29 September 2000
OP court case ‘on verge of failure’

By Alistair Driver

LEGAL action brought by farmers who believe they were poisoned by organophosphates (OPs) is on the verge of failure, a lawyer involved in the case has admitted.

The 100-strong group of farmers and other sufferers took action against the manufacturers of OPs claiming they had suffered long-term, low-level poisoning.

Many sheep-dippers blame OP sheep dip for symptoms which include nausea, chest tightness, anxiety and depression, and want compensation for their ailments.

The lawyer representing some of the group, who asked not to be named, said that some or all of the cases may be dropped in the next few weeks.

“But nothing is settled yet,” he told FWi.

The BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme earlier reported that lawyers had pulled out, saying there was insufficient scientific evidence to ensure success.

One of the group seeking compensation, Kent sheep farmer Gary Coomber, said he was very disappointed and uncertain if action would continue.

Elizabeth Sigmund of the OP Information Network, which campaigns on behalf of OP “victims”, said the situation is “extremely confusing” as lawyers continue to negotiate.

She said the problem is that British law has not come to terms with the issue of environmental poisoning.

“Even though over 800 people who have used OPs have shown similar symptoms, it is very difficult to prove OPs are the common cause in court,” she said.

She said judges requires 99.9% proof, but OP cases are complicated by the fact that symptoms can be delayed and confused with other illnesses.

“Even if we have lost this battle, it does not mean the war is lost,” she insisted.

“There are many questions that remain to be answered on a political level as well as a scientific level.”

Mrs Sigmund added that that successive governments have ignored OP health warnings for the past 50 years.

But Roger Cook, head of the National Office for Animal Health (NOAH) which represents chemical companies, said the news was not surprising.

He told Farming Today that it appeared to confirm the view of industry experts that there was not enough science to support a case of this sort.

Mr Cook said experts had studied the subject for many years without finding any conclusive evidence that OPs did cause damage to the nervous system.

“These products have been used around the world for 40 years. If something was there, I think one might have expected it to have been found by now,” he said.

OP sheep dips were withdrawn in January until safer packaging which eliminated the danger of splashing could be designed.

In August the Ministry of Agriculture announced that in the interim OPs could be used in modified containers, still with the risk of contact.

Advisors said this was decided because OP dips are required to tackle sheep scab.