§ 2.46 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH rose to draw attention to the multiple and increasing dangers to health and to life arising from the contamination of food, air and water by toxic chemicals used in agriculture, in food processing, in drugs, in industry and in the home; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. With this your Lordships may find it convenient to discuss the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Shackleton. Although I have ventured to bring the dangers of toxic chemicals to your Lordships' attention on some previous occasions, I have never felt such a deep sense of responsibility and urgency as I do today. What we now have to face is not an occasional and perhaps transient dose of poison which has accidentally got into some article of food, but the persistent and continuous poisoning of the whole human environment.
§ Many of the facts, and the conclusions to be drawn from them, have been set down with masterly skill by Miss Rachael Carson, in her memorable book, Silent Spring. Some of your Lordships may say that these things can happen in the United States, but they cannot happen here. Do not let us be too sure of that. The trade in toxic chemicals is world-wide. Many of the leading manufacturers in this country are subsidiaries of American companies. The most noticeable difference between the two countries is that in the United States, because of the activities of Congressional Committees and of other bodies, official and unofficial, many of the facts have been brought to light, whereas in this country they remain concealed and unknown. I hope that in the course of this debate we shall be provided with some information about the quantities of the principal classes of pesticides now used in this country and the corresponding figures a few years ago, so that we may see what is the rate of increase. It is also important that we should know to what extent food sold to consumers contains residues of pesticides and other chemicals. So far as I am aware little 1119 or nothing has been published about this.
§ Another matter upon which we should be informed is the extent to which toxic chemicals are being stored and accumulated in the human body. It is not always recognised that during the last 20 years or so a revolutionary change has taken place in the whole conditions of life in this and other highly industrialised countries whereby the human organism has become constantly exposed to novel chemical substances of great potency. In agriculture a small range of arsenical and other poisons used in horticulture has been supplemented or supplanted by a wide range of substances of far greater toxicity, and these are used as a routine not only in fruit growing but in almost every branch of the farmer's business. No information appears yet to have been made available in this country, but it was estimated recently in the United States that the annual production of pesticides was about 1,000 million pounds weight, or 5 lb. or 6 lb. per head of population. Only a very small fraction of this, of course, gets into the food supply; otherwise the whole population would be wiped out. The rest sinks into the land.
§ Many of these poisons are very persistent and with constant use the amount in the soil steps up year by year. Some of them may then be taken up by the plants in the soil and so indirectly contaminate the food of animals and of men. It is known, for example, that carrots take up from the soil appreciable amounts of pesticide residues; hence, although the carrots themselves may not have been sprayed, the edible portion can be affected by this means. Another example concerns tobacco. In the United States chemical arsenical preparations were regularly and extensively used for spraying tobacco. Although other insecticides have been used for a good many years past, it has been found that the tobacco leaves still contain arsenic which has been picked up from the soil. Perhaps this has some bearing upon the connection between smoking and lung cancer.
§ In nature and in traditional agriculture a balance is maintained which generally prevents the undue multiplication of injurious insects or other organisms. They are the victims of predators or other 1120 enemies which keep them in check, and one of the great arts of agriculture hitherto has been to establish the conditions which will encourage this. On the other hand, most of the pesticides now in use are undiscriminating killers, which destroy both the noxious insect and its predator. The ultimate result of this cannot be predicted with accuracy. Often it leads to the development of strains of pests which are more resistant to pesticides than their ancestors were; or it may lead to the multiplication of the noxious insect simply because its predator has proved more vulnerable to the pesticide than the insect itself. I mention this point particularly because it is one of the reasons why larger and larger quantities of more and more toxic poisons are constantly used. And this practice is facilitated by the invention of powerful sprayers, some of them capable of blowing as much as 80,000 cubic feet into the air per minute. This spray, of course, may drift miles from the place where it is intended to land.
§ In addition to pesticides there are also powerful herbicides, which are used to kill weeds. Noticeable examples of their dangers are sometimes seen when they are used on roadside verges, killing all vegetation and depriving bees and other useful insects of their food and habitat. Recently I have seen a proposal to use a preparation of this kind for the purpose of killing all the vegetation in arable fields, thereby saving the need for ploughing in the residues of farm crops. What the ultimate results of this may be remains to be seen, but it might well lead to the destruction of soil organisms which are beneficial to crops and thereby to the animals and the men who live on them.
§ But it is not only through the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture that we run serious risks. Insecticides and fungicides are used in food storage. They are used to spray shops, and they fall on to the wares displayed in them. They are used in the home for killing flies, ants, cockroaches and other pests. These preparations are freely sold in the shops, but they are not always clearly labelled and the purchaser is not aware that he is handling a highly dangerous substance. In many cases the DDT or other active substance is suspended or dissolved in kerosene or other hydro-carbons which 1121 are themselves poisonous, and therefore there is a double danger.
§ Vaporisers are sold for use in shops, factories or the home which emit a continuous stream of particles of poison which will inevitably be inhaled. Aerosols are used for all kinds of purposes, such as, for instance, applying setting lotions to women's hair, and the spray may then be breathed in or may penetrate the skin. Cosmetics contain dyes, and they may be swallowed from the lips. No one knows what dyes or other poisons these things may contain. New synthetic substances are continually being invented in food packaging or as floor coverings, or for many other purposes—even as casings for sausages. We may assume that most of these things are inert and will not affect human beings adversely, but have we any positive assurance of this? Has anyone bothered to find out? Suppose, for example, that someone buys a timber house in which the wood has been treated with one of the newer preservatives containing a powerful insecticide, such as dieldrin. Will this be slowly evaporated or sublimated out of the timber and gradually inhaled by the occupiers over many years? And what will be the results? No one knows.
§ The pesticide with which I suppose the public are best acquainted, though it is by no means the most toxic, is DDT. In the United States it has been found that practically every meal contains it. It is found in milk and still more in butter, for it has an extraordinary affinity for fats. Owing to its use, not merely in agriculture but in food storage and manufacture and in the home, almost every article may be contaminated with it. In the United States it has been found that most human beings already have some DDT stored in the body fats.
§ Little research has been carried out in this country, but a recent paper indicates that many people here are storing considerable amounts of DDT and also appreciable amounts of dieldrin, a still more powerful poison. It has been said that these substances are inert in the human body. This is a very dangerous assumption. There is chemical evidence from competent physicians of illness arising from the consumption of food-stuffs containing residues of DDT and other agricultural poisons. There is 1122 indeed some ground from animal experiments for thinking that it may be a cancer inducing substance. If so, it should not be tolerated in food or used in any circumstances where it may be inhaled or get into the human body.
§ It is very well known that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons, and the still more dangerous organophosphorus insecticides, are nerve poisons. Perhaps it is significant that in this country hundreds of millions of tranquillisers and sleeping pills are being prescribed and taken every year. These things account for a very large proportion of the prescriptions written and it is also a question whether many of these drugs are not in the long run themselves detrimental and dangerous. But I leave this matter to be developed by my noble friend Lady Summerskill.
§ So far as I am aware—the noble Lord will correct me if I am mistaken—no regulations have been made in this country limiting the amount of pesticides which may be contained in food offered or sold for human consumption, except in the case of arsenic, lead and fluorides, which are nowadays probably only a small proportion of the toxic chemicals used in agriculture. The public health authorities, who are responsible for the administration of the Food and Drugs Acts, no doubt make some tests of food in order to check whether any substances are present which are expressly prohibited or limited by the regulations. But as almost the whole range of agricultural toxic substances are outside the scope of the regulations, I believe that tests for them are seldom, if ever, made. The authorities apparently rely upon the repeated assurances of the responsible Ministers and of the chemical manufacturers that all these things are perfectly safe provided that they are used according to directions. I, for one, do not find these assurances in the least convincing. I think we need very much more factual information.
§ I may say, in passing, that I do not consider that the food and drug authorities are freed from all obligation to inquire into these matters merely because there are no specific regulations concerning them. It is, after all, an offence to offer for sale any food which has been rendered injurious to health by the addition of any substance or by any process or treatment. Moreover, 1123 in determining whether an article of food is injurious or not, the Statute lays down that regard must be had not only to the probable effect of that article upon the health of the person consuming it, but also to the probable cumulative effect of articles of substantially the same composition on the health of persons consuming these in ordinary quantities. It seems to me that very little use has been made of these wise provisions and little attempt made to ascertain the facts. I am aware that chemical testing for residues of toxic substances is in many cases a difficult and a delicate operation. It may be that some of the food and drug authorities do not possess the resources to do it adequately, but it is something which should on no account be neglected.
§ Agricultural chemicals may reach the human body not only through the foodstuffs grown by the farmers but also in indirect ways. Some part of them will be washed off the fields and will get into streams and rivers or into wells fed by surface waters. In a large part of this country the water supply is derived from such sources, and these may also be contaminated by effluents from sewage works or from industrial processes. It is also a possibility that relatively innocuous chemicals may react with one another to yield more toxic ones. A remarkable example of this occurred some time ago in the United Staes where residues from a chemical works were run into a pond. The water from this pond was used for purposes of irrigation and it destroyed the crops to which it was applied. The reason was that these chemicals had spontaneously combined together to form a herbicide.
§ Where public water supplies are derived from rivers—in the case of London, for example—they may contain considerable quantities of the detergents which are so extensively used, and the effect these may have upon the human body is a subject for serious inquiry and one upon which the Standing Technical Committee has had singularly little to say. We do know that substances of this kind are capable of facilitating the absorption of poisons by the body, and therefore even if they are not themselves toxic they may add to the toxicity of other substances.
§ The atmosphere also is polluted by dusts and gases evolved in the burning of coal, and although we may hope that 1124 in the long run visible pollution will be reduced, toxic gases from power stations and gas works will still be present so long as these undertakings are located in populous places. Also, of course, the air in the roads in areas of heavy traffic are laden with toxic products emitted by internal combustion engines. Many industrial processes also involve the emission of noxious fumes. The smelting of aluminium and other metallurgical processes, the making of pottery and of bricks, the production of phosphatic fertilizers cause the discharge into the air of fluorine compounds. To make matters worse the Minister of Health is engaged in trying to persuade local authorities to add fluorides to the public water supplies, an exercise in mass medication hitherto without precedent in this country.
§ It has also to be remembered that, because of the changes which have taken place in the direction of industrial production in recent years, an increasing proportion of the population is engaged in chemical industries of one kind and another which have been occasioned by the invention of a multitude of synthetic materials. The manufacturers of such products undoubtedly endeavour to plan the process in such a manner as will avoid injury to their workpeople. However, it is not always possible to avoid all risks. Substances which were thought to be harmless may in the end be proved toxic; thus, workers in the chemical and other industries which I have mentioned may run a double risk, from their work as well as from the general hazards to which we are all in more or less degree subjected.
§ Indeed, it is not only in the manufacture of many products that risk may possibly occur. What is even more important is the application of those products. New kinds of paints, varnishes, polishes, wood preservatives and other articles of common use are continually being invented. In many cases they are applied by means of sprays which diffuse fine particles into the air and so into the lungs of the user—something far more dangerous than the occasional drop on the skin from the use of brushes. In the United States there are statutory requirements that many commonly used household articles which have the capacity to cause substantial injury or illness in the home should be adequately labelled, so as to give information about 1125 the dangers of the use or misuse of them. This legislation applies to articles which are toxic, or corrosive, or irritant, or strong sensitisers, or which are flammable, or which generate pressure through decomposition, heat or other means.
§ I do not propose to say much to-day about the synthetic chemical additives and the processing to which food is subjected. These include the bleaching of flour, the hardening or hydrogenation of soft fats to make them resemble butter, the use of dyes, preservatives, antioxidants, stabilisers, humectants, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other substances. The purpose of many of these things is to make the article of food so treated more attractive than it otherwise would be—or, in the jargon of the food trade, to make it more acceptable to the customer. In many cases these food additives have no nutritional value whatsoever, but little regard appears to have been paid to the provision of the Food and Drugs Act which says that in the exercise of their powers to make regulations for prohibiting or regulating the processing of food and the use of food additives the Ministers shall have regard to the desirability of restricting, so far as practicable, the use of substances of no nutritional value as foods or as ingredients of foods.
Aniline dyes and antiseptics are examples of such non-nutritional substances. Although the list of permitted dyes has been shortened at successive revisions of the regulations, still a substantial number is allowed. Dr. Otto Warburg, who has devoted a lifetime to cancer research and was a Nobel Prizewinner for his work, has stated clearly that all such dyes should be banned and that foodstuffs should not be preserved with antiseptics which, to quote his own words:
certainly harm the bacteria, but which damage the body cells even more.
So long as the use of these things is allowed, Ministers are taking the responsibility of subjecting an unknown number of persons to the risk one day of developing cancer.
We still permit flour to be bleached or processed with chemicals despite the fact that we know that a acne was used for this purpose for 20 years or more before it was discovered that it reacted with one
of the constituents of the flour and formed a highly toxic chemical. As long ago as 1927, the Departmental Committee on the Treatment of Flour with Chemical Substances said:
The object of maintaining inviolate the purity of the flour supply we regard as inspired by sound instinct, and we think that the responsibility for relaxing the principle is a very grave one, particularly at a time when research is beginning to throw new light upon the existence and properties of the more subtle constituents of foodstuffs.
This Committee expressly deprecated the use of chlorine dioxide, the chemical now employed for this purpose. Shall we have to wait another 20 years or more before something is done about it?
§ I believe that in this respect we can learn a good deal from the way in which, a few years ago, the legislation for the protection of the food supply in West Germany was improved and amended. In particular, I may mention that this legislation does not permit the use of any bleaching agent or processing of flour, and it also prohibits the use of chemical colouring matter and, with a few exceptions, of any preservatives in flour products. The general principle en which the German legislation is based is a sound one. It aims at drastically reducing the use of food additives. Where such additives are permitted, there is a stringent requirement of exact and informative labelling so that the consumer may know precisely what is being sold to him. Our law on this subject still permits of vague and uninformative labelling. In Germany the requirements are being imposed systematically and generally, so that even in restaurants it is obligatory to state what items on the menu have been treated and what has been added. As a further example, I would mention that the German law, although it permits the use of a certain preservative upon the skin of oranges and other citrus fruits, requires that they must be labelled to show that they have been treated and to warn the consumer that the skins must not be eaten. That is not required in this country.
§ We have still a long way to go. There is only one safe principle to adopt, and that is to prohibit the use of all artificial substances in foodstuffs unless it is conclusively proved that they are safe. At present we act upon an entirely opposite principle, that in most cases we allow 1127 them to be used until it is proved that they are dangerous. Although, of course, serious accidents occur and people lose their lives through toxic chemicals, that is not the main danger. The real danger lies in the possible cumulative effects through these substances being taken in day after day and year after year. I read recently of a case in which a man who was using a spray got some on his face, and, although he washed it off immediately and went for medical assistance, he died before the doctor arrived. Another case involved a man who had eaten grapes which had been sprayed with an insecticide: he died very quickly as a result. Those cases are exceptional though not altogether unusual.
§ The question which I think requires the most careful consideration is the effect of small quantities taken in year after year. The human body undoubtedly is provided with a very effective detoxifying apparatus in the liver. No doubt in most cases this is able to protect us against many of the poisons which are found in nature and to which men have been obliged to adapt themselves throughout the long course of evolutionary development. It would be very rash and unreasonable to expect that this bodily mechanism could always protect us against novel and extremely powerful poisons to which human beings had never before been exposed. Even if our bodies can deal with these things to some extent, the day may arrive when the strain thrown upon the liver proves to be too much and the protection which we have hitherto enjoyed ceases. What happens then?
§ There is already ground for the conclusion that the pattern of human illness is changing. The infectious diseases have in many cases yielded to sanitation and better conditions of living, but other diseases, such as cancer, and diseases affecting the blood, the marrow and the cells have become more prevalent. Many of them are of slow onset and cannot clearly be identified with any specific cause. Therefore we must be extremely careful. It is very unwise to assume that anything is safe unless there is conclusive proof.
§ We have had an example recently in the case of the drug thalidomide which has brought this fact home to most 1128 people, and it is worth recalling that the manufacturers in the United States distributed large quantities of these pills to some 1,400 doctors upon an experimental basis. None of these doctors apparently made any adverse report. This is a case where the adverse effects manifested themselves fairly quickly. How much more difficult are the cases in which the ill-effects develop only after many years? Cancer, as we all know, is one of those diseases which may be caused by radiation or by many different chemicals in very small doses.
§ On these grounds, my Lords, I consider it established beyond doubt that the human environment should be protected against all chemicals unless they are proved to be non-toxic, and that a constant watch should be kept on the food supply to ensure that it does not contain residues of agricultural pesticides or other poisons. I conclude with two practical suggestions. One is that far more attention should be paid to research on methods of biological control of pests. In quite a number of cases these have proved to be both economical and effective. There is good reason to believe that they are capable of wide extension. They will not make enormous profits for chemical manufacturers and no research will be made by them. The State, therefore, must be prepared to find the means of encouraging such research. The other suggestion which I have to make is one which I ventured to make to your Lordships some twelve years ago; and that is that there ought to be a permanent organisation capable of finding out the facts about food additives and other toxic chemicals. It should be entirely independent of all connection with both producers and users of such things, and should be armed with statutory powers adequate to safeguard the public. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON had given Notice of a Motion to draw attention to the ecological dangers and the destruction of wild life resulting from the widespread use of toxic chemicals in the countryside and in gardens; to urge the need for further research, education and restraint on their use; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord who allowed me to bring my Motion before the House 1129 at the same time as his. He has covered the ground so fully that I hope I shall be able to make a rather shorter speech than I might otherwise have inflicted on your Lordships. This is, of course, not the first debate we have had on this subject, and I think it is significant that there is a growing interest in this House, judging by the number of names on the list of speakers to-day, and among the general public, in relation to a problem which I am sure your Lordships will agree is a difficult one.
§ It is not the view of those of us concerned in this matter, least of all is it the view of Rachel Carson—I say this in case anyone has misunderstood the situation in view of the rather angled propaganda against her book—that toxic chemicals, insecticides and pesticides generally have no place. One must clearly acknowledge straight away that in certain undeveloped parts of the world, particularly in areas where there has been much insect-borne disease, they have been of great value. It is also the contention of those who are worried about this matter—this has been the line we have taken in previous debates—that we are dealing with dangerous things and that progress may often conceal certain steps backward which may be very dangerous.
