7 March 1997

Western Isles MP demands action over crofters suspected poisoning

SUSPECTED organophosphate poisoning among 50 crofters and sheep farmers in the Outer Hebrides has prompted Western Isles MP Calum MacDonald to demand more government action.

Mr MacDonald (Lab) said he had received information of a cluster of ME-type cases among crofters, who had been exposed to OPs.

Several cases have been referred to the Institute of Occupational Health, Edinburgh, which is involved in the government-backed study of OP dips.

Sheep scab was never seen in the Outer Hebrides 20 yearsago, but since the removal of compulsory dipping scab "hasbeen spreading like a bushfire", said Mr MacDonald.

Dipping is now done on a commercial basis by crofters once a year in the spring.

Mr MacDonald said he wanted the government to put more money into OP research and fund alternative dips.

OP alternatives

Chris Lewis, chairman of the Sheep Veterinary Societys OP and scab sub-committee, said it was unlikely the government would provide additional funding for OP alternatives, as it was seen as near-market research which should be done by pharmaceutical companies.

The government last year promised £1.2m over three years to investigate an alternative non-OP vaccine for treating scab.

One of the most successful products being trialled at the Central Veterinary Laboratory and in field studies has been the non-OP product moxidectin, which has yet to receive a license for commercial use.

Mr Lewis said one of the problems was that it had a very long withdrawal period. "It may be OK in ewes but not in lambs. In the meantime, what we need is farmers dipping properly and conscientiously on every occasion."

Mr MacDonald is to relay evidence of the suspected OP cases to Lib Dem rural affairs spokesman Paul Tyler, who is chairman of the all-party OP group.