13 October 2000
Two OP dips back on market

By Alistair Driver

TWO organophosphate sheep dips are to return to the market. But an MP has warned that legal action over the controversial chemicals could still go ahead.

The dips, from manufacturers Schering Plough and Battle, Hayward and Bower, could be back on the market by the end of this month (October).

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate granted permission after its advisors said they were convinced that the companies had satisfied safety requirements.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture has only has only agreed to change the marketing terms of OP dips as an interim measure until the end of August 2001.

By then, ministers want manufacturers to containers to include a “closed delivery system” to minimise exposure to OP concentrate.

Hundreds of farmers claim they have been poisoned after coming into contact with OP sheep dips, the use of which was compulsory between 1976 and 1992.

They say they have suffered long-term, low-level poisoning from the chemicals and, in some cases, want compensation of more than 100,000 each.

The government announced a recall of OP dips in December 1999 because of continued fears about their safety.

But in August this year, it said they could be allowed back in the short term if taps were fitted to containers and safety warnings were improved on labels.

Paul Tyler MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Organophosphate Group, campaigns on behalf of farmers pursuing legal action against OP makers.

The Lib-Dem MP for North Cornwall believes that if the action fails, there may be a case against previous governments and their departments.

“For a number of years, farmers were obliged to use the chemicals and were not given sufficient advice on how to protect themselves,” he said.

However, it appears that only a handful of the 800 people who claim they are victims of OP poisoning have any chance of their cases reaching court.

Lawyers representing most of the people still pursuing the action now believe they do not have sufficient evidence to win the case.

While most of the cases are expected to be withdrawn, a handful of “OP victims” are believed to be intent on continuing.

Mr Tyler believes the New Human Rights Act could pave the way for legal action against governments who required the use of the chemicals.

He intends to call a meeting of MPs who have OP victims in their constituencies to discuss the next step.

One lawyer involved in the case against the manufacturers said there may be scope to take on the government departments of the time.

Those departments include the Ministry of Agriculture, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and even the Health and Safety Executive.

But the lawyer added a cautionary note, warning such a move would involve a complicated legal process that could prove difficult to win.