A Legal Poisoning?
Pesticide Campaigner to sue the Government in landmark case following DEFRA announcement on crop-spraying
A prominent pesticide campaigner has responded to the Government’s announcement that there is no scientific justification for the introduction of no-spray zones around residential areas by leading a legal challenge against the Government on behalf of all those living near fields that are regularly sprayed with "cocktails" of poisonous chemicals.
Georgina Downs’ campaign to highlight the inherent health risks and devastating effects of pesticide use in rural
resulted in the launch of 2 DEFRA Consultations’ on crop-spraying on Britain July 21st 2003. The first part was in relation to making it a legal obligation to notify people before any spraying application and to provide all the necessary chemical information. The second part was in relation to introducing mandatory no-spray zones around residential areas. This Consultation had the highest number of responses since DEFRA records began. The result of this Consultation has just been announced to Parliament by Alun Michael (DEFRA Minister for Rural Affairs) Mr. Michael has stated that "The independent scientific advice I have received both from the independent Advisory Committee on pesticides and DEFRA’s Chief Scientific Advisor, is very clear that the existing system provides full reassurance. I am confident that no new scientific evidence has come to light that would provide a safety based justification for buffer zones and I have therefore decided against their introduction around agricultural land."
Ms. Downs now intends to expose in court the failure of successive Governments’ in protecting the health of rural residents. Ms. Downs states "This decision is outrageous and is yet another example of the Government’s total disregard for public health. The evidence demonstrating the impact crop-spraying has had on the health and lives of so many people is unarguable, but has been repeatedly dismissed and ignored by the Government and their scientific advisors in favour of maintaining the status quo and protecting chemical company interests."
Ms. Downs has the support of an increasing number of leading toxicological and epidemiological experts from around the world and she believes that the Government will find it very difficult to defend their position in a court of law.
A recent comprehensive review of pesticide research by the Ontario College of Family Physicians has also confirmed the dangers of pesticides, that also supports Ms. Downs’ position. The college found consistent evidence linking pesticide exposure to brain, kidney, prostrate and pancreatic cancer as well as leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, neurological damage, Parkinson’s disease and other serious illnesses and diseases.
The review found that children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure and identified increased risks for a number of illnesses and diseases, including kidney cancer and acute leukaemia.
The college’s overall message to patients was to avoid exposure to all pesticides whenever and wherever possible.
Ms Downs continues to receive emails and letters from people all over the country reporting clusters of acute and chronic long-term illnesses and diseases in communities surrounded by sprayed fields. She submitted a "hard-hitting" video featuring a number of these cases to the Government during the Consultation to show the reality of exactly what is happening in the countryside from the continued use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals in agriculture. The most common illnesses reported include clusters of various cancers, leukaemia, asthma, ME, along with many other medical conditions and Ms. Downs points out that reports of this nature have gone on for decades.
Ms. Downs points out that Alun Michael and other members of the Government saw this video in full. She states "Considering the pattern of ill-health that is being reported and the international evidence confirming the dangers of pesticides then this is clearly not an acceptable or responsible decision."
Ms. Downs' campaign has been supported by Samuel Epstein, Professor Emeritus Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition who is a leading international authority on cancer-causing effects of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals, Michael Meacher MP, (Former DEFRA Minister for the Environment and one of the Minister’s Ms. Downs originally presented the case to) Norman Baker MP, the Liberal Democrat’s front bench environment spokesman, Caroline Lucas MEP and the Soil Association amongst others.
Ms. Downs says “The Government’s very own documentation highlights the dangers of pesticides, the risks inherent in their use and the subsequent adverse health effects. This shows that they have been fully aware of the dangers but have sat on this information, not informed the public and allowed people to be poisoned by Government’s very own policy. Now I would like to see if this form of poisoning is deemed to be legal."
Notes to Editors:
- Pesticides are poisonous chemicals and are inherently hazardous to human health
- The principle aim of pesticide regulation in the UK is supposed to be the protection of public health
- There is currently no legal obligation for farmers to notify anyone of any intended spraying application or to supply information on the chemicals being used, regardless of whether adverse health effects have been suffered
- At the present time a crop-sprayer is legally allowed to repeatedly spray mixtures of poisonous chemicals right up to the open window of any occupied premises whether it be a resident’s home, a school (nursery, infant, primary etc.) a home for the elderly or disabled or any office or workplace
- The "bystander risk assessment" is the official method of assessing the dangers and risks to public health from agricultural spraying, but is not representative of the long-term exposure of a resident living in an agricultural area. (See www.pesticidescampaign.co.uk for further information)
- Georgina Downs campaigns to highlight the effects of pesticide use in rural Britain and has lived next to regularly sprayed fields for 20 years. She has investigated the history of crop-spraying and the regulatory system for pesticides and met with Government Ministers (Lord Whitty, DEFRA Minister for Food and Farming and Michael Meacher, Former Minister for the Environment on December 17th 2002 and Alun Michael, Minister for Rural Affairs on December 17th 2003) to present her case for a change in the regulations and legislation governing agricultural spraying. She has also produced 2 videos "Pesticide Exposures for People in Agricultural Areas – Part 1 Pesticides in the Air; Part 2 The Hidden Costs" to illustrate chemical exposure and the effects on people living in rural areas. She has called for an immediate ban on crop-spraying and the use of pesticides near to people's homes, schools, workplaces and any other places of human habitation and for the introduction of a new legal obligation to warn people before spraying and to provide the necessary chemical information
- Ms. Downs' campaign was featured on The Food Police BBC1 March 26th 2003; The Observer on April 13th 2003 ("Georgina's Fight Against Toxic Peril" and "Can We Have a Breath of Fresh Air?") Today programme BBC Radio 4 July 11th 2002; Farming Today BBC Radio 4 on March 25th, May 3rd and July 22nd 2003; Sunday Telegraph on June 30th and July 28th 2002, March 23rd, May 5th and 31st August 2003; BBC Breakfast News August 5th 2003; You and Yours BBC Radio 4 on September 1st, November 6th and 12th 2003; That’s Esther ITV January 25th 2004 and in various other media
- DEFRA launched a Consultation on crop-spraying on July 21st 2003. The first part was in relation to making it a legal obligation to notify people before any spraying application and to provide the information on the chemicals to be used. The second part was in relation to introducing mandatory no-spray zones around residential areas. This Consultation resulted in the highest number of responses since DEFRA records began.
- Alun Michael (Rural Affairs Minister) has issued a written statement that is available at www.defra.gov.uk
- For further information about the Ontario College of Family Physicians Pesticides Literature Review see www.pesticidescampaign.co.uk
- For further information in relation to Ms. Downs’ submission to the DEFRA Consultation and accompanying video, featuring people from all over the country reporting clusters of acute and chronic long-term illnesses and diseases in communities surrounded by sprayed fields or any other aspect of Ms. Downs’ campaign see
Contact: Georgina Downs
Telephone: 01243 773846
Campaign: "A Breath of Fresh Air?"