7 January 2000

Mass OPwithdrawal is taking shape

PESTICIDE manufacturers are finalising arrangements for the mass withdrawal of organophosphate sheep dip from farm suppliers and distributors across Britain.

But chemical firms and farmers have warned that it will be difficult to abide by a government-imposed deadline and withdraw all OP dips by the end of this month.

Junior farm minister Baroness Hayman announced the product recall before Christmas after her advisors said OP containers posed a risk to farmers.

All OP-based dips will be recalled until the introduction of new containers to minimise operator exposure to OPs, she said.

Many sheep farmers blame the dips for causing chronic ill-health, including muscular malfunction, depression, mood swings and memory loss.

The Pesticide Trust, which has campaigned against the current practice of using OP to dip sheep, said it welcomed the withdrawal of the products.

But the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH), which represents chemical companies, voiced dismay that all OP dips must be returned before Jan 31.

Roger Cook, NOAH director, said it was seemingly impossible for farmers to return all stocks to distributors who would then hand them back to manufacturers.

"The withdrawal will cause a logistical nightmare," he said.

Mr Cook said the withdrawal of OP dips will "effectively introduce a ban" by removing all stock from the market before better containers can be developed.

Some farmers, however, have warned that some diseases in sheep could spiral out of control if OP dips are permanently withdrawn from the market.

They believe that OP dips are the most effective weapon against sheep scab.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said sheep farmers would now have to choose from a more limited range of products.

"We are particularly concerned that these requirements should not compromise animal welfare especially for those treating animals in the short term," he said.

However, Mr Gill agreed that OP dips should be withdrawn until better containers are found to reduce the health risk to farmers from OP spillages.

But he said it was deplorable that the industry was given only until the end of January to implement the governments ruling.

"We are concerned that this is too short a period to ensure full implementation," he said.

The NFU has urged pesticide manufacturers to improve the design of their containers as soon as possible to comply with the governments demands.