§ Most of my remarks will be directed to the concern felt among those who are interested in wild life, and what is striking is the great increase of interest on the part of the public in the wild life around us. An example of this is the extraordinary success of a body such as the Wild Life Fund. We realise that, as man's civilisation advances, or appears to advance, there are certain aspects of natural life which it is extremely important to retain and to preserve. It is a fact that for many years now naturalists have been expressing grave concern about the use of chemical insecticides in farming and in other ways. As long ago as 1950 there was a long and powerful plea from a world conference in Sweden for caution in this field.
§ Our general complaint—and this is the justification for those like Rachel Carson who are putting their views more strongly—is that we have in the past too often been met by an indifference and a refusal to recognise the dangers 1130 and the harm in the use of these particular chemicals. I remember the debates we have had in this House over the last two or three years, and the pleas we made for restraint, particularly in the use of certain chlorinated hydrocarbon seed dressings, and the reluctance at that time of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the Government to appreciate the dangers. I would concede that we have advanced considerably since then, but the fact still remains that wild life is being menaced to a degree that we cannot regard with indifference.
§ Figures have been given in this House in the past as to particular examples of wide-scale destruction of bird life. In a previous debate I gave figures in regard to 600 birds that were picked up at one estate in Norfolk—it was in fact at Sandringham—and similar details were reported, in some cases running into thousands. The Government then did take certain steps in the shape of a voluntary ban with regard to the use of certain seed dressings in spring sowings, and they advised that these particular seed dressings—dieldrin, heptachlor and aldrin—should be used only when there was a risk of serious attack by wheat-bulb fly.
§ Now we know that this very year there is already a warning out from the Ministry, that there is a very serious risk of a new attack by wheat-bulb fly, and it will therefore be necessary to use rather more of these poisonous seed dressings than might otherwise be required. Would the noble Lord like to correct me?
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (LORD ST. OSWALD)
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has invited me to correct him. I think this will be of help to him. His statement is not quite true. Where he is right is in saying that there is a risk of wheat-bulb fly; a very serious danger growing up. What we have not advised is the use of a dieldrin seed dressing. We have advised the farmers to use dieldrinised fertiliser; that is to say, something which goes into the drill below the seed and produces a kind of cordon sanitaire around the seed, but which is not accessible to the bird and, of course, would not be very appetizing to the bird even if it were.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, that is a statement about which one would like to think a little. I appreciate the fact that the Ministry are clearly concerned in this matter. I wish I could think that there was in fact no danger in the use of seed dressings of a dangerous kind at this particular time of year—all the more so in view of the incidents, which were reported last year, of the misuse of seed dressings. I have here actual examples reported by the Game Research Association, which has done so much valuable work in this field, of large numbers of birds picked up where there was reason to believe that seed dressings had been used either out of season or deliberately for poisoning purposes.
That brings me to the main contention which those of us who have been so concerned in this field would like to make; that is, that we have still failed to get across to the users of these chemicals the dangers of the materials. I do not wish to-day to make any sort of attack on the chemical companies: there are signs that a number of them have been showing great concern about this matter. But obviously it is in the interests of salesmen of these chemicals—and this is only human nature—to sell as much of them as they can. Farmers have written to me and said that they have, in fact, used chemicals without knowing what they were, and have used them excessively. And, of course, the public are in some respects to blame. There may be occasions where fruit and orchards have been sprayed unnecessarily, and, indeed, uneconomically, partly because of the urge to put on the market absolutely unblemished fruit. As my noble friend, Lord Douglas of Barloch made clear, some of these chemicals, both in agriculture and indeed in food additives, are put in simply in order to please a whim of the public, and without adding very much advantage to the quality of the food.
The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, referred to certain chemicals in particular. He talked about the chlorinated hydrocarbons, of which some are more poisonous than others. There seems to be a general impression that benzene hexachloride is now much safer than aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor. But the fact remains that we are now picking up bodies of birds which have been poisoned 1132 by this particular chemical, sometimes in association with mercury. There have been examples of wild birds in the country, and there have been examples actually in London. There is the example of a tawny owl picked up in Kensington Gardens as recently as last summer, in which benzene hexachloride was found. There is real evidence now that poisoning is going on in our gardens, and that the general public still do not know what chemicals they are using.
I would make as my first plea to the Government that they really set about organising a proper warning and labelling system on all chemicals which are used either as insect sprays or in gardens. I know of people who have used these chemicals and, as people, particularly gardeners, are apt to do, have used them without precise regard to the instructions. They have taken the lid off the tin and poured out the contents. One may say that this is something on which it is impossible to legislate. But the alternative is just to let this go on. I would say that there is a duty on the Government to get much more firmly across, and to press the chemical manufacturers, dealers and others much more to point out, the dangers of these particular materials.
There is one other aspect of the wild life side to which I would refer, and which helps to illustrate the whole of this story; and that is the decline in predators in this country. I referred on a previous occasion to the story of the peregrine. If any noble Lord should be tempted to say that the decline of the peregrine in the last few years is due to the activities of gamekeepers, I can only assure him, and other noble Lords, that there is abundant evidence that gamekeepers, and others concerned with the preservation of game, who in the past wrought such slaughter among predators are rapidly learning, and that, far from being regarded as enemies, predators are increasingly recognised as an important part of the countryside. The story of the peregrine shows conclusively the effect of toxic chemicals. Your Lordships will have read of the recent meeting at Cambridge, at which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, was an active leader and about which he will perhaps tell us something more this afternoon. I had an opportunity of seeing some of the papers which were read, and it is quite 1133 clear that we are in danger of wiping out birds of this kind.
Here I should like to turn the argument to the ecological question. "Ecology" is a word that is becoming rather popular, indeed, it is even finding its way into general conversation among people who believe that it is some form of economics. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, because of his responsibilities as Minister for Science and his connection with the Nature Conservancy, is particularly interested in ecology. We fully realise—and nobody would ever suggest to the contrary—that man is not seeking to alter the balance of nature to his own interest. But the ecologist will claim that he knows what he is seeking to do, and understands the risks that he runs.
Therefore, my next plea is for more research in this field. The Sanders Committee Report, which it has sometimes been suggested is a general "whitewash" for the use of toxic chemicals, makes abundantly clear, from the list of subjects which the Committee looked at, that there is hardly a subject in this field that does not call for considerably more research. I appreciate that we have only limited scientific resources. The noble Viscount the Minister for Science is no doubt seeking to increase the number of scientists and, indeed, is seeking to persuade some of those who have left this country to come back again. Luckily, most of them are not biologists, and there is scope for more work for biologists in this particular field.
I have mentioned that it is for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to give a further lead, and I would suggest that a great deal of what they seek to do is very sound and reasonable. Their failure is in getting it across; and it is because they always defend, as they appear to do, the status quo in this matter, and point to the enormous gains from these chemicals, that they have aroused so much suspicion. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, referred to the human side—I am sorry; mean the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch.
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSEIAM)
There is a Greenhill far away.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I hope it will remain green, my Lords. The noble Lord, 1134 Lord Douglas of Barloch, referred to the human side. There is the story of the cannibal in Polynesia who now no longer allows his tribe to eat Americans because their fat is contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
This is purely in the interests of the export trade. The figures show that we are rather more edible than Americans. The figures published recently show that we have about 2 parts per million of DDT in our bodies, whereas the figure for Americans is about 11 parts per million. These figures relate only to DDT: I do not know what other figures there may be with regard to other chemicals. There is, as yet, no evidence of a decisive kind that these have produced ill-effects, though there have been particular incidents that are suggestive. There is the problem of the fat man who, in an illness, loses weight—and this would concern the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and myself more than other noble Lords—and is promptly poisoned by the DDT stored in his body. But the danger is not of immediate, lethal poisoning: it is of the long-term effects, and on this we know very little.
As the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said, we cannot prove the dangers in regard to this at the moment, but there is evidence and there are warnings. There are warnings from scientists—distinguished scientists in this country. It has been pointed out by Professor Boyland at the Chester Beatty Research Institute that there is no safe dose for a carcinagy, or if there is a safe dose it is impossible to say what it is. There is evidence, too, that some of these chemicals are radiomimetic, that they have the same effect as radio-activity, and that they may be mutagenic. And I have here a paper, also written by a member of the Chester Beatty, Dr. Alexander, which points to the possible dangers from the use or the consumption of chemicals of this kind. If somebody suggested spraying our fields with radio-activity, we should think twice about it; yet some of these very chemicals have this effect. The dangers to mutation, the dangers of mutagenic effects, are not simply to future generations; they are to the very cells of the 1135 individual. This is not yet proved as a danger—and, indeed, it is argued repeatedly that there are no dangers.
Recently, Dr. van Allen, who accused Sir Bernard Lovell and others of being "Commies", because, he said the "rainbow bomb" would have no effect, has had to withdraw his remarks; and we know now that there is an area of space which will be dangerous to astronauts for possibly ten years, and it may well be one hundred years. I hope that those scientists who say positively that there is no risk (though they sometimes qualify this by saying that there is no evidence of risk, which is a very different thing) in the addition of these chemicals to our food either deliberately or inadvertently, will be proved right. But we shall not know, quite clearly, for about twenty or thirty years. All we urge is that, in the interests of wild life, the Government should show a great deal more concern; that they should listen to the representations of those who are bothered about it from a wild life point of view; that they really should take some steps to discourage people from using unnecessarily high doses of toxic chemicals, not only in the interests of wild life but in their own economic interests—it is a fact that there is evidence that farmers are apt to put on too much of these chemicals; that they should consider more cooperative research in support of bodies like the British Institute of Biological Research; and that they should face up, if necessary, to the possibility of legislation.
We do not wish to proceed by inflicting penalties upon farmers who misuse these chemicals, but the fact remains that if there were the occasional prosecution—and this, after all, is what the law seeks to do—it might well be in the general interests of protecting society. As it is, we shall have to anticipate a continual report of wild life deaths of the kind we have seen and heard about in this last year, admittedly greatly reduced from the previous year; we shall have this as a continuing problem. My Lords, this is no longer a matter that either we or the public can take lightly. It is not suggested that toxic chemicals should be banned, but it is suggested that a great deal more money should be spent on research and a great deal more effort on seeking to educate the public in 1136 achieving proper labelling. Above all, we urge the Government to show themselves much more concerned than they have been hitherto.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, fifteen speakers have put down their names to speak in this debate, and this, at least, absolves me from the anxiety which I had when I originally thought of speaking myself: that the debate would not be sufficiently well supported from the Benches to justify two Government speakers. But, my Lords, I think I should justify my presence here when, on part of the range of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, and the whole, I think, of the matter of the Motion set down by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Minister of Agriculture, who is well represented here by his Parliamentary Secretary, is responsible; and I think almost the whole of the rest of the matter of the Motion set down by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, is covered by the responsibilities of the Minister of Health, who also has an Under-Secretary by my side.
The answer is that both Motions have distinctly scientific implications, and before descending to the detail in which my noble friend Lord St. Oswald will reply to the debate, I think it is worth while looking at the whole of the issue raised from a detached point of view. I was going to say "for the voice of science to be heard", but what is the voice of science in this matter? Two conclusions have been so far put before your Lordships and they are not the same. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas (of Barloch, towards the end of his interesting speech put forward the view that the human environment should be protected, as he put it, against all chemicals not proved to be harmless. This is a proposal that I cannot personally accept, and in the course of my remarks I shall try to show why, although I should have thought that it was quite apparent from the range of Lord Douglas of Barloch's remarks that this was not a possibility.
The other proposition, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in the speech to which we have all just listened with enjoyment, is that we 1137 should use caution in this matter. There I think I should heartily agree, provided that for "caution" we are careful not to substitute "timidity". But in making any assessment of this matter, it is as well to bear two broad propositions in mind. First, this is a subject upon which scientists, like most other experts, differ, both in their scientific opinions and in their non-scientific judgments, which are based, like ours, upon non-scientific values. Secondly, we must recognise that at the end of 'the day there is no absolute truth about this to be known.
If we had lived at the end of the Middle Ages, to which at times I thought the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, was urging us to return, we might have been arguing at how much cost in human life and malnutrition we ought to preserve the dense forests in our Southern counties which composed the ecological environment of the wolf and the bear. Doubtless even then the farmer and the land owner, peasant and lord, would have differed. Indeed, we know they did. Even then the sporting interests diverged from the agricultural and the urban from the rural. Doubtless, had the Agricultural Research Council and the Nature Conservancy at that time been giving scientific advice to a mediæval Minister of Science, they would have given divergent advice as they do to-day. Therefore, there must be a balance; and public opinion must in the end make it clear what it desires that balance to be. I would say it is not a subject for extreme attitudes.
Although Lord Douglas of Barloch's Motion goes somewhat wider, both Motions now under discussion are phrased principally in the context of the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture. Indeed, the speeches which have been made have drawn at times fairly closely on Miss Carson's book Silent Spring, to whose English edition the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has composed a notable Foreword. But I should begin by saying that it must by now, at least, be apparent that the use of chemicals in agriculture is only a special case of a much wider question: the use by mankind in almost every field of his activity in this technological age, of increasingly powerful substances whose effects are sometimes unexpected, occassionally dramatic and often undesired.
This is a question which cannot fail to attract the attention of Government in a 1138 variety of different ways, and it is worth while admitting at the outset that no Government on earth can claim to have discovered absolute answers to all the questions. Nor will it ever do so, because the nature of the dangers will continually change with the change in technology and science. What is wanted is not an absolute answer but a proper means of watching issues as they arise and a proper organisation for ensuring that scientific opinion ifluences policy at a sufficiently early stage. By far the most dramatic and tragic recent case of this general question was the side effects of thalidomide on the human fœtus; but it would not be difficult to find examples of many kinds in industrial medicine or public health or, for that matter, in nuclear physics.
There is, in fact, practically no way in which man has not altered his environment. It is one of the permanent and serious dangers of a scientific and technological society and one against which a scientific and technological society must learn to erect substantial defences. We cannot get the benefits of a scientific and technological society without running some of these risks; but in applying new knowledge we cannot do so responsibly unless we make some insurance against the risks. What we cannot hope to do, however, if we are to accept the benefits of a scientific and technological society—which I believe it is the overwhelming desire of the people of this country and, indeed, of the whole modern world to do—is to guarantee that there will never be any unexpected or evil side effects. I should have thought that Lord Douglas of Barloch's speech alone, without any other matter added from any other source, would have established that many of these substances cannot in their nature reveal all their potentialities in purely clinical or limited sample trials, either on animals or human beings. In some cases these results will appear only after the greatest possible care has been taken, after they have been applied over a long period of time and over a wide population.
I would say that this debate has the merit of drawing attention to one important aspect of a most important subject. Whether, however, the book which gave rise to it really deserves all the encomiums which have been lavished upon it is, I think, open to question. I could not help noticing, for instance, that the 1139 reviewer in the Scientific American described it as ahighly partisan selection of examples and interpretations that support the author's thesis".And it went on to say that neither she nor, for that matter, her extreme opponents had succeeded in placing the controversy in a genuine ecological context. Whether this be so or not, I certainly agreed with the reviewer when he went on to say that in the present state of knowledgenobody knows enough to adopt an extreme position in the matter".I thought it might be useful if at the outset of the debate I sought to give a perspective to some of the more extravagant fears which may have been released by the discussion of this matter.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, will the noble Viscount allow me to interrupt? I think he is being extremely unfair in taking one book review. I have literally dozens of book reviews of Rachel Carson's work and I have studiously avoided introducing the controversial side of it. I hope we shall not find ourselves debating particular points on the book. There are dozens of reviews by distinguished scientists who are wholly sympathetic to Rachel Carson. I do not think that we shall get far if we adopt this line of argument.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I think the noble Lord's anxiety to advocate some things may be misleading him as to what I have been saying. I have not referred to any particular point in the book; I have referred to a general criticism, which I myself happen to endorse, up to a point, and I think I am entitled to express that view, if I happen to hold it. I ventured to do so in the language of another to prove that it was not at least peculiar to myself.
Whilst I am on the subject, I would say that I believe that our peculiar scientific organisation, which keeps the Research Councils composed of independent scientists of a wide range of disciplines independent of the executive Ministries but in close touch with them, is itself an important safeguard of no mean value. The Nature Conservancy, the Agricultural Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and 1140 even the Atomic Energy Authority, are closely concerned with these and cognate matters, and a most important part of my functions is to ensure that their advice is given early and heeded closely in matters of this kind and is not watered down either by political pressure or by administrative convenience.
I must, however, begin with the proposition that, while both Motions appear to me to draw attention to a most serious matter, to which all Governments would be wise to pay continuous and serious attention, both seem to me, though in different degrees, to fall into the error of stressing only one side of the matter. I think, therefore, that it is for me to redress the balance by stressing the other, not because I think it is the only side, but because I think it is necessary to see this matter in perspective.
To begin with, we must remember the desire on the part of most mankind for increased food production. On page 9 of the American edition of her book, Miss Carson asks the rhetorical question:Is our real problem not one of overproduction '?If this means that there is too much food in the world, to this question I myself would reply with an uncompromising and resounding, "No". No one who has attended the series of debates, the last of which took place on the initiation of my noble friend Lord De La Warr and others of which have been initiated by my noble friend Lord Casey, on the relationship between food and population in the world, can fail to agree with this.
If it means, on the other hand, that agricultural efficiency must always and in all circumstances yield to the ecological requirements of wild life, my answer is a qualified, "No", for I believe that a balance must be struck. The question is where is it necessary to strike that balance? Nor am I prepared to give my countenance, at any rate in my official capacity, to the "muck and magic" school of husbandry and to those to whom all chemicals and food additives are necessarily dirty words. Most people who have even a nodding acquaintance with agriculture will certainly claim that the extraordinary development of agricultural production and efficiency in this country in our lifetime, though in part due to mechanisation and 1141 good husbandry and in part due to fertilisers and Government support, could not have been achieved without chemical sprays and pesticides.
