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December 17 2004


Figures published by the Government do not give a true representation of the numbers of reports of adverse effects from pesticide exposure

A leading pesticides campaigner has responded to the Government’s publication of figures involving the reporting of the potential effects of pesticides on human health by saying that it does not give a true representation of the real scope of the problem relating to the adverse effects of pesticide exposure.

Georgina Downs’ campaign ( that highlights the serious fundamental flaws throughout the existing regulations and monitoring system for pesticides has exposed a real weakness in the Government’s monitoring and reporting systems, as they were only ever really set up to deal with incidents of acute exposure and poisoning. Ms. Downs says, "At the present time there is no monitoring or collection of data on chronic effects at all. Therefore there is no way the Government can claim that the system is robust, as there is no system in place to monitor chronic illnesses and diseases that could be related to pesticide exposure. Therefore the full extent of ill-health related to pesticides is not known."

Ms. Downs has received hundreds of reports from all over the country where people have suffered adverse effects following exposure to pesticides, many of which have not been accounted for in any official statistics.

Ms. Downs explains that there are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that many people do not necessarily link symptoms to pesticide exposure or they may realise the link but not know who to report it to. Ms. Downs says "I have been contacted by many people who knew they had suffered acute effects following exposure to pesticides, for example immediate chemical burns to the eyes following crop-spraying exposure, but they just did not know at the time who they were supposed to report it to. Also in relation to exposure to agricultural pesticides, members of the public are currently not entitled to access the information on what chemicals they have been exposed to. Therefore without this information it is highly unlikely they will be in a position to report adverse effects to the manufacturers of the products and this is therefore another reason for the inherent underreporting of acute effects that exists within the current system."

However, Ms. Downs reiterates that without any adequate or appropriate monitoring for chronic effects any figures presented by the Government or industry relating to adverse effects of pesticides will be misleading.

Notes to Editors:

  • DEFRA issued a News Release on 16th December 2004 entitled "Government Tests System for Reporting Potential Effects of Pesticides on Human Health." The full News Release is available at:-
  • In relation to agricultural spraying 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
  • On September 16th 2004 Ms. Downs put in an application to the High Court to Judicially Review Alun Michael’s decision not to introduce no-spray zones around agricultural land to protect rural residents from the use of pesticides by farmers
  • The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) is currently carrying out a study to assess the risk to people from crop-spraying and pesticide exposure. Ms. Downs has recently given oral evidence to the RCEP on December 2nd 2004. See for further information on the RCEP study
  • 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 was the first to identify serious fundamental flaws regarding the bystander risk assessment and for the last 3 years has presented a case to the Government 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 direct access for the public to all the necessary chemical information
  • 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. The most common illnesses reported include clusters of various cancers, leukaemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and neurological problems along with many other medical conditions and Ms. Downs points out that reports of this nature have gone on for decades
  • 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. He is the author of "Stop Cancer Before it Starts," and is known a leading international authority on cancer-causing effects of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals (see ); 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

Contact: Georgina Downs

Telephone: 01243 773846 - Mobile: 07906 898 915 Email: Campaign: "A Breath of Fresh Air?"