Christopher Booker covered Georgina's campaign in the Sunday Telegraph of 28th July 2002:
Our green and poisoned land
The Government's watchdog on pesticide safety has never known anything like its public meeting in York earlier this month. Professor David Coggon, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), had agreed to allow Georgina Downs, a young singer and former assistant television floor manager, to show a video of the "dream home" in Sussex, where she and her family have lived for 20 years. Since 1984 the farm next door has been turned over to intensive agriculture, and the video showed a huge crop-spraying machine passing repeatedly over the field, pouring out highly toxic chemicals, which drifted over the garden and anyone in it.
For nine years, Georgina explained in her commentary, she and her family were plagued with all sorts of mysterious illnesses. In 1993 they finally realised that their debilitating sickness coincided with the spraying, often several times a day, and took refuge in the house, closing all doors and windows until the spraying ceased. Her father, Ray Downs, a company director, has become so ill that for weeks in the summer he can only go into his garden dressed in respirator, goggles and full protective clothing. Georgina's own health became so bad that a year ago she decided to give up work and to unravel how the law could allow them to be put at risk in this way. What she discovered, to her astonishment, was that, for the 230,000 people who live next to intensively sprayed farms, there is virtually no legal protection from the 25.000 tonnes of poisons poured onto Britain's farmland each year. The Pesticides Safety Directorate (PCD) tests for the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals last for a minute or less, yet spray-drift can often hang in the air, exposing anyone in range for up to 24 hours.
With remarkable dedication, Georgina repeatedly interviewed every relevant regulatory agency, such as the Health and Safety Executive, which has a statutory duty to protect public health from unsafe working practices. Again and again she came up against that brick wall familiar to thousands of pesticide victims, whereby officials insist that there is no "scientific proof' that chemicals approved for safe use by Government agencies can cause harm, even though data sheets may list every kind of damage they can cause and safety precautions that must be taken. A typical response - from an HSE inspector - was: "Just because you can smell the chemicals, it does not mean you are inhaling them."
Eventually Georgina made the video of what happens in her own garden, complete with chilling shots of a mannequin and a doll being exposed to the cocktail of toxic chemicals that regularly floats over the fence from the next-door field, and accepted Professor Coggon's invitation to show it at the ACP's public meeting in York.
When her showing ended, to stunned silence, Georgina asked the audience if this showed an acceptable system for protecting public health. Not a single hand went up.
Professor Coggon later wrote to thank Georgina for her "contribution" and said that the ACP had asked the PSD "to commission further research that could provide additional reassurance that the methods which are currently adopted for assessing bystander exposure are satisfactory". Even if exposure to toxic chemicals "does not pose unacceptable risks to health" it might be considered "socially unacceptable" and "we are drawing the issue to the attention of ministers".
Georgina Downs, who also presented the meeting with a carefully argued, scientifically informed paper, is a very determined young lady. She is now hoping for a chance to show her video to ministers with responsibility for pesticides, such as Michael Meacher, and asks anyone who believes that they have suffered health damage from toxic spray-drift to leave details with the Pesticides Action Network at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4JX, Tel: 020 7065 0905, Fax: 020 7065 0907.