Nor is it in the main true, as I thought at one stage the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, suggested, that the sprays and pesticides used are all becoming more toxic in their effects. I think that too little of what has been said and written on this subject has recognised how much of the undoubted damage has been due to one group of insecticides—chlorinated hydrocarbons. A number of the more toxic chemicals are no longer used in this country on an extensive scale and the use of the group which caused such dramatic losses two or three years ago—aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor—is now heavily controlled and not used except for wheat, and then only when threatened with wheat bulb fly and in the autumn. It may be the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, that the farmer is not yet educated to the proper use of these things, but I agree with him that we must take what steps we may.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Viscount said "heavily controlled". Will he tell us how heavily controlled?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
By the agreement which was arrived at after the incident to which the noble Lord referred. It was the indiscriminate use of these three in the spring which gave rise to much of the quite justified anxiety recently. Indeed, the whole episode of this trouble can be used equally as an example of the danger and as an example of the relative readiness of the defences which have contained it in this country. Many of the older pesticides—the arsenical compounds, for example—are more toxic both to insect and to human life than many of the newer ones, and some of these "natural" compounds which Miss Carlton advocates, such as derris, are at least as dangerous to mammalian life as some of the newer synthetics.
So far as agricultural chemicals are concerned, nothing has been said in this debate or written elsewhere to invalidate the general conclusion of the Sanders Report that the great majority of chemicals and fungicides, insecticides and herbicides, on farms and orchards have no apparent deleterious effects on wild 1142 life. There was no reason, they went on to say, until recently to think that any of them have serious effects and need serious attention. The fact is that, to listen to some people, one would get the impression that the human race in this country was steadily being poisoned by more and more toxic food. In point of fact every health statistic of which I am aware establishes, or at least indicates, the proposition that on the whole we are becoming longer and longer lived and more and more healthy and better fed. On balance, I believe there is no doubt that in this process the use of chemicals by agriculturists and in some of the other ways described by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has played an important and, on balance, a beneficent part.
I think it is necessary to remind your Lordships that the Sanders Committee, to whose authoritative work I shall be reverting, stated unequivocally, and it is also the view of the Medical Research Council, that there is no evidence at all of death or illness attributable to the presence of toxic chemical residues in food entering the market and (here I quote) there isno evidence of chronic effects from the ingestion of traces of pesticides in food.I cannot accept the proposition urged by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, that on balance the use of preservatives without nutritive value is necessarily deleterious to human health. I can think of many kinds of diseases and poisons which these preservatives prevent. We must not forget the immense benefits conferred by sprays in containing and reducing malaria and other insect-borne diseases. I know that, as a result of Miss Carson's book, DDT is under suspicion or attack, but it is difficult to estimate the human lives which were saved by DDT dust after the war, when the opening of the louse-ridden contents of the concentration camps released potential carriers of typhus all over Europe.
This does not, or need not, involve us in complacency. If we were tempted that way, I think we should reflect, as your Lordships have done, on the thalidomide and dieldrin episodes and on the terrible Cutter incident in America, which followed the use of the Salk vaccine prepared from the Mahoney strain. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, treats rather unfairly the belief, which I 1143 hold, that many of the practices condemned by Miss Carson do not go on in this country on anything like the same scale as in the United States of America, of which she was writing. We have nothing like the savage spraying of roadside and railside verges—this was put an end to when it began to show what I might describe as its ugly head—nor anything like the massive eradication campaigns such as those against the gypsy moth and fire ant she describes. Indeed, the pattern of our agriculture, with its relatively small fields, numerous hedges, and varied crops, does not lend itself to similar methods on anything like the same scale as she describes.
I also think that, thanks to the Research Councils and I think the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we have acted fairly promptly in anticipating or stopping abuse. In the early 1950's a Working Party under Sir Solly Zuckerman made an exhaustive study of the matter, and their recommendations were carried into effect partly (where the safety of agricultural workers was in issue) by legislation and partly by the operation in 1957 of the voluntary notification scheme administered by the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances in Agriculture and Food Storage. I know there are those who would wish to see this set up on a compulsory basis. But I am sure we should all agree that the real object of Government action in this or in any other field, is the creation of an appropriate pattern of conduct; neither persuasion nor coercion is desirable for its own sake. The only question, in any case, must be which system works better.
Then I must refer to the work of the Sanders Committee. This was a research study group set up by the Government in 1960. It is right to remember that this Committee reported that arrangements in this country for ensuring the safe use of pesticides were working well and were generally effective. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred, both in his Motion and in his speech, to the need for more research. I share the same view, and this was the view also of the Sanders Report. Its recommendations were accepted by the Government and are being acted on by the Research Councils and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
1144 In particular, I asked the Nature Conservancy to undertake research into the effect of pesticides on wild life. They agreed to do so, and are planning to expand it considerably this year, particularly at their new station, which I hope to open later in the year, at Monk's Wood. Research is also going on by the other Research Councils, and in order to ensure its comprehensiveness and to prevent duplication I asked the Agricultural Research Council to set up a scientific committee under Professor A. C. Frazer, of Birmingham University, to keep all relevant research under review and to report progress at intervals. I have just received the first Report of this Committee.
It does not report dramatic successes, but it is a record—like most records of progress in scientific research—of slow and painstaking achievement. May I quote a few examples of research which has been started or intensified in consequence of the Sanders recommendations? The Agricultural Research Council are supporting research at St. Mary's Hospital into the processes by which insects can overcome the effects of chemicals, which was a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, referred. They have intensified research at Rothamsted into the mechanism of resistance to organo-phosphorous insecticides. They have appointed an additional scientist to work on the development of sugar beet resistant or tolerant to virus yellows at the Plant Breeding Institute, Cambridge. The special Pesticide Residues Research Unit of the Government Chemist's Laboratory has continued to improve methods of analysis. The Agricultural Research Council's National Vegetable Research Station is studying the persistence of aldrin, dieldrin, DDT and BHC. (in other words, the common chlorinated hydrocarbons) on farms, and the effect of these residues on ground beetles which prey on the cabbage root fly larva.
The Nature Conservancy are studying the incidence of residues of persistent insecticides in wild birds and their eggs, and in mammals, and they are cooperating with the Ministry of Agriculture in studying the problem of damage to birds and other wild life. They also plan a considerable expansion of their 1145 work on chemicals and wild life during the next year.
In the field of biological control, the Agricultural Research Council now support research at Oxford into the life histories and host relationships of a group of parasitic wasps. Work on polyhedral viruses is being carried out at Cambridge, in the Agricultural Research Council's Virus Research Unit there, and on bacterial parasites at the Pest Infestation Laboratory at Slough. The Agricultural Research Council also support work at Imperial College into the population biology of aphids and their natural enemies and on the best ways of applying chemical control measures so as to interfere as little as possible with natural control. These researches will lead steadily to the growth of our understanding, and will help us to gain the maximum benefit of chemical pesticides with the minimum of hazard.
I hope to have shown that the Government's approach to this problem has been and is serious and systematic. Inquiries by successive Working Parties and study groups have marshalled the facts and assessed the scientific evidence. These studies have led to proposals for action which the Government have put into force, for example, by the setting up of a voluntary notification scheme. We shall continue to take action on the advice of scientists from time to time, and I always make it my business to see that warnings made by the Research Councils and by outside bodies are brought to the notice of my colleagues in the executive departments; and on each occasion when a hazard to human health has been suggested I have asked for special advice from the Medical Research Council and the other Departments. When these recommendations have called for more resources, for additional staff or expenditure to be met from public funds, these resources have been and are being found. Where there was a need for emergency action, as in the case of the birds poisoned by seed dressings, that action has been taken.
I do not believe, having considered this matter very carefully with my scientific advisers, that there is any general cause for concern about the effects of these chemicals on human health. On other aspects, particularly the effect on wild life, I think there is some ground for apprehension. In 1146 particular, I have asked the Nature Conservancy to pay particular attention to the alleged effects of DDT on bird predators which is one of the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, referred. Over the whole field there is need for constant vigilance and for constant endeavour to extend the frontiers of our knowledge. I can assure the House that the Government are fully alive to this need, as I think our record will show, and that we will continue to assess any hazards there may be, and to deal with them, when necessary, in what I hope will be found to be a balanced and responsible manner.
My summing up of the whole matter is that this is an important issue requiring constant attention and research. If noble Lords claim that the case against an indiscriminate use of insecticides and pesticides is proved, I wholly agree with them. But if they wish to turn all chemicals and additives into an antisocial operation, then I confess I am on the other side of the barricades. This is where, above all, we need an ability to balance advantages and disadvantages and evaluate scientific evidence in a responsible manner.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like to make a brief intervention in this debate, which up to now I think has proved a very useful one because it has enabled the noble and learned Viscount the Minister for Science to make what has been a very important statement upon the two Motions standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Douglas of Barloch and Lord Shackleton. It seems to me a curious thing that nine years ago we passed a Bill in this House for the protection of birds, and we are now again talking, among other things, about more danger to birds coming from totally different sources. The Protection of Birds Act which was passed in 1954 was to protect birds from being shot and their eggs from being stolen; now we are talking about the danger which may come to bird life from the chemical sprays which are being used.
The noble and learned Viscount referred to the two that are the most dangerous, the two hydrocarbons called dieldrin and aldrin, both of which can be extremely toxic to bird life, and also, I think I am right in saying, to pet animals, 1147 both dogs and cats—but there, I think, dieldrin becomes more dangerous than aldrin. That was why I was rather surprised to see, in two seed catalogues which I had sent me from Edinburgh to-day, published in January, 1963, both these substances advertised with no warning at all that they might conceivably be dangerous things to use in too large quantities. I wonder whether some voluntary agreement, such as was come to with the farmers that these substances would not be used on farmland in great quantities except where they were needed for special reasons, could not be extended to the gardens, because we may find that the gardens may become a source of death to birds and other things.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I think the answer is this—my noble friend beside me will correct me later if I am wrong. The thing which caused all the damage was that the seed sown was dressed. This was dangerous not because the article was poisonous (because in itself it is not likely to be taken by birds or pets) but because the seed is eaten by the birds as their natural food. Then the pets are apt to get it because they eat or play with their mouths with the dead bodies of birds. It follows that to stop the seed deals with the nub of the question. But if more needs to be done we will consider it.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount for what he has said, but I think that possibly these catologues should be encouraged to include some kind of warning of the danger, although I agree that it is not very great.
I was pleased to hear what the noble Viscount said about the work that has been done to deal with strains which may become resistant to spraying with DDT or various other chemicals. This has always been one of the things which has worried me. If such resistance occurs, it may mean using stronger and stronger insecticides and pesticides, which will become more and more dangerous. If work is being done towards that end, that takes away a good deal of the anxiety which I felt in that line.
I should like to say a word upon the human effects, because I think that here 1148 we have to be extremely careful. There appears to be some evidence—not a great deal, I admit—that some of the substances which are used as sprays, certainly in America (and some of what I say comes from Miss Carson's book, but some from workers in this country), can be carcinogenic. One has to be very careful that some of these substances do not turn out to be carcinogenic, because they have been found to cause strange tumours which do not seem to be cancers themselves, though one has to be more than sure they are not. The trouble about cancer is that it takes a long time to develop from any one cause.
There was a case, which may be familiar to many of your Lordships, about girls in New York (I think it was) who during the 1914–18 war were employed putting luminous paint on the dials of various instruments used in aircraft. When they painted on this luminous paint they pointed the brush with their tongue and lips, and they ingested quite a large quantity of this luminous paint. In the course of 15, 20 or 30 years (I think the last one was) a large number of these girls developed cancer of the bone and jaw, which I believe could be attributed entirely to the work they were doing. I quote that merely to show that cancer takes a long time to develop; that it needs a stimulus to be applied for a considerable time. But that does not mean that we should not do what we can to find out whether or not these substances are likely to be carcinogenic. There have been various other substances, used mainly in Germany, which have been dangerous to human beings. They have caused muscular symptoms, even going so fax as paralysis, but I doubt whether they are greatly used in this country. One melathion, does appear in catalogues. But one wants to avoid that kind of thing occurring now.
There is one thing that surprised me. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, referred to the question of whether water is to be treated with fluorine. I thought that was an old story which was almost settled, because we know exactly what occurs with fluorine—not because we have put it in water for a long time, but because certain waters have fluorine in them naturally, up to the amount it is suggested might be put into the water now. It has 1149 been shown that children who drink that water do not get dental decay. That is a fact. There is no denying it. I saw in one paper the other day the question raised of what would happen if one boiled up water in. a kettle and drank the water at the bottom: would it contain a poisonous amount of fluorine? The answer is that this must occur many times where fluorine exists naturally, and I should not have thought there was any need to bring fluorine into the question of these toxic chemicals and sprays at the present time.
There are two points I should like to raise on the amenity side. I was very pleased indeed to hear the noble and learned Viscount say that there was no intention of going in for spraying the verges of country lanes on a bigger scale, because that would make them frightfully dreary and desolate. The other point is this. It is a sad thing that some of the sewage treated by detergents is doing such damage. I have in mind particularly the sewage from Norwich, which goes into the river Yare and which, because it contains a large amount of detergent, has a deleterious effect upon the aquatic life of the Yare. Provided that it is not discharged in large quantities, untreated sewage does not cause any particular harm to aquatic life in the river but when it is mixed up with chemicals and detergents it can. It is a great pity, and I should like to see something done to check that. I am glad that the noble and learned Viscount agrees that we need to know a great deal more about this subject, and that we need to encourage the various bodies doing research so that we have a clear idea what we are doing when we are using these various sprays, or "detergening", or whatever they call it.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, I rise to support in general the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I will not attempt to traverse the side of the case which was dealt with so carefully by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch. I will merely say that I think there is more in what he said about the possibilities of biological control over what are biological pests than is sometimes admitted. On the other hand, I am bound to say that I 1150 feel that in that respect Rachel Carson is far too optimistic. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who said that one must take a balanced view. I think there is more in that case than is admitted by the other side, who say that biological control is merely a biologist's pipe dream. That goes much too far on the one side. On the other hand, the thought that all these pests can be controlled in any reasonable time purely by biological methods is also a delusion.
But the aspect of the matter with which I should like to deal is the effect upon wild life as we know it to be in the conditions of this country. I would agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in what he said, that conditions in America are different from here. Nevertheless, if the same, or similar, substances are ingested by the same or similar creatures, I do not think it is going to matter on which side of the Atlantic it happens, and it is not much comfort for us to say that quantitively we may be better off, that the amounts distributed here are less than are scattered over the soil of America.
Though it would be inappropriate this afternoon to discuss, or enter into a defence of or an attack on Rachel Carson, I think there is one thing that ought to be said on her side. Admittedly she has presented a one-sided case, and she has done it in an extremely telling and heightened way. But if she needed defence, it would surely be that, on the other side, chemical opinion, industrial opinion, farming opinion and Government opinion were all very slow indeed to admit that any mischief was in fact happening. When it was proved that some mischief was occurring they all said that it was of a trifling character, and that if birds and creatures were dying anyone who walked out into the country would see carcases all over the place. Every naturalist knows that that is not the way in which wild creatures creep to their deaths, and every naturalist knows what an efficient scavenger nature is.
The other great service which this book has done is to bring home the build-up in the food chain. We need not rely upon the evidence of Silent Spring for that. Very careful and well-informed inquiries have been made in this country, at great expense, by two voluntary bodies 1151 whose work I know well, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology. They proved, by having analyses made, that these chemical substances, or toxic substances which we must not call poisons, do build up in the food chain in a very remarkable manner. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the case of birds of prey which was recently discussed at a very representative meeting at Cambridge. There it was shown that a variety of these toxic substances are found not only in the bodies of hawks and of owls but in their eggs; and it is not surprising in these circumstances that the eggs have been infertile or do not hatch, or that such chicks as do hatch die within a few days.
The same kind of evidence hay been accumulated by similar organisations on other creatures. How does a heron in Norfolk become full of mercury, dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor and benzene hexachloride? Those toxic chemicals can have accumulated only by its eating small rodents or fish on which it feeds; and the curious thing is that, though the quantities distributed to kill and absorbed by insects in the first instance are minute, by the time a fish has eaten the insects which have been killed and a grebe or heron has eaten the fish, the quantity has become very large, building up in its fats to a level beyond the capacity of the creature to excrete the poisons. Perhaps it could be said that this has only recently been realised sufficiently by biologists and naturalists themselves, but what has impressed me is the fact that it was denied by the chemists and most of the people on the other side that it was or could be happening. I think one of the explanations for this is that far too much of the research that has been done has been done by chemists for chemists, or perhaps by agricultural or economic entomologists who have been under directions or working with the intention to discover means of eradicating or eliminating some particular insect. Therefore, they have in fact been working in blinkers, and it is only very recently that a general ecological point of view has been brought to bear.
I have for many years been a member of the Nature Conservancy, and recently its Chairman, and the Nature Conservancy would be the first to admit that 1152 they were slow in getting off the mark on those lines of inquiry. That has been due to lack of manpower and lack of resources; and we cannot but be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, for having seen recently that they are better enabled to get on with the research which is now being undertaken under very competent scientific direction. But I would suggest that as a result of what has already been done we know enough to take much more vigorous action than has yet been taken. Here I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the Government should come off the defensive and show more initiative and determination to solve and cope with the problems which we now know to exist. What we have heard this afternoon from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is encouraging. There is a great deal more to do, but it is only fair to say that a start has at last been made.
I do not want to take up your Lordships' time or to read out to you a lot of resolutions, but many of the bodies interested in the protection and conservation of wild life have recently been giving this matter very serious attention, and they have formulated a number of resolutions, which I will endeavour to cover by way of summary, as to what we think can and should be done here and now. They turn mainly on three points. There is the direction of the research which should be undertaken; the question of enabling both the users and the sellers of these substances to know and say more clearly what they are and what their effects are. Then there are perhaps one or two more general lines of possible action, and I would suggest more definite control over certain of the things which are known to be most dangerous.
Perhaps I might deal first with the aspect of research. I think it is almost generally agreed, and certainly agreed in all parts of the House, that more research is required; and, of course, that means more money and more staff. I cannot press that point too far or too hard this afternoon, and I have noted with great interest and satisfaction that research is moving more quickly than it seemed likely to do two or three years ago. We want research into long-term and side effects, to some of which the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has referred, but also 1153 into immediate ways and means of mitigating damage which could perhaps be found. We want research by biologists into the ecology of particular pest species, on which something has been done though not enough.
Surely we want much more research (and here perhaps it can best be done by chemists) into alternative pesticides and weed killers which will be sufficiently effective but not so devastatingly lethal to all sorts of creatures at which they are themselves not directly aimed. I believe that much more could be done on these lines by full consultation between chemists and the Nature Conservancy and other biologists, and that they might be directed to devote their attention to finding out things which will be less lethal and less persistent. Persistence is a point of great importance about some of these more destructive agencies which cause great concern. Would it be unreasonable to say that there should not be any new developments in the use of these toxic chemicals without consultation between the biological and the chemical side?
