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11:00 - 26 January 2005


Dangerous organophosphates blamed for illnesses among farmers, soldiers and pilots should be banned, Westcountry campaigners demanded yesterday, as the Government was presented with a major report on the chemicals.

North Cornwall Lib-Dem MP Paul Tyler and environmental campaigner Elizabeth Sigmund, from Callington, have been at the forefront of a national effort for the suffering of organophosphate (OP) poisoning victims to be recognised.

Yesterday, Mr Tyler, chairman of the All Party OP Parliamentary Group, presented a detailed report on "the long and sorry saga" of OPs to Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw.

It was written by specialist correspondent John Harvey with the help of Mrs Sigmund who runs the OP Information Network.

"When people can be exposed to potentially extremely dangerous chemicals, the precautionary principle needs to be applied - not that you can prove it 100 per cent in a court of law," Mrs Sigmund said.

"The Government is asking for proof that cannot be supplied because you simply cannot put people in a laboratory and expose them to these chemicals, that is illegal.

"People's health is paramount and those that are suffering because of OP exposure need to be compensated and given proper medical back-up. We believe enough is enough - OPs need to be banned.

"We recognise they have a value but the risk to people is far too great to continue to expose them."

The comprehensive report, sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, analyses the experience of victims of OP poisoning, ranging from sheep farmers to Gulf War troops. "OP chemicals were formulated with one aim in mind: to poison by destroying the nervous system," the report says.

"It really shouldn't be a surprise to politicians and scientists anywhere where OPs are used that some people, for whatever reason, end up sick and crippled because they, quite innocently, came into contact with these highly dangerous chemicals."

The mainstay of the report documents the experiences of farmers, who were forced to use the chemicals to dip sheep, and soldiers, who were exposed to OPs during the first Gulf War, as well as delivery drivers and airline pilots.

It also highlights the fact that successive Governments had relied on advice that "the products are safe until there is evidence which proves they are not", despite warnings dating back to 1951 by scientists, who said that the "main danger was from chronic effects".

It criticises the lack of medical support given to OP victims, whose conditions were often dismissed out of hand.

The report concludes: "The causal link between exposure to OPs and ill-health has been demonstrated by research. It may not be absolute proof, but that kind of evidence is not possible in research involving humans.

"It is now time for the Government to put a greater emphasis on helping the victims of OP poisoning.

"Short of exposing human guinea pigs to doses of these extremely dangerous chemicals, we will never have more conclusive evidence," Mr Tyler said last night.

"Ministers in successive Governments not only approved their use, over several decades, but effectively forced sheep farmers to use them.

"The Government has a moral responsibility to look after their victims, and to ensure appropriate compensation."

No one from Defra was last night available for comment.