09:00 - 27 January 2003
 Environment Minister Michael Meacher has ordered a top-level summit to
examine claims that hundreds of farmers have suffered severe health
damage as a result of using toxic sheep dip chemicals that were
mandatory for years.

The summit, to be held later this year, will examine the scientific
evidence on the dangers posed by low-level exposure to organophosphate
(OP) chemicals that have been used for many years in insecticides,
particularly sheep dip.

The event will bring together scientists, support groups and
manufacturers to discuss alleged health problems associated with the
chemicals, whose use remains widespread.

The move follows a request from the All-Party Committee on OPs, which
has been campaigning for the chemicals to be withdrawn on health grounds
for many years.

Paul Tyler, the Lib-Dem MP for North Cornwall, who chairs the group,
welcomed confirmation that the Government was prepared to take a fresh
look at the evidence.

Mr Tyler said: "We have got a ridiculous situation now where there is a
huge amount of information from scientists and external sources, not
least what the United States are doing in this field, but we have no
opportunity to cross-question Government scientists or the Veterinary
Products Committee.

"Government really does need to get a grip on where this has got to - it
is not just about farmers. It has gone on for far too long.

"As far as farmers locally are concerned, the legal route for
recognition and compensation has virtually closed because of the passage
of time. This is an opportunity to get a hearing."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs, yesterday confirmed that Mr Meacher had agreed to stage the

But she said the precise agenda had yet to be finalised.

She added: "We are responding to concerns about the health effects of
OPs because it is recognised as a problem."

The spokesman also confirmed that Mr Meacher had agreed to meet the
Somerset organic farmer Mark Purdey, whose controversial theories
linking OP use to BSE have previously been dismissed by the Government.

Liz Sigmund, a North Cornwall-based campaigner against OPs welcomed the
news, claiming it was a huge step forward.

She said: "In March 2000, my husband and I were invited to meet Baroness
Hayes who was minister at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Food and
Fisheries to discuss the impact of pesticides on human health.

"Since then, tremendous research has been undertaken by various
universities in this country and abroad, which prove that there is a
threat to human health from the OPs."

Organophosphates were originally developed by the Nazis during the
Second Worl;d War as a nerve agent

Although they have proved highly effective as an insecticide, they have
also been blamed for a number of serious health problems among some
former sheep farmers, including nerve damage, memory loss, shooting
pains and loss of co-ordination.