I think it is true that we are unlikely to go so far in this country as they have gone in America in dosing the land. But one never knows; and it has been suggested that if the Forestry Commission, for for example, were to start spraying its new plantations with highly toxic substances for the destruction of voles, we should at once have a new threat to many of the birds of prey and to some interesting mammals. Indeed, there would be devastating results incurred—I will not say thoughtlessly, but again without full ecological consideration of the consequences. I hope that whichever noble Lord responds for any points affecting forestry in this debate will take note of that particular danger.
In the direction of research I feel also that much more attention ought to be paid to the use of sprays. It is quite fair to say that after considerable pressure the Ministry of Agriculture took a helpful and enlightened view of the question of seed dressings, but I hope they will not feel inclined to rest on their oars and on that particular achievement, to the neglect or insufficient consideration of other equally pressing and urgent dangers, in particular (I will come back to that in a moment), the use of these chemicals by 1154 gardeners. There is, so far as I know, no control over the sale or use of many of these substances by gardeners, and it is very disturbing that a great deal of the advertisement of these substances leaves the ordinary amateur gardener quite unaware of the damage he may be doing by using many of these things.
Recently, I am told, it was stated by a well-known gardener in a broadcast that none of the substances used for destroying greenfly or other garden pests could have any possible adverse effects upon wild life. I will not discuss the truth or otherwise of that statement; I will merely content myself by saying that that at least is not a scientific view. The amateur gardeners are not subject to what perhaps is a limiting factor upon agriculture. The agriculturist does not want to waste his money; he will not, except in rare cases, use more or pay for more than he is bound to have. But that does not apply to the gardener. Naturalists generally have come to the conclusion that a great deal of damage is, in fact, being done by the use of chlorinated hydrocarbons in gardens, and I think that problem requires some urgent consideration by the Minister of Agriculture. I have a label here on one kind of aldrin powder. It gives no hint that it could be damaging to wild life. It says that it will remain active in the soil for a year, and also says "dust freely". I think there is too much of this "dusting freely", and dusting often, with a great many of these things without any control over them whatever. Apart from their use for agricultural purposes, the use of these things for gardening purposes, and some control over it, want very urgent attention.
The next point I would raise is the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has already referred, that there should be much clearer labelling of these substances. All toxic chemicals known to be harmful to wild life, even these sold in retail trade, ought to be clearly labelled to indicate the dangers. I understand that there are considerable difficulties about labelling them as poisons. Apart from the fact that the manufacturers and the trade much prefer to call them toxic chemicals, and do not like the word "poison", there are, I believe, some real difficulties connected with the administration of the Food and Drugs Acts. But I feel that it is a 1155 perfectly sound suggestion for them to be labelled as harmful to wild life, in whatever is the suitable language.
If I might also say so, I feel that the approved list of agricultural chemicals is defective in that respect. It is wonderfully well arranged and very clearly printed and it gives a good deal of information, but so far as I can see it never says more than that some particular chemical is harmful to bees or harmful to fish. To take one instance, that is true of the part of the list dealing with aldrin. When you get to the aldrin seed dressings it goes a little further, but it merely says:(a) Risks to users.(b) Risks to wild life: dressings containing aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor.Should only be used … on autumn-sown wheat …",and so on. It never says it is harmful to wild life. That seems to be avoided, but I think that in a new edition of this list that point wants reconsideration. I think those are the two main points about which those for whom I can venture to speak feel most concerned—much more research and clear labelling—so that everybody knows what they are using and what are the risks of damaging wild life. All manufacturers and vendors in their publicity and sales methods should take all reasonable steps to warn their customers of the risks, and especially of the cumulative effect of repeated small doses—a point which Lord Douglas of Barloch has stressed.
I think it would be only fair to say that, in some respects, when their attention has been drawn to the matter, members of the Government have taken action. I am particularly grateful to the Minister of Public Building and Works. Recently I drew his attention to the fact that the death of insectivorous birds in London, which was not due to agricultural practice, might be due to the use of some of these substances in gardens or parks. The particular case I had in mind was the London song thrush, which had obviously eaten worms or other insects. The Minister of Public Building and Works promptly wrote back and said this to me—and I have his leave to quote it to the House:All Royal Parks staff are now being given a formal instruction that preparations contain- 1156 ing aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor must not be used in the parks".He went further than that, and said that after consulting the infestation control laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture, and finding out that there were some preparations which were considered safe and others which involved risks, he had also given instructions that those that were not safe were to be avoided if there was any alternative method of control. He concludes by saying:We shall proceed with the utmost caution before we introduce any new chemical which may come on to the market in future, into the ParksIf I may say so with respect, that is the approach which we feel should be the ordinary approach by the Government to these matters. The resolutions to which I have referred, and which are being sent in detail to the Ministers concerned, press for a restriction of or prohibition on the use of the substances which are known to be dangerous, save in cases of emergency. As has been said by other speakers in the debate, that particularly applies to the chlorinated hydrocarbons.
This is a most difficult and complicated subject. But I am satisfied that we have got far beyond the stage where we can be content with mere generalities or saying that the situation is being watched, and things of that sort, or even that we are going to embark upon researches which may yield some guidance in years to come. I think at this present time we know enough in many directions to do much more than has been done, and I would earnestly ask the members of the Government to look at the part of the field which comes within their respective control and to see whether we cannot take definite steps which will prevent the situation from deteriorating, as otherwise it is certain to do.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, most noble Lords so far have addressed themselves to the pollution of the air by pesticides and other chemicals which are associated with agriculture, but I think it should be put on record here, for the sake of those who follow us in years to come and who read the report of this debate, that most people are more concerned with the pollution of the air by nuclear fall-out. Lord Douglas of Barloch's Motion is, of course, concerned with pollution generally. I 1157 am fully aware that if I now spoke on the effects of nuclear fall-out either on the health of the people now alive or on the health of future generations, a member of the Government would wind up—with due respect to the noble Lord who is to wind up, who is a most courteous man—and would say, "Pooh, pooh!"—
BARONESS SUM MERSKILL
—and would rather adopt the attitude of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to-day, which rather surprised me, when he said, "There is no evidence of human beings suffering from any serious condition". Well, I want to put it on record again that at this stage we do not know the etiology of new diseases.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
It is an occupational disease with the noble Viscount, as a politician, and he worries me.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
He worries me. He leaps from that side to the Box, and one day I shall have to rush across and give him medical help. He really must allow me to proceed. I do not agree with him, but at least I sit back and do not interrupt him. However, for some curious reason, I seem to provoke him.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
I listened to the noble Viscount. I realise what tremendous power in this matter the noble Viscount has, and that is why I listened to him carefully and tried to learn what he proposes to do. I cannot help agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who has just said, as a result also of listening to him, that 1158 he is sorry to see the Government so much on the defensive. The noble Viscount has diverted me. Perhaps he will let me continue, and afterwards he can tell me where he disagrees.
What I wanted to say was that it would be curious for future generations to read this debate and to see no reference to that form of air pollution which concerns people all over the world—namely, nuclear radiation. I again say to the noble Viscount that when he said that, after all, our expectation of life is longer than it has ever been, so many of the diseases from which people die have now been defeated, he must recognise that the etiology of new diseases has not been established. And, who knows?, in this debate to-day what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, on the question of carcinogenics and the effect of hydrocarbons may be later quoted as being the first indication that perhaps we are now groping, at least we are pointing, at what may be the beginning of new diseases. So let us all recognise it, as so many of the speeches in this debate detected it.
I would ask the noble Viscount, as Minister for Science, not to be so dogmatic. In the whole field of chemical science people have risen up and suggested something and others have laughed and have called, "Crank!" and "Idiot!". We can think of Pasteur; we can think of Lister; we can think of many men in the field of medical science who have been ridiculed and afterwards proved to be right.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, if the noble Baroness is passing from that point, perhaps she will allow me at least to get a word in edgewise and to say that she has attributed to me sentiments which I never expressed and words which I have never used. I offered no opinion of my own, except that I quoted the Sanders Report which is generally conceded to be authoritative and which I said also corresponded with the Medical Research Council's opinion, which is even more authoritative than that of the noble Baroness. I said that no evidence of chronic effects from ingestation of traces of insecticide in food had been found. I also said that there is no evidence at all of death or illness attributable to the presence 1159 of toxic chemical residues in food entering the market. I said nothing whatsoever about fall-out, I said nothing about disease, I did not quote my own opinion, and I was not dogmatic.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, with respect, I noticed the noble Viscount's remark when he made it, about there being no evidence of food contamination. Has he looked at Davis & Lewis, British Medical Journal, 1956, Volume 2, page 393, which says:Outbreak of food poisoning from bread by means of endrin-contaminated flour"?I give him that reference. It is rare; it is the only reference I know of; but it is, in fact, the reference in Poisonous Chemicals on the Farm, prepared by the Agricultural Department and endorsed by the Standing Medical Advisory Committee.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Lord must address himself to the Medical Research Council. I was merely quoting their opinion.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has reassured me that my hearing was not faulty and I was correct in what I was saying, perhaps I might now be able to continue without any more interruptions. As I was saying, no doubt when the social historians, on examining comparable morbidity statistics, come to consider air pollution in the 'fifties and 'sixties, they will indict the Governments of the Great Powers for permitting the upper atmosphere to be polluted with material possessing lethal properties. What we are discussing now is almost trivial compared to this deliberate pollution of the upper atmosphere.
I am now going to echo—and I am sure the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will be pleased to hear this—perhaps rather mildly, some of the things he has said regarding seeing this whole question in proper perspective. Listening to my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch, who was a little gloomy, I came to the conclusion that there were only two items of food free from any form of treatment chemically or otherwise. The two items are fresh fish and wild fruits.
§ LORD TAYLOR
Ah! But did my noble friend hear what the noble Lord, 1160 Lord Hurcomb, was telling us about fish which had eaten insects; the fish themselves were then eaten by heron, and the heron then died as a result? So even fish are not free from it.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
But they were fish that jump out of the water. I am talking about fish in deep water. I have come to the conclusion that it leaves us with only those two foods. Which of us—certainly not myself—would decide to go and live on a desert island so that we could live solely on fresh fish and wild fruits? I would say that whatever the hazards, dietary and otherwise, I would prefer to be within easy reach of the National Health Service. It is a complete fallacy to suggest that nature produces food in all respects best for man and that man can do nothing to improve it. What is cooking but a successful attempt to improve on nature?
When we hear about the number of additives (a most curious word which has grown up in our vocabulary) I recall—and I hope my noble, medical friend Lord Taylor will agree with me without leaping up—that the fortification of food began with the addition of calciferol to margarine in recognition of the limited distribution of this vitamin in nature. There have been hundreds of other instances. Iodine has been added to food in the most obvious centres of goitre, with the most beneficial results. And the fluoridation of water is now recognised as making a contribution to preventive medicine.
There are those who still affirm that only a natural soil can produce the sort of food which can keep man healthy, and they attribute to nature a kind of universal benevolence. Nature is not benevolent. Nature can be harsh, cruel and ugly, and even its soil can be improved. It is beyond doubt that good soil, scientifically treated with skilful husbandry, can improve the yield of various kinds of produce and therefore profoundly affect man's welfare. I should like to remind noble Lords that this debate is being held in the middle of the Freedom from Hunger Week. Those who are collecting money for it are making an important contribution because they are focusing the attention of people in different countries on the needs of half the world's population. But money is not the long-term answer. The needs of the hungry millions can be met only by producing more food.
1161 Having recognised the contribution which artificial fertilisers and pesticides make to agriculture, it is equally important to examine with great care their harmful properties. I must confess that for many years we regarded DDT with a kind of warm appreciation, almost with affection. To a doctor a tin of DDT was something which brought hope, comfort and health to millions of people in the world. DDT, dichloro-diphenyltrichloro-ethane—it is sad to think it is a toxic chemical with a selective action, and, although it has achieved tremendous good for man, we are finding that it is affecting man in another way.
I should like to have an answer to this question. I find it very curious, having read certain medical papers on this matter, that twelve years ago in the United States the Food and Drugs Administration found that the insecticide was ingested. In the first test over 75 per cent. of a group of 75 United States citizens, not occupationally exposed to DDT, had traces of this insecticide in the body; furthermore 30 out of 32 samples of human milk contained DDT. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that it was estimated that in the fat of British bodies a certain amount of DDT can be found, but I find no record of any examination of the kind conducted in the United States being made on this. Although Lord Hailsham shakes his head, the British Medical Journal says that examinations of this kind have not been made. I should like to know why we are behind on this prospect. It seems that there are something like 500 pesticides on the market, and I wonder whether in this field the testing is as inadequate as, or even more inadequate than, that of the hundreds of drugs put on the market for human consumption. It seems that the position is very similar.
I must say to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House and Minister for Science, that he was much too complacent, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, would agree. I should like to remind him that in 1960, at the Commonwealth Entomological Conference, Dr. J. L. Martin of the Long Ashton Research Station made the following statement—I am sorry to give these quotations to the noble Lords. but Lord Hailsham may well dismiss anything I say on this subject. I do not pretend to be an authority on the 1162 effects of pesticides, and therefore I must quote authorities. Dr. Martin said:The rapid pace at which innovations occur raises serious problems for those engaged in research, advisory and regulatory work. It is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out tests on which to base sound recommendations for the growers … We have therefore to rely more and more upon the manufacturers' assessments of the capabilities of their products.This authority on the matter is saying that we are so limited in capacity for research and investigation that we must leave it to the manufacturers. I am mindful of those who are prepared to leave the investigation of drugs such as thalidomide to the manufacturers. It has always been said in this field that this work must be left to the manufacturers.
But, my Lords, at the same conference another authority, Dr. G. Watts of the Padwich Plant Protection Limited, said:The ultimate testing of the chemicals…is beyond the resources of even the largest industrial concerns, and it becomes necessary to invoke the help of local government experts and research stations in carrying out field tests.At the same conference one authority says,Our capacity is so limited we must leave it to the manufacturers";another one says,Even the manufacturers cannot do this work.Now I come to the rather lighthearted manner in which the noble Viscount dismissed the health aspects of these questions. I would refer him to the British Medical Journal article on July 15, 1961, one year after the authorities had told the country that it was difficult to have proper research made into these matters because of a lack of proper facilities. The B.M.J. article said:The Minister of Agriculture…"—that was Mr. Soames—… arranged for restrictions on the use of three insecticides. But it is clear … that much more must be done to ensure that all potentially toxic chemicals used on the land are rigorously screened by independent investigators before, and not after, they are placed on the market.My Lords, this is my theme this afternoon. I have spoken before, and no doubt wearied your Lordships, on the question of independent investigation of drugs which are put on the market for human consumption. Here, again, we 1163 are faced with exactly the same problem. The medical authorities realise the danger much more than the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the medical authorities say in their book: "Let us examine these things before they are put on the market—not by the vested interests; of course not; the vested interests cannot look at these matters objectively—but by independent investigators." It seems to me that these repeated warnings of possible danger are ignored, just as they are ignored in the field of drugs.
My Lords, there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action, and I was very disappointed to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, speak disparagingly of Dr. Carson. Perhaps he will remember this: it was a woman doctor—Dr. Frances Kelsey—who in the United States refused to allow thalidomide to be distributed. Dr. Frances Kelsey was disparaged in the same way. She was disparaged by the vested drug interests. I remember that one big drug manufacturer in the United States said: "This stupid woman doctor! She will not let us distribute thalidomide". I am quite sure that the vested interests, the interests which are making a fortune out of pesticides and fertilisers, recognise that Dr. Carson is their enemy. They try to ridicule her, diminish her, in precisely the same way that the drug manufacturers tried to ridicule and tried to diminish the doctor who refused to allow thalidomide to be distributed in the United States.
Now I come to the question of drugs. It is the same theme. Noble Lords will remember that at long last the attention of the world was directed to the irresponsible manner in which drugs were distributed without adequate trial, and only the thalidomide tragedy focused the attention of Parliaments and Governments throughout the world. I want to say this, because this is included in the Motion. Noble Lords will recall that thalidomide was withdrawn from the market. Scandinavian Governments and the American Government immediately tightened up their regulations, so that the thing could not happen again. On July 28, 1962, after thalidomide was withdrawn, three of the most brilliant obstetricians in this country wrote this to the British Medical Journal: 1164Until more is known we consider it of extreme importance that every doctor should think carefully before giving drugs to women in the early months of pregnancy, particularly drugs having less than ten years' widespread use behind them.That was said last July, after thalidomide had been withdrawn. Nothing has been done, no action has been taken. A Committee has been set up, but drugs are sold and advertised as being an antidote to nausea in the early months of pregnancy, and young, innocent, ignorant, pregnant mothers throughout the country buy them. Here we have the same story. I can hear the clanking of the crocodile tears of the Minister of Health as I say this. Always something is going to be done, but it is not yet time.
I should like to know when we can expect action in this matter. There should be an independent authority for pesticides, fertilisers, and these materials which contain toxic chemicals; and an independent authority, also, to examine drugs which are made and sold for human consumption. These authorities must be independent of the commercial interests, and the substances must be tested and supervised by these authorities. It seems to me that the Minister of Health, and perhaps even the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is intimidated by these powerful interests whose standards of ethics leave much to be desired.
When we think of 500 pesticides, with only nineteen active ingredients among them, we realise that these are distributed throughout the country to be bought by anybody who is absolutely ignorant of their contents. There is no control. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, obviously is doing what he can, but if the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will read his speech, he will see that the noble Lord suggested in a nice, kindly way that he had not the power, he had not the people, he had not the means of research; and, indeed, the Nature Conservancy is not the kind of independent authority that I should like to see having this supervisory rôle.
I would say to the noble Viscount the Minister for Science that in this field he could have enjoyed his finest hour. He will never have a greater opportunity of service. I deplore the fact that he was on the defensive, that he was complacent, that he did not come to this 1165 House and say, "We will set up an independent authority free of all vested interests, in order to protect the public" He must not think that I am being too harsh with him, because I want to remind him that it is not my voice which says this. I take it that he has had brought to his attention the article written by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, in which they asked him to abandon his "politically expedient" efforts in the North-East and to start helping them and the country in the field of research. My Lords, may I echo those sentiments on behalf of those humans and animals who are the victims of the drug and pesticides commercial interests?
§ 5.20 p.m.
