16 March 2001

OP research row errupts

CAMPAIGNERS against organo-phosphate sheep dips have accused ministers of cynically rejecting research proposals from independent researchers.

An extended £1.4m programme of research into the effects of OPs on human was announced this week, following an invitation for proposals. Researchers will investigate "dippers flu" and neuropsychiatric problems in farmers exposed to OPs. They will also examine the effects of low-level exposure in the womb and in children.

But Elizabeth Sigmund of the OP Information Network claimed that researchers with extensive clinical experience were overlooked in favour of groups which have little or no experience. Among research proposals rejected were those from consultants who have been investigating the effects of OPs on children and in bone damage.

"Were extremely disappointed that not one of the consultants who worked with clinical cases was given funding," said Mrs Sigmund. "Im afraid this is a cynical exercise at this point MAFF and to treat hundreds of people with OP poisoning in this way is extremely depressing.

Paul Tyler, chairman of the all-party organophosphate parliamentary group, welcomed the research money, but said it should have been given years ago.

Mr Tyler, MP for North Cornwall, said: "It is an enormous step forward to get these key issues addressed by some of the top medical teams in the country.

He gave the research "two cheers", saying his group would make it three if compensation is paid to people who believe OPs have damaged their health. "Its a devastating indictment of successive governments that they have only reached this stage now."

The government is also funding an analytical survey of health complaints among sheep dippers by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Additional work which received partial support is also being considered for possible future inclusion in the programme.

The successful teams commissioned to undertake research were selected from the University of Wales School of Medicine, the University of Manchester, the Medical Research Council, Leicester, and the Health and Safety Laboratory, Sheffield. MAFF officials were unable to comment on the selection procedure.