chaney of the SAFE Alliance said farmers dipping 800-1000 sheep a day found it impossible to wear the right protective clothing and work at the rate they needed to.

"If you find you are not able to wear the necessary protective clothing for any industrial operation then you shouldnt be carrying out that operation.

"You should be looking for an alternative way of doing it," said Mr Cook.

Alan Dalton of the Transport and General Workers Union said his trade union, which represents agricultural workers, wanted OP chemicals banned. "We are going to get these things banned. This is just a battle in the war against pesticides," he said.

Shouts of rubbish were also directed at NFU policy director Ian Gardiner when he described OPs as "a set of compounds which are very useful in sheep farming". He said people needed to be reminded that many NFU members, "a silent majority" had used OPs for years and did not have health problems.

He said it was not his role to demand a ban. That should be done by the governments advisory committees. "It is improper to ask an association of farmers whether they want a chemical ban or not. They do not have the expertise. They are not experts," he told delegates.

Kept in touch

John Thorley, National Sheep Association chief executive, said the group had kept in touch with the OP debate regularly. The issue was discussed at every council meeting.

"One of the worries we have is that if OPs are removed then the armory we have left is extremely limited. That is our problem and that is a very serious dilemma," he said.

Roger Cook…farmers should have a choice of products.

Elizabeth Sigmund…challenge to prove OPdip compounds are safe.