THE EARL OF AYLESFORD
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for giving us this opportunity of discussing this most vital issue. From a scientific and ornithological point of view, most of the noble Lords who have spoken so far, or who are yet to speak, are far more qualified to do so than I am: I trouble your Lordships only as a very worried landowner. We have had thrown over our heads to-day a wealth of fact and, I suppose, some fiction—or so both sides seem to admit—which has left us quite staggered. All we can see is this dreadful flag which has been flying since 1959 saying that something is wrong; that things are dying. Where are the birds getting to? What has happened to the insects? We are extremely worried by the fact that nobody seems to be able to answer the question: How persistent is this stuff? How long does it stay in the ground? All we have so far, or all that I have been able to get so far, is that it is excreted in five or six months. But what happens to it then? We find that it gets into the water supply; it goes down and nets picked up by the fish; and then it goes down and is swallowed by the heron, as we have heard to-day.
This chain of food is another thing which is worrying us very much—this build-up which goes on from the lowest form of life that picks up a dose of this stuff (one-fiftieth of a part per million, it may be) until it finally builds up, through the food chain, to the top, where the predators are getting quite a lot: 200 to 300 parts per million. If we 1166 lose our predators—and they are much the least hard-breeding: the lower you get in the table, so to speak, down to the bugs, the more prolific they are—we are always in danger of a breakout; and that seems to have been missed to-day.
What am I, as a poor, wretched landowner, to do about it? I can, I suppose, try to restrict the use of these chemicals on my own home farm, but I cannot remain for ever in a sort of oasis. I could not, for instance, stop the County Council, if they wished to do so, from spraying my hedgerows on the side of the roads, although fortunately my particular Council are an enlightened body, and would not do so. I cannot stop dead and dying birds from landing on my ground, and passing the chemicals back to me that way. I cannot stop what birds inhabit my home from going outside the boundaries and getting a lethal dose there. Finally, I cannot prevent the chemicals from getting into the water supply and coming up underground. Incidentally, talking of the water supply (nobody has mentioned it to-day), I wonder how many of our water undertakings in fact test for any of these aldrin or dieldrin groups of chemicals—or, in fact, even know how to. All I think can be done, so far as I am concerned, is to keep my land as uncontaminated as possible. This, at least, will have the effect of slowing down what, if it were 100 per cent. stable, would be an inevitable contamination of the around.
What is going to be done, my Lords? Individuals, it seems, can do practically nothing; small groups seem to be able to do practically nothing. We therefore have to ask for help from the Government, and I hope that we do not ask in vain. First, I should like to urge—and I was horrified, in a way, to think that we do not do this—that we should treat this as a matter of urgency. Secondly, please, no recriminations and no verbal postmortems, as we have had so far. Let us not waste time trying now to allot blame or to shift it on to somebody else's shoulders. The noble Viscount said that we are ignorant on this subject. Let us admit that we are, and get on with the job. We do, I feel, urgently need much more information and more education on this particular subject. If we are so short of scientists, why cannot we use the 1167 schools, why cannot we use some of our universities, and not these official bodies which have been mentioned to-day? Can we not find some means of getting a decontaminant going; something to clean the land again? This is the sort of thing that a landowner wants to know.
The other thing that I think we must do is to get everybody in on this. As to the ornithologists, we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, talking today; but they do keep their light very much under a bushel. If they have something to communicate they write it in one of their own papers. Gamekeepers are another branch. A gamekeeper tells only another gamekeeper. We are also inclined to be narrow and to stick to our own specialties, and not let the rest of the world know what is going on. To a large degree this is the cause of what is happening now. We need more biological research. I am perfectly certain, in my own mind, that in nature everything is balanced; everything has its place and its use. I know that when one is being "eaten alive" by midges it is rather difficult to believe that, but I am sure that midges are useful servants, and that they should be worthy of their hire.
We in game-preserving circles are today tending more and more, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, told us, to adopt the motto "Live and let live", and to budget for a certain amount of loss, and not be quite so greedy. Keepers long have fed foxes artificially, by dropping the odd rabbit here and there, to stop them getting on to the rearing fields. Surely this principle could be carried a little further. Could we not, by this sort of means, make sure that our predators and such creatures are a help to us? I am quite certain that both pheasants and rooks are quite capable, in correct proportions, of controlling the wireworm population. Whatever highly wonderful scientists tell me about that, I do not believe otherwise; I think it is true.
Obviously, we must restrict the indiscriminate use of these sprays and dressings. We must treat them for what they are: as deadly and, so far as I can see, very stable poisons. For many other chemicals one would have to sign a poison book, if it were an ordinary drug—and we are drenching our lands in this 1168 stuff. I feel that we should now try to re-establish the furred and feathered predators—we used to call them "vermin"—and try to build up a train of control from the top downwards, to safeguard ourselves from a biological outbreak of one of the lower species. It is to be noted—and I think we are purely lucky in it—that sparrows and mice have both reacted in this way. There are many more sparrows than there were, and the mice population are so much on the incline that even the pheasants have started to eat them. I feel that we ought to do something in that line. Lastly, let us learn our lesson now: not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. After all, from nature's point of view, we are only animals—highly developed and immensely powerful, it is true, and some of us really quite nice. Nevertheless, we are animals, and we are the greatest predators of them all.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
My Lords, I was very disturbed to hear the speeches of the first two speakers this afternoon. I think we must all have been both moved and disturbed by their speeches, and perhaps even more so by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the Leader of the House, which seemed to me far too complacent on a subject which is extremely menacing. I, too, have read the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and was again very much disturbed and impressed by what seemed to me to be an extremely well-documented case. The general thesis, as has been pointed out this afternoon, is that these very strong, poisonous chemicals are gradually poisoning the world around us—the soil, the plants, the wild life and, probably, ultimately, ourselves.
The fact which has been stressed on all sides, that this poisoning is slow, makes it far more dangerous. If this were a violent poison, if people were dropping down and developing extraordinary symptoms, there would be a wild rush to investigate what measures could be taken, measures would be put through, and the problem would be faced and, probably, overcome. But it is the very fact of the insidiousness of this poisoning, its slow moving, the uncertainty of the many cases of poisoning, which I think makes the ultimate facts of its deadly menace more real than if it were immediate and active. I must 1169 say that I follow the school of thought which believes in the general interdependence of the world and of the balance of nature. We may alter this balance a little in our own or in something else's favour, but unless a balance is kept we are going to run into very serious danger. The theme so beloved of the science fiction writer, of the insect and the bacteria taking over this world completely, may in the end be no fiction.
I have great sympathy with the farmers and I think we all ought to understand their point of view. They see some pest which is destroying their crop, maybe birds or insects or anything else, and they read or are told of some pesticide or weed killer which is going to eliminate or nearly eliminate it. They buy it and use it. Why should they not? The Minister of Agriculture is obviously fully aware of the danger of this, and, as we have been told this afternoon, there is a gentleman's agreement with the farmers that they should be very careful in the use of these pesticides; that they should be very careful to use the quantity prescribed; and that they should use it only at certain seasons. That is what the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, calls "control". It is not what we look on as control.
We must take human nature into consideration. There are many farmers who will be exceedingly careful and there are many others who will not be. There are many people who do not read the small lettering on the packet. There are many farmers who will say, "Now I think I'll add a bit more. It will make a thorough job. I have a little left; I'll use it up. I'll give it another spray so as to be absolutely certain" There are farmers like that. But, in any case, there is a large population of gardeners and allotment holders who are completely outside the agreement. It seems to me that this "control" that we are imposing by agreement is a faulty and a weak one.
The real trouble—and this has been pointed out by the first two speakers—is that these poisons are very violent ones. They kill man's friends just as much as his enemies. That is the whole crux of the matter. The poisons that kill the weavil or bug will also kill other things and will kill its natural enemies. You may have greenfly on your roses; you spray them to get rid of the greenfly 1170 and the ladybird is also killed. That is happening on a wide scale. I do not think it has been stressed in the debate but in Dr. Carson's book it was brought out how these different pests are gradually developing a resistance against sprays. That is going to be the serious problem that we have to face.
For instance, she states in the book that, in America, in order to cope with various sprays, something like 500 new chemicals come every year on the market and are used in pesticides, weed killers and so forth. As the noble Lord who has just spoken emphasised, these should all be more thoroughly tested. I will give one example. In Sheldon, Illinois, in 1954, there was considerable spraying against the Japanese beetle with dieldrin, which is five times more toxic than DDT. As a result, the beetle was eliminated, but the spray also killed all the birds; the starlings, the pheasants and the larks were all wiped out. Later, rabbits, muskrats and squirrels also died. Two years later the beetle reappeared as strong as ever. The dose was increased; a stronger chemical was used; and this time even sheep began to die, farm cats were almost wiped out, and still the beetle goes on from strength to strength.
The real trouble is that when pests are sprayed, only the extremely strong members of the species, those with exceptional strength and virility, survive the spray. They breed progeny with a new resistance. This breeding goes on and there is no way of controlling it. There is a limit to the chemical arsenal. The same thing occurred with the codling moth which threatens apple orchards; the blue tick in South Africa; and, in Southern Italy, the housefly and the Culex mosquito. They all gained tremendous resistance against DDT and other chemicals.
The World Health Organisation in one of its bulletins saysResistance is at present the most important single problem facing pest control.That seems to me the menace and why we are all stressing the danger of strong toxic chemicals when used to kill everything indiscriminately. Ultimately pests can resist the sprays and those predators that should have controlled the balance will have been wiped out and you are worse off than you were before. Those of your Lordships who are concerned with agriculture and the land must 1171 realise that the soil itself if not a dead and inert thing; it is a very live thing. It is full of bacteria and organisms and especially earthworms, which Darwin showed to be so useful to the soil. We sterilise the soil by indiscriminate spraying at our peril.
Mention was made of tobacco in America which used to be sprayed with arsenic. This practice was stopped, I think, in the middle 1940s and no more arsenic was used; yet between 1932 and 1952 it was found, from analysis, that the arsenic content of tobacco increased 300 per cent., although no sprays were used. The arsenic came from the soil. It got into the soil, and years later it is still coming up in the plants. I must stress that there is no proof of this, but it is surely a strong presumption. There is a tremendous increase in lung cancer among cigarette smokers. May this not be due to the arsenic put into the soil?
My Lords, may I ask one question? There are many soils which naturally contain arsenic. Can the noble Earl say whether it is certain that the soils he referred to did not have the arsenic before, and irrespective of, the spraying? It is important not to overstress the matter.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for introducing this point. I am not certain whether originally there was arsenic in the soil, but, as I said, this is an example, not a proof; but there is a strong presumption. Arsenical sprays were used for a long time, but there may well have been some in the soil. That is the sort of thing we have to look for and be careful about.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, may I interrupt? In fact, steps were taken with the growers in America to alter their spray. I do not have the facts with me, but I recall that it was about 1952 or 1953. The tobacco industry in this country then made urgent representations to the American growers to alter their spraying methods.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Yes, my Lords, I think that the noble Lord is right and that from now on we may have a cessation of those dangerous sprays. However, I have quoted this as only one example of what might happen. The same thing 1172 might happen also with fruit and vegetables. The difficulty is that washing and cooking does not seem to get rid of the poisons. One would think that the poison would be dissolved into the water used in cooking but it is not. It can enter the human system and become a menace to one's health for goodness knows how long. This is a great danger that confronts us.
It has been said that there is no proven case that these poisons actually caused illness. I wonder if that is true. Again I quote from Dr. Carson's book, where she says that at the Mayo clinic Dr. Malcolm Hargreaves examined a hundred cases of diseases of the blood-forming organs and found that in every case the patient had been exposed to toxic chemicals. I do not pretend that this is a hard and fast proof, but it may well show that the building up of poisons inside the human body ultimately has disastrous effects. But what is important is what we can do about it. Here is a very dangerous situation that needs more than watching. I would suggest that the Government, although they may be fully aware of this, are perhaps being a little too complacent. We have already heard of the meeting of ornithologists in Cambridge who are worried about the loss of birds and infertility of eggs. They passed a resolution asking thatthe agricultural, horticultural and forestry use of such chemicals, especially the poisonous chlorinated hydrocarbons, should be clinically examined and where necessary reduced.They are very worried about this, but according to The Times of March 4, the only comment of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which might almost have come out of "That Was The Week That Was", wasThere was no cause for alarm over the birds".I must say, in fairness, that they went on to say that they already had an agreement with the farmers and were quite happy that it was being carried out.
I do not think that complacency is what we want in a situation which is so menacing and fraught with possible dangers for all of us. The biggest of all the problems we are up against is that there is an enormous vested interest in this. There are firms making, not thousands but, I suppose, all over the world, millions in selling weed killers, pesticides, insecticides and all the rest. 1173 They axe not only those who manufacture the chemicals but also those who make the equipment for spraying, and the contractors who carry out the work. Though I am not accusing these people, the big firms especially, of being indifferent to the results which may occur, it is only human that if there is any doubt they will resolve that doubt in the way most favourable to themselves and say that, until it has been proved up to the hilt to the contrary, so far as they know these things are perfectly harmless.
We are not trying to advocate to the Minister that we should stop all spraying. Not for one moment should one forget the enormous benefits that have been brought about. But what we do ask is that the very toxic chemicals should be limited and controlled and in many cases forbidden, because there are others which still do the job very well and are less toxic in their effect on animal life. For instance there is pyrethrum, a chemical produced mostly in Kenya, which comes from the root of the chrysanthemum, which is an extremely good insecticide and which, although I do not say that it is completely non-toxic, is toxic to only a small degree compared to chemicals like DDT and the other violent poisons that we use.
In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said, I think that biological control can play a big part: for instance, by introducing its enemy to a pest, or sterilising the male pests or introducing among them other members of the pest. These means select and kill what you want to kill without being indiscriminate. If we are going to do this we must have a great deal more research, and I would beg Her Majesty's Government to give more money and attention to research on this important subject. Lastly, I would ask the Government to try to educate the public more. Sometimes it is the small gardener who is irresponsible in his use of pesticides, but once the public are really aware of the dangers not only to our wild life but also to ourselves, I am sure people will co-operate and be careful of what they use. I think that we must have not just a gentleman's agreement but real control of dangerous drugs. They must be properly labelled and when shown to be 1174 harmful they must be banned altogether.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, I find myself almost surprised at taking part in this debate, but the person really responsible is the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I have endeavoured to follow the advice of the noble Lord in the very impressive introduction which he wrote for Miss Rachel Carson's book, entitled Silent Spring, to which much reference has been made this after-noon. He says in that introduction that it is urgently necessary for nonscientists (by which polite term, I take it, he means the ignorant layman like myself) to understand the serious and threatening problems about which we are concerned in this debate. So I have read that book, which leaves me horror-stricken at the enormous biological potency of synthetic insecticides, the possibility of reckless eradication of plants that are performing functions necessary to the health of the soil or the indiscriminate destruction of beneficial insects and birds and animals; the disturbing of the vital processes of the human body, the wrecking of our genetic heritage and so on, with which the book deals.
This book, I take it, is a plea for biological control as against chemical controls, for the development of control by beneficial insects; in fact, a plea for the maximum use of natural controls and the minimum use of chemical insecticides. Miss Carson quotes an authority who says that we are walking in nature like an elephant in a china shop, and with due respect to the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of this House, it seems to me that that is precisely what we are doing. I should like to take this opportunity to say something about natural insecticides, notably pyrethrum, and to publicise the Commonwealth interest in this particular drug, in addition to any scientific preference for its performance. Granted, as I take it that it is granted by everyone, that natural controls are better than chemical controls, what minor action (if you like) can the Government take while this research, education and restraint for which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pleads, and which I think everybody would agree is so very necessary, are going on?
1175 The development since the war of a large range of relatively cheap and effective synthetic insecticides caused traditional and national insecticides to be pushed aside to some extent. Synthetic insecticides have without doubt played an important part in increasing crop production since the war; but they have their limitations and hazards. Natural insecticides, such as pyrethrum, also no doubt have their limitations. But it is fair, I presume, to say that both synthetic and natural insecticides have a part to play in combating pests. Extensive research on natural insecticides has been carried on in the last twenty years in parallel with the research which developed synthetic insecticides. Pyrethrum, in particular, has been developed out of recognition, and is several times more effective to-day than the powdered flowers which have been used for centuries, or the primitive extract formerly used in Flit and Keating's Powder.
Pyrethrum has special qualities which have not been reproduced in the synthetics and which make it safer in use. It is relatively non-toxic to warm-blooded animals—this is confirmed by a recent report published by the Huntingdon Research Centre. It is also extremely quick-acting. It is therefore possible to see quickly whether the spray has been effective, and it is unnecessary to use an excessive amount to ensure success, as is frequently the case with slower-acting insecticides. The most important pyrethrum quality is probably that no insect has yet built up effective resistance to it, while insects which are resistant to DDT and other synthetic insecticides have always appeared within a few years of the introduction of such insecticides, so necessitating the development of new synthetic insecticides with unknown long-term effects. Further, under conditions of heat and light pyrethrum breaks up, so that when the pests at which the spray has been aimed are killed, residues quickly disappear and useful insects, such as bees, are not endangered.
The one drawback is that pyrethrum is relatively expensive. To use it for any particular job probably costs about twice as much as using a synthetic insecticide. In the 1930's it was discovered that the tropical sun and cold nights of the Kenya Highlands were ideal for growing the 1176 special variety of pyrethrum flower which is required for this purpose. But for nearly 2,000 years the pyrethrum flower, the heads of which contain a high percentage of natural insecticide, has been used to control insects. It was introduced into East Africa in the early 1930's on the recommendation of the Imperial Institute, following research at Rothamsted. Before the war production was small, but during the war pyrethrum became a strategic material of considerable importance; in fact, the first aerosol bomb was developed so that pyrethrum could be used in the most economic fashion.
After the war, widespread use of synthetic insecticides hit the pyrethrum industry in East Africa very hard. However, from 1950 onwards the advantages of pyrethrum and the shortcomings of the synthetics became apparent, and pyrethrum production in Kenya has grown from less than 2,000 tons in 1950 to about 10,000 tons in 1962. About 30,000 acres of pyrethrum flowers are grown in Kenya. The bulk of the crop is produced on 1,000 European farms, but about 30,000 African smallholders now produce one-third of the annual production. The flowers are dried on the farms and sent to the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya's extract factory in Nakuru. From Nakuru concentrated pyrethrum extract is shipped in drums to all parts of the world. The United States of America take more than half the annual production.
