02 August 1999
Dip hush money charge denied
By Farmers Weekly reporters
A CHEMICAL company said to have paid £12,000 to a farmer who had problems with organophosphate sheep dip has denied that the payment was hush money.
Ciba-Geigy offered money to two producers in the south-west whose sheep suffered health problems after being dipped using OP chemicals in the early 1980s.
Campaigners who want OP dips banned have now called on junior farm minister Jeff Rooker to launch a full inquiry.
Their call follows the publication of a government-commissioned report earlier this month which linked the long-term use of OP sheep dip to nerve damage in humans.
MPs belonging to the All-Party OP Group claimed at a House of Commons briefing this week that the Ministry of Agriculture was aware of problems with OP dip.
Paul Tyler MP, chairman of the OP group, alleged that Ciba-Geigy had effectively gagged the farmers by paying the money on condition they did not seek publicity.
Elizabeth Sigmund, of the OP Information Network, claimed she had evidence the two producers had been offered money by Ciba-Geigy under a “gentlemens agreement”.
One farmer was paid £12,000 by Ciba-Geigy when his sheep became lame after being dipped with a diazinon-based dip, she said. A second farmer was offered £300.
Ciba-Geigy is now part of Novartis Animal Health. A spokesman acknowledged that some payments had been made to farmers but denied there was any cover-up.
“We did pay them goodwill money but theres no secrecy involved in it whatsoever,” he said.
Initial batches of the OP dip had given some farmers problems with bacteria, but it was “out of the question” that payments were made because of OP poisoning.
Part of the problem appears to be that the sheep dip used by farmers before the introduction of OPs in the 1980s possessed anti-bacterial properties.
But this was not the case with the first OP dips which failed to kill bacteria if the dip solution was kept overnight.
Bacteria such as erysipelas could easily multiply in the right conditions, including in OP dips, according to Prof Mac Johnston of the Royal Veterinary College.
Sheep being dipped the following day would have been at an increased risk of suffering from post-dipping lameness, especially if the weather was warm, he said.
But dips are now formulated to prevent post-dipping lameness and codes of good practice mean that the risk of the problem has been reduced.