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Dip Stick Politicians Slow to Compensate for Compulsory Chemical Poisoning

MPs call for inquiry into sheep dip poisoning scandal

Cross-party support for inquiry and parliamentary debate after newly-published documents

reveal government knew of health risk of mandatory chemical dip


Inspectors from the Rural Payments Agency testing sheep for radiation at  Baskell Farm, Ulpha, Cumbria, 21 September 2009.  Farmer David Elwood's( blue t-shirt)  lambs are still being tested 23 years after rainfall following   the Chernobyl nuclear accident which polluted the ground.

HERDWICK Sheep at Baskell farm, Ulpha, Cumbria.

Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

A former environment minister and more than a dozen MPs

from across the political spectrum have backed calls

for an inquiry and parliamentary debate into whether farmers

were misled over the use of a dangerous chemical.

At least 500 farmers across the UK were left with

debilitating health problems after using organophosphate-based (OP) chemicals

to protect their sheep against parasites,

under the government’s compulsory dipping programme which ran up until 1992.

Last week the Guardian revealed the then-government

was privately warning of the dangers of exposure

to even low doses of the chemical and criticising the safety measures o

ffered by manufacturers,

yet publicly criticising farmers who refused to use the chemical.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”

and demanded a Hillsborough-style disclosure of what was known, by whom and when.

He has now been backed by MPs from the

Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party,

as well as a number of peers.

The list of supporting MPs includes former environment minister Michael Meacher

who said he wanted a fully independent inquiry led by a judge or senior lawyer,

and four members of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee.

Labour MP Jessica Morden said that if re-elected

she would apply for a parliamentary debate on organophosphates and sheep dips,

which would have to be addressed by a government minister.

Legal experts have also responded to the revelations by suggesting a number of farmers

may have valid compensation claims.

“The fact that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was

aware as far back as 1991

of the health risks associated with organophosphate use is shocking,

particularly given that such knowledge has been denied for decades,”

said Gene Matthews, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day.

“Had this HSE evidence been released shortly after it was written

those individuals allegedly affected by OPs

would have had an increased chance of holding the government,

and the relevant companies, to account for the harm they claimed to have suffered,” he added.

The difficulty in directly linking chronic ill health

and the use of OP chemicals has seen previous legal claims fail.

The only successful court settlement in the UK was brought by a farm worker

John Amos Hill in 1997.

He won a compensation claim against his employer

after suffering chronic ill health after using OPs,

having not been given adequate warnings of the health risks

of using the chemical or protective clothing.

A Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group has recently been set up by

Lancashire farmer Tom Rigby to help campaign

for recognition for victims still alive today, many of whom have to pay

for private treatment because the NHS does not officially recognise

OP poisoning as a medical condition.

The full list of supporting MPs and peers

calling for an inquiry or debate includes: Andy Burnham, Jamie Reed,

Jessica Morden, Edward Leigh, Margaret Ritchie,

Jim Shannon, Russell Brown, John Thurso, Lindsay Hoyle,

Roger Williams, Neil Parish, Mary Glindon, Jesse Norman,

Andrew George, Michael Meacher, Margaret Mar and Paul Tyler.

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