However, it is unrealistic to suggest that the use of synthetic insecticides should be given up entirely. Modern insecticides have led to huge increases in crop production since the war, and only very few accidents from their use in the United Kingdom are reported each year. It is suggested that the request for research, education and restraint in the use of insecticides, as contained in Lord Shackleton's Motion, is the most fruitful way of approaching the question. Silent Spring emphasise the special dangers of widespread saturation spraying with insecticides. Because synthetic insecticides are cheap, there is a tendency to use large quantities with rather inefficient equipment. In many cases a far smaller amount of insecticides, sprayed efficiently at the right time and in the right place, would be at least as effective. Further research on these lines could 1177 overcome the difficulty that safer pyrethrum is more expensive than the synthetics. Again, it has been found that more effective control of insects—in orchards, for instance—is achieved by selective spraying with the right insecticide at the right time, rather than by saturation spraying with cheaper and more dangerous synthetics. Further research on these lines is a vital necessity and may show that a more expensive but safer insecticide costs no more in the long run.
Nevertheless, education about insecticides is almost pointless while many insecticides in this country are placed on the market under proprietary names and with no clear indication on their labels of the ingredients and strength. In the Queen's Speech this year the Government anounced that they were to set up a Consumer Council. We learnt in answer to a Question to-day that early action is to be taken about that. But no action has yet been taken to set up such a Council. When it is set up I presume that one of its first jobs will be to investigate proper labelling for insecticides and toxic chemicals. The greatest danger to health is where insecticides are used continually in enclosed spaces. The regular use of a toxic insecticide, for instance in a restaurant, may cause no danger to those who visit the restaurant, but could have considerable effect on the health of the staff who work, day in, day out, in an atmosphere impregnated with toxic chemicals. The same danger exists in aeroplanes, food factories, glasshouses and so on, and to animals living in cow byres or pigsties which are regularly sprayed with toxic chemicals. Legislation should surely be brought in to protect workers from these dangers.
The need for Government action to stimulate more careful use of insecticides is clearly indicated by the present state of the pyrethrum industry in Kenya. Pyrethrum is one of the few insecticides which can be considered safe for general use. It is harmless to man, animals and birds, but consumption represents only a small percentage of world insecticides. Because of its extra cost, for instance, the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya cannot sell all that it produces. Currently, the stock of 5,000 tons of pyrethrum flowers, equivalent to six months' production, remains unsold. In other words, the public 1178 are prepared to use cheap and potentially dangerous insecticides rather than pay a little more for pyrethrum. Legislation may well be necessary to compel the use of safe insecticides and, indeed, such legislation already exists in the United States.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? He is talking about pyrethrum, but the general body of gardeners do not know pyrethrum as such. If he mentioned proprietary names such as "Abol", it would come home much more to them what the noble Lord was talking about.
§ LORD MILVERTON
I gather that all that ties in with the proper labelling and description of these things. If the Government could take action to stimulate the sale of pyrethrum on the lines which have been suggested, they would not only be protecting the health and well-being of people in the United Kingdom but be doing a great deal to assist the economy of both Kenya and Tanganyika. Pyrethrum exports from Kenya are worth approximately £3 million a year, and it is the Colony's fourth largest export. If world demand was increased, production in East Africa could easily be doubled in a few years, and the African smallholders would take an increasing part in the production. I need hardly say that contented peasant farmers, who are earning a good living from growing pyrethrum, would be a great stabilising factor in modern Kenya. I hope that the Government, while they are considering research and other things, will take some minor actions of this kind in the interval to help the general cause.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, in his rather specialised plea for pyrethrum, but I listened with some interest to his suggestion that regulations should be made for the control of toxic chemicals in restaurants, aircraft, and so on, for the protection of workers. That is, indeed, the subject with which I propose to deal. I do not know much about wild life, except human wild life, and my concern is entirely with the Motion of my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch, drawing attention to the dangers arising from the contamination of food and air 1179 —air in particular—by toxic chemicals as they affect the worker. I spend two days every week looking after workers in factories, and I am acutely concerned with the problems of industrial hygiene which are arising every day, and which are becoming more complicated and more difficult all the time.
I wish to draw attention particularly to the extreme difficulty in assessing toxicity. This applies not only to chemicals in the workshop and in food, but also, of course, to chemicals in agriculture when one is dealing with very small amounts. There are three kinds of toxicity that one meets. First of all, there is straightforward easy to recognise poison, where a set dose of something like mercury, arsenic or strychnine is known to be poisonous. One knows that anybody who takes more than this set amount is likely to die, or at least to be extremely ill. Those set amounts of acute poisons have been determined, and are quite easily determined, by animal experiments, and they are widely known. All these poisons are widely known, and on the whole they are well controlled in Britain and present little problem.
The second kind of poisoning is individual susceptibility. This creates a much more difficult problem. May I take an example with which I happen to be familiar, that of beryllium? Beryllium is a semi-precious metal which is very poisonous only to very few people. I look after a firm which works with beryllium. Its people have handled beryllium perfectly safely for many years, yet we have had two cases of beryllium poisoning. I think that altogether about fifteen cases of beryllium poisoning have been recorded in Britain. These two people were both exposed to microscopic and minute quantities of beryllium—less than the tea girl pushing round the tea trolley in the factory was; far below the recommended maximum permissible concentration in the atmosphere, and below the recognised safety level. In some extraordinary way these two were sensitive to beryllium. This individual sensitivity is such that cases of beryllium poisoning have occurred in the United States in people living fifteen minutes walk away from a beryllium-producing factory, simply because they were sensitive to the stuff.
1180 Nobody knows how to determine a person's sensitivity to beryllium. It is possible to skin test, but there are risks in this. Even the skin test itself, the patch test, is not reliable unless one does a biopsy—that is, removes part of the skin through which the beryllium has been injected in order to discover what cellular changes there are. That test is quite impracticable in dealing with workers in the ordinary course of events. Nobody knows why so few people are sensitive to beryllium; yet it is so. Some chemicals had both kinds of poisoning. One which we are increasingly meeting in industry at the present time is that caused by the epoxy resins—these excellent, quick-setting resins which harden in the cold and may cause dermatitis. They may cause dermatitis directly when applied to the skin and left there for quite a time, or their vapour may cause a sensitivity reaction in susceptible people. How to detect these susceptible people is not known.
The more I see of industrial chemicals, and the more I think about them, the more I am driven to the conclusion that any substance in this world—even the necessities of life—can be toxic if you take the wrong amount. Even if you take common salt, for example, it is perfectly possible to poison someone with this by giving him too much. You can poison a person even by giving him too much water: you can produce a drowning of the tissues with water alone. I do not know of any substance which is completely safe when used in some extraordinary way. This shows the amazing difficulty which we face when we set out to try to define toxic limits. As my noble friend Lady Summerskill was saying in the case of food additives, adding vitamin D to margarine is a splendid thing to do, yet over-dosage of vitamin D can produce renal stones.
So one can go on with a vast list of chemicals which in small quantities are safe, and indeed, in some cases, essential for life. Cobalt is a case in point: traces of it are essential. Lack of traces of cobalt produces a kind of anæmia, yet large doses of cobalt are extremely poisonous. Arsenic and mercury are well-known poisons, yet both of them have been of great value in medicine in the past. Mercury used to be used, as your 1181 Lordships know, for the treatment of syphilis before better drugs were available. It was not a very good cure, but it did something.
§ LORD TAYLOR
The point I was trying to make, before my noble friend Lady Summerskill properly interrupted me, is that mercury, which can be a nasty industrial poison if improperly handled, can also be of considerable value to the human body. And these pesticides, as she reminded us, have been of immense value to medicine in the control of human disease and particularly malaria, filaria, schistosomiasis and so on.
In a chapter of his book on modern trends in occupational health, my friend Professor Schilling says this:In almost every country, especially in temperate climates, the bulk of pesticides used are materials of such low toxicity and hazard that their sole risk appears to be accidental or deliberate gross ingestation.In Great Britain there have been eleven fatal pesticide poisonings in thirteen years. It is always a sad thing that there should be eleven fatal pesticide poisonings, but when we compare that with 130 fatal farm accidents a year one sees the matter in proportion. I think that the handling of pesticides in this country from the industrial health point of view has so far been remarkably successful—far more successful indeed than the situation in Japan, for example, where the number of deaths due to pesticides has been appallingly high. The number of fatal cases in Japan, where they use parathion mainly because of its value in the rice tembora, were running for some time at 70 a year. They have now, however, introduced pretty stringent regulations and, as regards fatal accidents from this stuff, they are now down in the twenties, though the consumption of parathion has gone up substantially. The extraordinary thing is that this has proved a very popular method of suicide in Japan. Whereas in 1953 there were 120 suicides due to parathion, in 1960 the number was 468.
These are very lethal things, because, they can penetrate the human skin. They, penetrate the integument of the insect extremely efficiently, and the average integument of an insect or covering of a fungus is tougher than the average 1182 human skin. It is for this reason that these are of value as a pesticide. There are one or two chemicals occurring in industry which can get in through the skin but they are not commonly used and we are very careful with them.
It is easy to be emotional about poisonous chemicals, and it is very important not to be. One can think at once of certain substances which are obvious poisons but which, when combined, become obviously beneficial. Concentrated hydrochloric acid is an extremely corrosive substance. So is metallic sodium. Put the two together and they form sodium chloride, which is a necessity of life. The same applies to fluorine and hydrofluoric acid, as my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch mentioned. Hydrofluoric acid is a corrosive substance; yet it is also a necessity, so far as we know, for the satisfactory metabolism of teeth. It is needed in water, at about one part per million, to reduce the incidence of dental caries. Mottling does not occur until one gets to 3.5 parts per million. Fluorine occurs naturally in flour, cheese, meat, fish and eggs. It occurs in beer to the extent of 0.8 parts per million; or, if one does not like beer, in tea to a proportion of 1 part per million. So one cannot avoid taking in fluorine. Indeed, it is perfectly desirable that one should take it in.
I must say, my Lords, that I am amazed at the way chemicals are handled in industry with complete safety. Cyanides are a case in point. Cyanides are used in every plating shop in the country, yet one almost never hears of a case of cyanide poisoning. I do not think there is one case recorded each year in the annual report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Factories.
I want to say a word or two on how toxicity is assessed and measured. It is expressed in what are called M.A.C. values—maximum allowable concentrations in the atmosphere—and there are figures for the maximum allowable concentration of almost every known chemical. These things are published, and there are really two sets of figures. One is the American figures and the other is the Russian figures. These are worked out by exposing animals in sealed boxes to these particular chemicals, to see how much they produce toxic symptoms, and 1183 then by making deductions about human beings. It is not a satisfactory way to do it, but it is the best that can be done; and when there is human experience the figures are adjusted appropriately. The extraordinary thing is that the Russian figures are ten times as stringent as the American figures.
The reason for this is that the Russians use different tests of toxicity: they use conditioned reflexes. They train cats, or other animals, to perform a certain task for which they are rewarded with food. It is really a learning process induced in a cat, and it takes about six to eight weeks to train a cat to do a particular job every time for which it gets the food. The cat is then shut up in a chamber and exposed to an atmosphere of parathion, or whatever it may be, and the maximum allowable concentration is the smallest quantity which upsets the conditioned reflex in the cat. This is about ten times less of the substance than produces any physical change in the cat when the substance is given by the Americans. I may say the Russians do not apply these figures in practice. They are far more stringent than they are able to achieve in practice. And unfortunately they do not control their experiments very well. If a cat is shut up in a tin chamber for so many hours a day it does not like it and, in consequence, tends to lose its conditioned reflex in any event. Therefore, it is only valid if one has two cats, one shut up without the chemical and one shut up with the chemical. The expense and difficulties of doing this are so considerable that the Russians have not controlled a lot of their experiments sufficiently to obtain accurate figures.
§ LORD TAYLOR
I saw some of them. They looked just like English cats. They were very well behaved. I do not think we should accept the Russian figures at their face value. I think the figures we use, which are American, are rough but ready and fairly reliable guides. We have in this country a very good toxicological research unit at Carshalton, part of M.R.C. under Dr. Barnes, but we do not 1184 do these massive determinations of maximum allowable concentrations such as are done by our colleagues in America.
It is fairly easy to determine acute effects, effects from large doses, but it is extremely difficult to determine effects from small doses spread over long times. This is really a most difficult technical job to do. It is difficult for this reason. After a certain time the animal begins to show effects of old age, and those effects of old age confuse the picture and make it very hard to tell what is an ageing process and what is a chemical process. Some of these substances accumulate in the body fat. We do not know whether they do harm or not. There is no evidence that they do, but that does not say they do not. But we do know that, in certain circumstances, they can suddenly be liberated from the body fat and can then produce toxic symptoms. This can happen with chlorinated hydrocarbons: for example, dieldrin. If it happens in blood cells it does not matter because they have a life of only 30 days. If they accumulate, like mercury, in kidney cells, they have a much longer life and it is a much more serious matter.
There is only one other point I would stress, and that is about the treatment of people who do suffer from these conditions, and here I think the Government have done a very good job. They have produced an excellent booklet called Poisonous Chemicals on the Farm, which is distributed to general practitioners and which gives very good and helpful advice about how to treat cases of toxic chemical poisoning. The organo-phosphorus insecticides are particularly important in this respect because there is a specific treatment available; it was discovered by the Japanese who, of course, had all the experience of these poisonings through parathion, and it is called PAM; it is a blood cholinesterase activator. It is stored at a number of hospitals in Britain and can be got hold of in cases of need where they occur.
There is one small practical point I think worth emphasising, and that is that sometimes artificial respiration is required in these cases. Your Lordships probably know that mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration is being increasingly taught to first-aiders throughout the country. This is one of 1185 the few cases where artificial mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration is not appropriate; one has to use some other method, and for this sort of reason I think it is important that we should continue to try to teach both methods.
I want to say one final word about research. I have tried to emphasise its extremely difficult nature. As I read through the Sanders Report I was struck by the fact that here was a case where directed research was in fact being done by the Research Councils where a purposive effort was being made, and I am quite sure this is right; I am quite sure we must do more of it, as my noble friend Lady Summerskill was emphasising. It is something that is very important to study. It is, however, incredibly difficult to study, for the reasons which I have set out. I think that the need for studies of these kinds will grow as the amount of chemicals used in industry multiplies and increases. It is very difficult for those of us who work in industry to get toxicological studies done on new chemicals because there are no available research institutes which can give direct help other than the small places at Slough and Manchester, which are really routine laboratories rather than research laboratories arid where new chemicals are concerned they can help very little.
It is comparatively easy to study the acute effects of new chemicals, but very difficult to study the long-term effects. The body is a remarkably adaptable machine. It seems capable of storing all sorts of chemicals inside itself with remarkably little effect. Whether there will be unsuspected long-term effects we cannot say, but judging from what has happened so far in industry—and this is from approximately a hundred years' experience of industrial medicine—the long-term effects have been confined to very few things, to aniline and to certain other carcinogenic agents which are fortunately very rare, and here the effect has become pretty obvious over a short time. I think the problems will get more difficult in the future, particularly where specific sensitivities are concerned. I am very glad to support the plea of my noble friend Lord Shackleton for more research, but I would once more emphasise its difficulty.
§ 6.27 p.m.
My Lords, I join with all your Lordships who have already spoken in support of my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch for initiating this interesting and important debate. We are very fortunate to-day to have had a similar subject for debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, a debate of similar importance and complementary in character. Your Lordships will, I am sure, much regret that the late noble Lord, Lord Hankey, did not live to add his wise experience to this discussion. He told me but a few weeks ago that he intended to participate in this debate.
From time to time in your Lordships' House reference has been made to the importance of initiating a system of the quality control of drugs, and your Lordships will agree that the Birmingham drug testing scheme not only stands out ahead of all others but is unique, the single organisation of its kind in the country. This scheme commenced operation early in 1956 and has grown in power and efficiency steadily since then. Your Lordships who have studied such matters, like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will recollect that the Birmingham laboratory operating the scheme was extremely active early in 1950 looking for some system of testing the ever increasing number of modern drugs. A comparison between the pharmacopoeias of 1932 and those of 1948, 1953 and 1958 will show immediately the extent of the problem. The differences between the later pharmacopoeias, great though they are, are nothing like so startling as that between the 1932 and 1948 editions. I think I may claim that the Birmingham laboratory is quite unique in this field.
As the result of the recent tragic experience associated with the use of thalidomide, there is now a more widespread public demand than ever before for the establishment of some competent authority to test and license new drugs. There are two distinct aspects of drug testing, as your Lordships will be aware. Apart from the testing for safety in usage, there is the extremely important testing for purity and conformity to official standards. Mention has frequently been made of the American Food and Drug Administration. Both testing aspects are implicit in the American system, and it 1187 would be folly to exclude testing for purity and conformity with standards from any proposed new competent authority which may be instituted over here.
The setting up of such an authority is a matter to which I would suggest the Government should give earnest consideration, and the failure so far to institute an effective system of drug control is surprising when one realises that in this instance the consumer has no possible means of protecting himself. The Birmingham drug testing scheme has now been in operation most successfully for some twelve years, and has proved its essential usefulness, and merits adoption as a national instrument as drugs and their use become even more widely developed and applied.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I have had the pleasure of supporting my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch on more than one occasion in these debates in the past, and I should like to add a word in support of his speech this afternoon. I think that he has done the country a great service. I remember in the agene debates encouraging him to go on, and telling him that in due course he would find public opinion much more responsive to the sort of outlook which he was putting before your Lordships' House and, through your Lordships' House, to the country; and I must say that, as these debates have gone on, I feel that has been so. Even the response of the noble and learned Viscount to his speech this afternoon was more welcoming, I think, than some of the responses which my noble friend has had in the past.
On the other hand, I never quite feel that I can go along 100 per cent. with him, and I still cannot quite agree with him when he says, as I understood him to say, that no new chemical insecticides or pesticides should be put on the market unless it can be affirmatively proved that they are safe. Sometimes I think that we have to take a risk. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, pointed out in his most interesting speech—a rather more constructive speech than we have had from the Government Benches on these occasions in the past—that tens of thousands of lives were saved at the end of the war by the use of DDT. Even if it had been known that DDT was more 1188 toxic than it is—there is not a great deal of evidence, as I understand it, as to its toxicity—I think it would still have been right and proper to use it in the circumstances of that time. To that extent I agree with the noble and learned Viscount.
