Defra minister George Eustice has pledged to examine archives that could reveal how much the government knew about the impact of organophosphate (OP) sheep dip on human health.
But he said studies had already shown it was clear that low-level exposure to OPs did not have a long-term impact on adults, although acute poisoning could have longer term effects.
Mr Eustice was speaking after meeting a group of campaigners who want government recognition that their ill health was caused by OP sheep dip before the products were withdrawn in the 1990s.
Campaigners from the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group outlined their concerns to Mr Eustice at a meeting in London on Thursday (19 November).
Mr Eustice said: “I am sympathetic to farmers suffering from ill health and acknowledge that some of them associate their illness with the use of organophosphate sheep dips.
“The use of organophosphates is controlled to minimise the risk to humans and safety advice has always been based on the latest available scientific evidence.”
Mr Eustice said the government had commissioned £4m research into the issue – and the Committee on Toxicity had looked at the matter exhaustively over the past decade.
“The use of organophosphates is controlled to minimise the risk to humans and safety advice has always been based on the latest available scientific evidence”
George Eustice, Defra
Its conclusions were clear, he added.
“Low-level exposure to organophosphates does not cause long-term health affect in adults. However, acute poisoning can, in some cases, have longer-term effects.”
Mr Eustice said he recognised that the findings had been questioned by OP campaigners – many of who have suffered from long-term physical and mental health problems.
He said: “There was concern expressed about the evidence and knowledge that the government of the day had before deciding to discontinue compulsory sheep dipping so I have given an undertaking to look at our archives from that time.”
The Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group said OPs have had a devastating impact on farmers and farmworkers involved in disease control.
It is campaigning for the release of documents which may show that the health effects from dipping sheep is not a “belief” but a long-established medical fact.