21 February 1997

Hogg says OP dips safe if instructions on label followed

By Tony McDougal

FARM minister, Douglas Hogg, has reiterated the governments long-held view that organophosphate sheep dips are safe when used in accordance with manufacturers instructions.

Accepting recommendations made by the veterinary products committee last March, Mr Hogg said there was no scientific justification for withdrawing OP sheep dips from the market if sheep dippers followed makers instructions.

And he stressed that OP dips should retain their pharmacy and merchants listing rather than being classified as prescription-only medicines, to prevent further outbreaks of scab in the UK flock.

But the VPC has recommended a series of changes involving sheep dips, including:

lThe extension of the certificate of competence to include users as well as buyers of OP dips.

lThe simplification oflabelling of OP dips.

lA review of non-OP dips within a year.

lA mechanism for informing water regulators on the use and disposal of sheep dips.

lChanges to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons code of conduct to state OP sheep dips should only be made available to clients holding certificates of competence.

Roger Cook, director of the National Office of Animal Health, which represents dip makers, said the VPCs recommendations were "entirely in line with the recommendations which we submitted to the VPC last spring". And NOAH welcomed them unreservedly.

The advice was widely welcomed by the National Proficiency Tests Council, responsible for issuing the certificates of competence, and the Environment Agency, which said there was currently no liaison with farmers over the disposal of sheep dips.

But campaigners, who have highlighted the dangers of OP dips to human health, and farm workers leaders, attacked the statement, saying it was a mass of contradictions.

Elizabeth Sigmund, chairman of the OP Information Network, said it was bizarre that the government should declare OPs safe and at the same time back VPC recommendations for further basic toxicity research, extra clinical studies and the need to look at further forms of protective clothing.

Barry Leathwood, Transport and General Workers Union agricultural spokesman, said there was plenty of evidence to show the only way farm workers could protect themselves from OP dips was to wear chemical warfare style suits.

"I would say to the VPC members, come out and dip sheep in such a suit and work hour after hour. It simply cannot be done," he said. &#42