But in that case the risk would have been a calculated risk, and although the noble and learned Viscount, as I said a moment ago, seemed to go further than some of his predecessors, he still seemed to be a little too lighthearted in encouraging the manufacturers to take these risks. It seemed to me that there was really not enough emphasis on the fact that when we take these risks there should be a calculation, a careful calculation, having regard to the undoubted dangers which frequently supervene and are difficult to calculate, as Lord Taylor was emphasising only a moment ago. I do not like the rather too great a willingness, which seemed to be apparent in the noble Viscount's speech, to take risks of this sort.
The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who unfortunately is not in his place now, mentioned some horrible cases of jaw cancer, a peculiarly distressing form of that terrible disease. No doubt at that time it was not even realised that there was any risk in the girls pointing their brushes in the sort of way that he described. But now we know perfectly well that there is a risk in things of this sort, that we are in fact "playing with fire", and it is no longer right to approach these things in this rather happy-go-lucky way. I should have argued with considerable conviction that the responsibility should be fairly and squarely put upon those who introduce these new chemicals for these purposes. We should remember all the time that great profits are being made out of the manufacture and sale of these chemical substances, that the competition is severe, and that it is to a large extent an international competition. I have no doubt that the standards of the manufacturers and salesmen are, on the whole, at least as high in this branch of industry as in other branches. I also agree with what I think Lord Shackleton said, that they are now distinctly higher than they were not so long ago. Nevertheless, we have to remember all the time that our society is based largely on the profit motive.
Gardeners have come in for a certain amount of criticism this afternoon. I 1189 can remember the intensive advertising of aldrin and dieldrin only a few years ago in the gardening papers: how we were urged to buy this new and absolutely stupendous insecticide which would rid the garden of all its pests, without the slightest suggestion that there could possibly be any sort of danger. I do not suppose for one moment that the merchants who were selling it, or the industrialists who were manufacturing it, had any appreciation of the danger which, in fact, it contained. But they ought to have been more careful, and I should think that there probably was a Common Law obligation upon them to be more careful than they were.
It is difficult to bring this matter home, particularly to manufacturers, and it seems to me that the time has now been reached when it ought to be not only a matter of moral responsibility but a matter of legal responsibility to be placed on the shoulders of the people who bring out these new insecticides and pesticides to make them answerable in damages for anything that may supervene from their use. It is difficult when tens of thousands of birds and small animals about the country die as a result of these things. Nobody can claim, because nobody owns them. But some sort of responsibility, even if it be to make a contribution to charity or something of that kind, would be a valuable thing. A financial responsibility should be put upon the people who in this way earn large profits without giving adequate consideration and attention to the risks to which they are subjecting society.
From many points of view, I think the risks are really too great for it to be left to the interested parties, to those who are in the business largely for the purpose of making profits, to lay down the controls and safeguards which I think Lord Douglas of Barloch and Lord Shackleton have amply proved to be necessary. Thalidomide, which has been referred to several times this afternoon, is a good example of this. Undoubtedly it was put on the market much too soon, and without proper attention being given to the necessary safeguards, which was largely a result of the international competition to which the German manufacturer was being subjected by his rivals in other parts of the world.
1190 The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, is absolutely right when he says the Government have the responsibility of laying down the necessary safeguards and of exercising the necessary control. The Government must accept the responsibility because there is no other institution which can do so. Indeed, not so long ago Parliament passed a Statute in regard to licences to be issued to new manufacturers of nuclear installations. In that connection it was very properly felt necessary to look at the damage which might flow from the establishment of such nuclear installations, and to alter very substantially the ordinary Common Law rules. It may well be that risks from nuclear installations are a good deal greater in many ways than the sort of risks we are discussing this afternoon, but the risks with which we have been dealing are much more insidious and may be even more troublesome in other ways.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I interrupt him for one moment. He is making an interesting point, but I should like, if I may, to put a gloss on it. The difference between the nuclear licences and the substances which we are discussing this afternoon is this. Thanks to the work of a Committee which we set up, the scientific validity of the tests in the nuclear case are sufficiently adequately established. The difficulty in the present case is that we have not as yet been able to establish scientifically valid tests. I am, in fact, trying to do it through the agency of the Medical Research Council. If and when this emerges, I hope the noble and learned Lord will be gratified by what we do; but he must appreciate that it depends on the existence of an adequate procedure, or at any rate an adequate discipline, for establishing tests. Until that is done, it is very difficult to establish institutions.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, and I am glad to know that he goes so far with me. Of course, I, as a lawyer, appreciate perfectly well that nobody can be made to pay compensation unless the case can be proved against him. It is implicit in what the noble Viscount has said that, if he can establish these tests, he may be ready to support legislation 1191 for putting the obligation on the manufacturers responsible.
I have been reading recently some of our earlier debates on problems of this sort. It was because I felt myself very much in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said earlier as to the attitude of complacency which had been taken up in the past, the attitude that there was no danger, that I thought I should intervene in this debate to-day. I would refer to the debate on agene, to which Lord Douglas of Barloch referred in his speech. It is ten years since we had that debate, and on that occasion two eminent medical experts, one of whom was Lord Horder, who, I suppose, was the outstanding medical man of the time, asserted quite categorically that there was no danger in putting agene into bread.
The Government spokesman, in a rather jocular speech, said that if they got something better than agene which was quite clearly without danger they would no doubt susbtitute it. He did not think any case had been made against agene. It had been fed to dogs, and no doubt if human beings were fed on dog biscuits they would not be very healthful as a result. That was the kind of levity with which this serious subject was treated by the Government spokesman on that occasion. But a short time after that the Government were so persuaded that the addition of agene to bread was dangerous that it was prohibited. That is a significant example, and strongly supports what Lord Hurcomb said about medical and scientific experts being only too ready to get up and say quite categorically that there is no danger in these things, when frequently, quite shortly afterwards, within a matter of years or even months, the opposite is satisfactorily proved to be the truth.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to say this on the subject of agene, which is an interesting point? I was recently shown a paper by Professor Boyland which had been published in America, in which a certain chemical component in agene had been used as—I think the word is—a cancer inhibitor in advanced cancer cases. It had the effect of inducing acute psychotic conditions in the 1192 patients. The basis of the paper was that when the experiment was carried out in a certain way the fears that were expressed with regard to agene, which had only produced fits in dogs, were demonstrated as being equally applicable to human beings.
§ LORD CHORLEY
I am grateful to my noble friend. That was the gravamen of the charge which Lord Douglas of Barloch and I were making against agene on that occasion. I remember Lord Horder saying that it may be dogs do get hysterical, but human beings are not dogs and it is altogether wrong to deduce from the fact that does suffer that human beings are going to suffer. I have on these occasions detected a certain similarity in some of the speeches put forward from the Government Benches. Like Lord Taylor, I am particularly interested in the human animal. I think it is right that so many people should be interested in the protection of birds and animals, but, after all, the human animal is still more important. Because small birds and small animals may succumb in quite a short time to these pesticides and other chemicals which are being used and because human beings and larger animals with better powers of adaptation do not possibly for quite a number of years show any very obvious ill effects, the theory that they are therefore immune and that nothing very much need be done about them—which to some extent did appear in the noble and learned Viscount's speech this afternoon—is really altogether wrong.
Looking through the last debate we had, I see that the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, who replied for the Government, did not at any point concern himself with the danger to the human animal, although he agreed that there might be some dangers to the birds and the beasts. This seems too complacent an attitude. I entirely agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said about the complacency which has been shown in this matter. We are concerned at the present time with the protection of the people of this country against all these things which are put upon the market by manufacturers and merchants without proper attention being paid to the safety and the safeguarding of the people. We feel that the Government of this country are 1193 taking the matter altogether too lightheartedly.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD COLERAINE
My Lords, first of all I must disclose an interest, even a commercial interest, in these toxic substances which we have been discussing this afternoon. I am, and have been for many years, a director in a great company which makes and markets insecticides, pesticides, and so on. Having said that, I would acid that I have found this debate immensely valuable and stimulating, and in almost every case the speeches to which I have listened have been eminently reasonable and fair-minded. Like others of your Lordships, I am most grateful to the two noble Lords who instigated this debate.
I believe that it is immensely valuable to have a debate of this kind every now and again. We are living pre-eminently in the age of humanism, of humanism possibly run riot. As never before, man looks around and sees himself as the Lord of Creation, the monarch of all he surveys, and it is salutary for us to be reminded that it is a limited monarchy, and that the limits may be drawn closer than we sometimes realise. It is salutary to be reminded of these things, and that there are hazards, the extent of which we imperfectly know, in the application of modern science, and particularly, perhaps, in the application of chemical science.
But, my Lords, it must be a mistake to be so weighed down by the hazards involved that we reject the possibility of advance. It seems to me that if the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, had been taken earlier on, if the attitude of mankind had been that we never made any experiment or gave any treatment unless we knew beyond peradventure that no risk was involved, modern medical science as we know it to-day would simply not have existed. Equally, I think it must be unreasonable to take the view that, because a substance that is of value may be abused, therefore it should be prohibited. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said in his interesting speech a few minutes ago, vitamins which are of great value can be abused, but nobody would suggest that it was a pity that Professor Mellanby ever went into the question of vitamins.
1194 On this whole question I think it is necessary to see both sides of the picture—as, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, did. On the one side, there are risks which cannot be defined and which may never be more than hypothetical. On the other, there are positive and known benefits which have been achieved. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of lives have been saved by DDT, and there is for the first time the possibility of giving mankind enough food. Certainly, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, indicated, there is no chance at all of freedom from hunger without these toxic chemicals. There is no chance whatever of increasing production, especially in the under-developed countries, without them. If we tried to suppress them, we should also be suppressing the whole campaign for freedom from hunger. Nevertheless, there are dangers; and it is necessary to heed them.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said—I think not altogether justly—that the chemical manufacturers were a little lighthearted in their approach to the problems involved in these toxic substances. I believe from my own experience that the industry as a whole is very conscious of the reality of these dangers, and all the time it is taking steps to meet them. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, also Said—
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? It was the Government that I said were too light-hearted. I did not feel that it should be left to industry to do this: it is too much its own judge. My point was that the Government ought to hold the balance, as it were.
§ LORD COLERAINE
My Lords, I did not mean to misrepresent the noble Lord, But I do not think he is right in saying that in these matters the industry is its own judge. What happens before a new product is put on the market? It has to be referred to a very highly qualified committee, or series of committees, and until it has been passed by that committee, with all the information that can be accumulated on the problem, that product is not put on the market.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, is the noble Lord referring to what is known as the Cohen Committee?
§ LORD COLERAINE
It is the committee under the auspices of, I think, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I think that that applies only to products used in agriculture; not to products generally.
§ LORD COLERAINE
Yes, my Lords. I was, in fact, thinking and speaking of products used in agriculture, and not of products generally. I was not following the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, through the whole field that he covered. But one extremely interesting feature of this set-up, as it seems to me, is that it is voluntary. In spite of the fact that it is voluntary, and that there is no compulsion on the manufacturer to use this machinery, there has been only one case in which the manufacturer has not used it and has put a product on the market without using it. In that case the manufacturer did not know that the machinery existed, and as soon as he discovered it, he withdrew the product and it went through the usual processes.
I suggest to your Lordships that there is no complacency in the industry in these matters. It does take its responsibility seriously, and is not simply out to make profits at any cost to the consumer or to the public. It is in my belief a very responsible industry, and it acts in a very responsible way. I do not deny that there may be room for more education, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested. I think there probably is. There may be room—I do not know—for further regulation. But if these things are necessary, I am pretty sure that there will not be any obstruction from the industry, only co-operation.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, this has been a long debate, but a highly interesting one, as well as a very balanced and well-informed one, as might have been expected from those noble Lords who have taken part in it. As the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, has just said, we are extremely grateful to my two noble friends Lord Douglas of Barloch and 1196 Lord Shackleton for having given us the opportunity to discuss this matter and, above all, for the extremely valuable speeches which they made.
Many noble Lords have said that we need a balanced approach; and that is eminently true. Yet a balance is something which is dynamic. As the weight shifts on one side of the scales so, in order to redress the balance, you have to shift more weight to the other side. For that reason, it is only just that many of us should find ourselves shifting our own position somewhat. I freely confess that a few years ago I was wholeheartedly in favour of what are now called toxic chemicals, and I believe that at that time I was right to be so in favour. Because, after all, at that time many influences were at work which made difficult the adoption of these new-found means for increased production and increased efficency in production.
There was, of course, the normal conservatism of farmers, of food processors and of others; there was the normal opposition to change; there was the fairly vocal group which has sometimes rather rudely been called the "back to the earth-closet" school, which has tried to oppose anything of this kind—the "devil's dust" that people spoke about when referring to nitrogenous fertilisers; and all the rest of it. I think that at that time it was very important that help should be given to the initiators, the people who wanted to see these new methods adopted. Many noble Lords have to-day mentioned DDT. What would have been the effect had DDT not been brought into play when it was? Admittedly, it is dangerous; but as both Lord Chorley and Lord Coleraine have said, how many people would in the meantime have died from malaria had it not been used?
But now, my Lords, the picture has changed. Farmers, food processors, gardeners, local authorities and many other people are now well used to making use of this whole group of substances, and would find life extremely difficult if they were forbidden to do so. In other words, quite apart from the manufacturers themselves, serious and substantial vested interests have grown up which make it difficult now to attack the growing use of some of these chemicals; and, of course, tied up with that are the very real economic forces backing up their use.
1197 I should here like to take issue with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, when he spoke rather derogatorily of Dr. Rachel Carson's book, in which she mentions the fact that, at any rate in the United States, they are suffering from over-production, and that justification for the use of these toxic chemicals could not stand on the ground that the food was needed. I think I am right in saying that the noble and learned Viscount said that in this country that was not the case—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
No, my Lords. I do not want to interrupt this excellent speech, but what I said was that if it meant that there was too much food in the world I had to contradict it, because there was not—and I stick to that.
§ LORD WALSTON
I agree that if it meant that, then obviously that is something to be contradicted. But it did not mean that. I will not weary your Lordships by reading the exact page on which this comment appears, but if the noble and learned Viscount had read it, or had remembered it, he would know that it related solely to the United States. The same argument holds in this country. I am quite certain that the noble Lord who is about to reply would have a very much easier time if there were somewhat of a less good production of many agricultural products in this country than there is at present. So I do not believe there is any case that can be made out for continuing to use toxic chemicals solely on the ground of the need for food in this country, or in the United States, where the use of such substances is greatest.
On the other hand, it is only right to say that, although we do not need more food, in the present context, in this country, undoubtedly we need cheaper food, and these chemicals are of the greatest value in enabling farmers to produce their food more cheaply. That is a point which has not so far been mentioned, but it is, I think, worth mentioning at this stage. Just to give your Lordships one example, the use of pre-emergent sprays in sugar beet cuts down by a very large percentage the number of man-hours required in cleaning the crop. It may cut it down by as much as 40 or 50 man-hours per acre, which undoubtedly is a great saving in expense to the farmer and, indirectly, a saving 1198 in expense to the taxpayer and to the Treasury.
Leaving that point, and moving on to the specific speeches, my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch painted a frightening picture of the sort of world towards which we were progressing: a world in which, on the one hand, we take stimulants to keep us going and then, because we have possibly overdone that, tranquillisers to calm us down; and in which little food is fit to eat. I must say that I think my noble friend Lady Summerskill was rather too optimistic when she said that fresh fish and wild fruit were the only things left. Somebody pointed out to her that the heron died from the fish. I think she does not know very much about heron: they do not eat fish when they jump out of the water; they go into the water after them. But I think she would find it extremely dangerous if she had a meal of wild blackberries at certain times, after the roadside hedges had been sprayed by the local authority with some of these dangerous substances. So the position is getting even more serious, perhaps, than she thought.
My noble friend Lord Shackleton was not quite so despondent. There were many points in his excellent speech with which I found myself in complete agreement; and with all of them I found myself in some agreement. In particular he reminded us that toxic chemicals have a large part to play in our economic life and in our production, and he went on to say that, particularly in underdeveloped parts of the world, they were of special importance. With that, I do not disagree, but I would say that there we have additional responsibility (I think the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, also mentioned the under-developed parts of the world) for two reasons. One is the generalisation that reactions take place, or tend to take place, faster in tropical climates than they do in temperate climates, and any results that these chemicals and substances may have on soils, on plants or on fauna in this country, in temperate climates, are likely to be enhanced and operate far more quickly if they are used in tropical conditions. The second reason is that the opportunities for observing the effects of the use of such substances are very much less than they are in a country such as our own, where not only do we have 1199 reasonably well-educated farmers and others ready to observe any untoward happening fairly quickly, but we have a fairly high density of scientists up and down the country, in contrast to the under-developed countries, where it is possible to go for hundreds or even thousands of miles without coming across such a person.
My noble friend Lord Shackleton also said, very rightly, that one of the essential things was to get across to users the dangers of these chemicals, and that farmers do not always know. In particular, he stated (and other noble Lords also stated) that amateur gardeners are particularly susceptible to the misuse or abuse of these chemicals. He finished up by stating, very rightly, that man should seek to alter the balance of nature—and I think that is a very important thing to remember, because we are much too inclined to think of the balance of nature as being something sacrosanct—but must be aware of the risks; and for that reason he rightly advocated, as did many other noble Lords afterwards, a far greater use of research.
We then, of course, came to the memorable speech of the noble and learned Viscount, who said many things which made most of us think and some of us, possibly, disagree. But with his customary diffidence he told us that the Government have not discovered absolute answers to all questions—and I was pleased to hear him say that. He also indicated that he had, at least, read part of this book.
§ LORD WALSTON
And he has read at least one review of it with which he found himself in agreement. I feel, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, indicated at the time, that the noble and learned Viscount was rather less than fair in picking out one adverse review.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I do not think the review was adverse. I read one adverse phrase and one favourable phrase. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, wanted me to quote two favourable phrases.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, at least one adverse phrase was quoted, 1200 and the noble Viscount indicated that he was in agreement with that adverse phrase. Perhaps he would tell us whether it is the view of his Ministry, and the official policy of his Department, that to much of what is stated in the book scant attention should be paid.
On the question of health statistics, which is a very important one, and to which various noble Lords have referred (in particular, my noble friends, Lord Taylor, in the later stages, and Lady Summerskill), it is undoubtedly true that there is little evidence—although it is possibly not true to say there is none—of diseases arising indirectly from toxic chemicals. But the absence of evidence is not equivalent to the presence of proof. All it means is that nobody has yet discovered a direct correlation between the toxic chemicals and any known disease or series of symptoms or syndromes. But that cannot be put forward as an argument that there is nothing to fear from this. It can be put forward as an argument that there is a need for far greater research in order to prove or disprove. One can say that there are certain diseases and disturbances, particularly of the mental type, which are increasing at the present time. I am not suggesting that those are due to toxic chemicals, but the possibility needs investigation.
