george-EusticeGeorge Eustice © David Hartley/REX Shutterstock

Defra minister George Eustice has set a date to meet sheep dip sufferers who say their lives have been ruined by exposure to organophosphates.

Mr Eustice will meet a group of MPs and farmers who are campaigning for an independent inquiry into organophospate poisoning on Thursday, 19 November.

A venue is yet to be confirmed but 10 MPs and as many as eight sheep dip sufferers are expected to meet Mr Eustice for 45 minutes in London.

See also: Minister agrees to meet sheep dip campaigners

The meeting is the latest development in a campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group, which wants government recognition that farmers were poisoned by OP sheep dip.

It follows a 30-minute Westminster Hall debate on the issue, which was led by Newport East MP Jessica Morden, earlier this year.

More than 500 people believe they were poisoned by OP sheep dip when it was compulsory to use the chemicals before the requirement was withdrawn in 1992.

They include Ms Morden’s constituent Stephen Forward, from Undy, who started dipping sheep at the age of 17 on his father’s farm in 1979.

During the Westminster Hall debate, Ms Morden told fellow MPs that Mr Forward spent seven hours a day, twice a year, dipping 350 sheep during the 1980s.

She said: “Almost immediately he started, Stephen began to get flu-like symptoms, which progressively got worse, eventually leading to chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Physical symptoms meant Mr Forward could no longer work on the farm. He also developed mental health problems, including depression, said Ms Morden.

There was “absolutely no doubt” that Mr Forward’s illnesses could be attributed to using organophosphate sheep dip, she said.

Mr Eustice responded by saying he was sympathetic to farmers suffering ill health.

But he said it was important to distinguish between poisoning and the separate issue of whether exposure to low levels of OPs contributed to long-term conditions.

“Overall, there is no consistent evidence that low-level exposure to organophosphate has adverse effects on any specific aspects of cognitive function,” he said.

But the government was “not hiding anything” and Mr Eustice said he would be “more than happy” to meet members of the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group to discuss their concerns.