We have had some suggestions from certain noble Lords, for example, of hysteria in dogs due to the use of agene, and of the extremely interesting experiments in Russia with cats, which were discussed by my noble friend, Lord Taylor. It struck me, as he spoke, that possibly a far more satisfactory way of testing the effects of such substances is to test the nervous reactions, rather than the purely physical reactions, of animals. This is particularly so in view of the present spread in this and many other countries of nervous disease of one kind or another. I hope that the time will come when we shall not have to rely on Russia or the United States for information of this kind, and that we shall be able to do some experiments of our own. I am not saying this in a Chauvinistic way. I do not think it matters in what countries research is carried out, so long as it is good and the results are made available to all. But there is room for more 1201 research of this kind and this is something in which I believe scientists of this country, with their great reputation in this type of research, should play a leading part.
There was one minor point in the noble Viscount's speech that interested me. I was tempted to interrupt him, but knowing that he prefers not to be interrupted, I refrained. He stated that the savage spraying of roadside verges and railways has been ended. As I understand it, it is still quite common practice to spray roadside verges and railways. Possibly the spraying is no longer savage, but I am not certain how to distinguish between savage and normal spraying.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, forgive my interruption. I was seeking to draw a contrast with the United States. The noble Lord will no doubt remember from his visits to the United States, the extraordinary brown strips which go along the railways and the roads for quite long distances, both in the United States and in Canada, which are due to the use of herbicides of some kind or another. I was seeking to point out that we had put an end to this practice, although there was at one time a danger that it might spread here.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I accept that our spraying in this country is not so widespread or comprehensive as in the United States; but it is still a matter on which we should not be complacent and where considerable damage, if not to human life at least to wild life, can and is being done. Finally, the noble Viscount made two statements which in my opinion gave good justification for the charges of complacency that various noble Lords have since levelled against him. He said that the Government have acted promptly in these matters, and he referred first to the Zuckerman Report and then to the Sanders Report.
These are both admirable works, carried out by admirable people. But if your Lordships refer to the Reports you will find in the Zuckerman Report (which, it will be remembered, was made in 1955) various recommendations, in particular, for further research and investigation. That is in paragraph 2, on page 21—further research and investigation, which has already been referred 1202 to above. The Report suggests what fields that further research and investigation might cover: the effect of the main agricultural sprays on wild life in sprayed fields, and so on. But I will not read it to your Lordships. The Zuckerman Committee in 1955 strongly urged that there should be further research into these matters.
We move on to 1961, to the Sanders Report, and there on page 37, again in the Recommendations Summary, you will find this statement:There is need for more knowledge of the effects of toxic chemicals used in agriculture and food storage, though we consider that some of the fears expressed about these effects have little foundation.But in spite of the recommendations of the 1955 Report, that more research was needed, we again find in 1961 a similar highly qualified body urging that there should be more research. And to-day, in 1963, other noble Lords, many with great experience in these matters, are still urging further research and investigation. So I do not think that any of us, and I hope certainly not the noble Viscount, can feel that we have any cause to be complacent at all. And it is clear that there is still a great deal of uncharted land to be explored. Although efforts that have been made so far are good, and I happily agree that the progress in the ground work over the last eighteen months has been most encouraging, there is still a long way to go; and my one regret is that steps which are being taken now were not taken five or ten years earlier. I hope that five or ten years hence we shall not be saying the same thing.
I will not weary your Lordships by going through the other speakers who made such very interesting points, but I think it is worth drawing the attention of your Lordships in particular to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, about the cumulative effect on wild life of these poisons. It has been a great mistake to assume that these sprays and insecticides disappear from the soil within a few months of their being used; that no more is heard of them, and that we need no longer concern ourselves with them. Even though they may disappear from the soil, from the point of view of chemical analysis, there is now ample evidence that they are accumulated in the organs and tissues of wild life; and 1203 whether that is going to constitute a serious menace to human health or not is still an open question. But it cannot be an open question that wild life itself is suffering as a result of these cumulative effects.
There was an interesting hand-out from the Ministry of Agriculture, which some of your Lordships may have found in the Printed Paper Office, dealing with the results of a certain amount of work that has been done already On page 2, paragraph 10, is a summary of field and laboratory work and its results are given. In one case, it is suggested that out of 47 bodies examined 17 might well have died from the effect of insecticides used as dressings, and that in the spring period, 26 out of 76 bodies examined might have so died. That is approximately 35 per cent. of the actual bodies examined. Clearly that is not an exact percentage of the total number of deaths that have taken place. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said, all animals that die cannot be picked up. Other animals take them away and eat them and there are always a certain number who die in inconvenient places. It may be that the majority of those picked up and sent for analysis have died under unnatural conditions, as opposed to those who die from other causes and are never seen, but I think that when 35 per cent. of animals examined have been proved to have died from the ingestion of insecticides in some form or another, the problem is becoming serious.
What worries me more than anything about this is what I might almost call the impression of complacency given in this particular document. It says:It is evident that the number of casualties was quite small during this spring.That gives the impression, to me at least, that the people who have been carrying out the survey do not feel that the matter is of any great importance or urgency.
My noble friend Lady Summerskill, in her normal conciliatory type of speech, for which she is famous in your Lordships' House, made many points of value and in particular made out a strong case for the use of innovations in agriculture and for the independent testing of drugs and toxic chemicals in insecticides. I hope that her words have carried weight with your Lordships. At one part of his speech, my noble friend Lord Huntingdon struck 1204 me as being for the old school of compost and that kind of thing, though I found myself in agreement with some things that he said. He felt that there was some innate superiority in natural, as opposed to chemical, insecticides; and that view was shared by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, who gave us a fascinating account of the value of pyrethrum, which I am sure will help many noble Lords to decide what form of insecticide to use in their gardens.
I myself cannot see why an insecticide or poison is any less virulent or dangerous because it happens to occur naturally rather than be made in a laboratory. Arsenic occurs naturally; strychnine, mescalin and curari occur naturally, and are used by people who have never seen a chemical laboratory in their lives. All are poisonous to a varying degree, some of them being extremely sudden in their effect, some of them cumulative, and some of them building up resistance. To my mind, there is little difference, if any, between them and comparable preparations that emerge from the chemical laboratories. They should all be treated in the same way, with the same caution. Do not let us regard something which occurs in nature as innately healthy and right, and something that emerges from a test tube as innately unhealthy and wrong. I have already referred to the interesting remarks of my noble friend Lord Taylor. I come to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, with his valuable exposition of the Birmingham scheme, which I, for one, should very much like to see extended. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Chorley that we should be prepared to take risks in this matter but they should be calculated risks.
In summary, having listened to all that noble Lords have had to say, I would say that three things emerge from this debate. First of all, the Government are doing a great deal more than they have done in the past to deal with this problem. While I still detect certain elements of complacency and defensiveness in some of their statements, it is good to be able to say that they are doing more. But there is still more that can be done, and to my mind none of it is extremely difficult or expensive. First of all, I would suggest that the notification scheme, to which the noble 1205 Lord, Lord Coleraine, referred, which in my opinion has worked extremely well, should be extended so that it covers not only those products which are used on farms but also those used on road verges, waterways, ponds and lakes, railways and forests. I hope that we may have an assurance from the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, when he replies, that there is no intention to have any widespread aerial spraying of forest land in this country. Above all, I suggest that the scheme should be extended to products which are used in gardens. It should be made abundantly clear just what these garden products contain.
Secondly, in spite of the difficulties which my noble friend Lord Taylor mentioned, I do not see why we cannot have far more informative labelling of products, even in the simplest form. Can we not simply label products as being proved safe, on the one hand, or, on the other, as products which are known to be poisonous, (a) the poisonous effect being immediate or (b) the poisonous effect being cumulative, or—and presumably this third group would be found to be the largest—as being still unproved? In this way, the public would know what they were using without a whole mass of technical details which they could not understand, and they would know whether the things they use are poisonous or not, which nobody can tell at this stage. In this way, I think that far greater care would be exercised in their use. Finally, while thanking the Government for the steps they have already taken, particularly at the new station at Monkswood, to which the noble Viscount has already referred. I would say that I still think they have not gone far enough in this respect. This is not a matter which can be dealt with solely in laboratories or by small-scale experiments. In order to ascertain quickly enough what is the result of wide-spread use of products of this kind a large area of land must be put at the disposal of people who have to carry out these tests. I would suggest that at least 1,000 acres, and preferably double that area, should be made available to one of the Government research institutes specifically to enable one of the controlled tests to be carried out, so that the whole 500 acres, 250 acres, or whatever the scientists say is the right amount, can be treated over a period of 1206 years with a certain chemical, with a controlled block opposite it where no treatment is done. That will, I believe, enable us to get these results, not rapidly, but to short circuit some of the delays which are inevitable if we rely solely on the laboratories and the small-scale experiments. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will be able to give us some encouragement in this respect. Meanwhile, I should like to add my thanks to those who have taken part in this most interesting debate.
§ 7.31 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, this has been an absorbing and practical debate, and my gratitude, as much as anyone's, is owed to the two noble Lords who launched it. Too many questions, I am afraid, have been left for me to attempt to answer in a winding-up speech at this hour. Before replying to the debate proper I should like to say a word about the book which has been quoted from or referred to by almost every noble Lord who has taken part in the debate, and certainly by all those who have concerned themselves with the work of my Department. I am thinking of Miss Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. With other noble Lords, I have read this book with the greatest interest and, I hope, with benefit. It is a truly remarkable book in which the layman can learn a lot about how we, the human species, live, and not only about how Miss Carson thinks we are all going to die.
It is a little surprising, I think, to find that the opening pages of the main text should be a passage of pure science fiction, as the author, indeed, describes them. All the same, this seems to me a perfectly fair gimmick for capturing the reader's attention, by a shock process, by standing his hair on end. With the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I am a reader of science fiction, and I would class this very high; and, as I say, I count it a fair gimmick for the limited purpose I mention. What I think is not entirely a fair gimmick is the one employed at the end of the same passage, to ease—in fact, to force—the reader out of the science fiction groove into the purported factual, serious groove. I mean the two very startling assertions, clearly intended to be read as serious fact:A grim spectre has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and the imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.1207 If the words I have quoted are addressed to the British public in the British edition as serious, scientific assertions, then they will not stand up to serious scrutiny. I realise that in saying this I am contradicting the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, who appeared to accept this prognostication for us, as well as for the Americans. As my noble and learned Leader has already said, scientists within and without the Ministry of Agriculture have known of these dangers for many years before Miss Carson's book appeared, and the most comprehensive precautions are being taken against the sort of disasters that she and the noble Lord envisage.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, wrote an introduction to the book upon which I should like publicly to congratulate him, as an erstwhile writer myself, and to congratulate Miss Carson, also, on securing the services of the noble Lord. If I were ever asked to write an introduction, I should hope to make it as reasonable and as readable as his. His introduction contained one well-intentioned and well-received, but also slightly wounding, reference to the Ministry of Agriculture. The noble Lord wrote:The Ministry of Agriculture, however bland its public face, now exercises effective control to prevent the poisoning of agricultural workers, and is doing a good deal more work in other parts of the field than it is generally given credit for. The same is true also of the chemical companies.May I say that I welcome that statement, and would not wish to appear ungrateful? All the same, I have to be aware that the public face of the Ministry of Agriculture which the noble Lord has to look at most constantly is mine, and I would appeal to him to see it as battered rather than bland. Any lack of mobility or expressiveness can be put down to the harsh and continual weathering it has endured over the years.
But let me say this with some emphasis. No serious charge of complacency in this important context can be made, or in any way sustained, against the Ministry of Agriculture. My noble Leader, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others have referred to the work of the Sanders Study Group and to some of its results. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has claimed that nothing like enough research is being done and that this was clearly 1208 revealed in the Report of the Sanders Committee. He said to-day that hardly any branch of research was adequately served, and that this was revealed in the Report. My impression is that the emphasis is rather different. What was, in fact, established by the Sanders Study Group, and published in the Report, was that no sphere of inquiry was being neglected, but that in certain directions research could be intensified. This is being done in every case where it was recommended; and I hope that brings the sort of encouragement for which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was asking.
This requirement has naturally needed extra staff, and extra staff has been provided. Eight additional scientific and experimental officers have been appointed to my Department, together with four supporting clerical staff. Additional staff have also been taken on by the Research Councils. My noble Leader identified some of the bodies and some of the spheres of research. I have here a list of committees and sub-committees with their particular responsibilities. It is eight pages long; it contains the names of 155 highly qualified men and women, the majority of them with science degrees. I have calculated that it would take me 25 minutes to read the whole list aloud, and I do not intend to do so, but I have selected a certain part of the list and of the work covered which seems to have particular reference to the matters which have been debated to-day: the Operator Protection Panel; the Cancer Panel; the Wild Life Panel; the Panel on Residues and Pesticides in Foodstuffs; the Panel on Water Reserves and Farm Chemicals.
Some details of this work have already been given by my noble friend, and some of the results described. All this is being co-ordinated by the Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances Used in Agriculture and Food Storage, of the Food Standards Committee. What little has been published or circulated about their investigations is, not surprisingly, less dramatic than Miss Carson's published work. That is inevitable. Miss Carson is a very successful and striking writer. She is not a Doctor of Biology, nor primarily a scientist; she is primarily a publicist with a mission—a most important mission. But the scientists in and out of the Ministry of Agriculture also have a mission, to which they are dedicated.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt. What authority has he for saying that Miss Carson is not a biologist?
LORD ST. OSWALD
I am sorry, but my voice could not have been clear enough. I did not say that she was not a biologist; I said she was not a Doctor of Biology; and what I implied was that her fame had come to her as a writer and publicist, rather than as a biologist. I think that is true.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord why there is this sustained feline attack?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord is being fair. Miss Carson is a graduate in biology. Not everybody goes on to take a doctorate. This seems to me to be a most unjust attempt to run down her reputation. She is a qualified biologist, who worked for a long time with a United States agency in this field, and specialised in the end in the public relations side of it. This does not mean that she is not a competent scientist.
LORD ST. OSWALD
I have not suggested that she is not a competent scientist. I am saying that her book is intended to be publicity, and dedicated publicity. I do not think I have been unfair to Miss Carson.
I was speaking of the scientists in this country and of their sense of mission. They have, in fact, a double mission and a double responsibility—protective and productive. I shall touch again on that theme before I am finished. But they are modest and cautious people, by nature and by training. They believe in understatement rather than overstatement. They prefer to publish results rather than prophecies. But their findings, the meticulously checked and advanced findings, are as impregnable as anything in science can hope to be, and 1210 there is a limitation which they themselves are the first to recognise. That accounts for the caution. A cautious publicist would not get very far. Scientists, to whatever compass point of learning they may turn their faces or their intellects, whatever the goal they may conceive, are obliged to advance on two simultaneous fronts. They must, for instance, improve health, even save lives, without unduly endangering health as a side effect. They must expand production, both in the factory and in the field, while safeguarding those who work in factory and field and those who may handle or consume the products of both. What they cannot and should not—let us say must not—accept, is a scientific standstill. But some of the advice offered to-day would seem to me to involve a scientific standstill.
Here I join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who is nothing if not scientifically minded. He has given it as his studied opinion thatuntil a thing can be shown to be positively safe, we ought to reckon that any contaminant should be avoided ".Those were his words.
LORD ST. OSWALD
Yes, as printed. I will show them to him. The noble Lord must take my word for it, and if necessary I will deal with it later. Let us take an example of that very sweeping principle, had it been observed. Hard words have been spoken in the debate about the use of DDT. My noble Leader has already referred to the danger of typhus in the concentration camps of Europe at the end of the war. There were over 1,200 deaths from malaria in Singapore in 1947. Ten years later, the indigenous disease had been eradicated from the island. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, made this general point. On the other hand, I was rather surprised to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, had changed sides against chemicals at a time when the general tendency is to evolve and apply chemicals of lower and lower toxicity. This is not a time, I should have thought, with his views, to go out of the use of chemical pesticides.
The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Bar-loch, asked for information about the quantities of pesticides used. The Sanders' Research Study Group, to 1211 which my noble friend referred, estimated that in 1960, 923,000 acres of crop were sprayed with pesticides that are sufficiently poisonous to require regulation. The acreage sprayed with these chemicals, although less than 10 per cent. of the total under crops, was about twice as much as in 1955. But while the use of chemical sprays has been increasing, there has also been a very important trend towards the use of the less toxic chemicals in this class. As the chemicals are divided into two categories according to the degree of their toxic properties (details of this classification are explained in the Sanders' report), it is found that the more toxic chemicals were used on over 95 per cent. of the acreage sprayed with regulated chemicals in 1955, but on little over one-third of the acreage sprayed in 1960. In consequence, the use of the more toxic pesticides declined substantially between 1955 and 1960, and it is believed that this trend is continuing. I should add that the most widely used chemicals are the hormone weed killers which are of low toxicity to mammals.
The noble Lord also asked to what extent is food, as it reaches the consumer, affected by residues of such chemicals. Many chemicals leave no residues in crops, for example; they are sprayed as pre-emergence herbicides or they quickly break down into harmless compounds. Where a residue might occur, the use of the chemical as recommended ensures that any residue is far below the amount that can do any harm to human health, even if it should be ingested in the food daily. To check up on this, my Department is arranging a series of surveys of residues in home grown and imported food, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, on November 22 in reply to a Question in this House.
The noble Lord also asked me whether the Medical Research Council is studying the effect on the human body of possible intakes of DDT and dieldrin. The Medical Research Council has been carrying out studies of DDT and dieldrin in animals with a view to understanding their possible effects on man. Results have shown that at levels much greater than those normally found in man, these substances have no effect 1212 on the metabolism of the animal's fat, which is where they are stored. The need for further research will be reviewed in the light of the results of a survey now being carried out in collaboration by several organisations at the request of the Government's Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances used in Agriculture and Food Storage, into the levels of DDT and dieldrin in human fat and milk. The latest information is that the survey is about to begin. The Government Chemist's Laboratory has perfected the technique for analysis. Many of the forensic pathologists and milk banks have accepted the invitation to take part and the containers for collecting samples were being sent out yesterday.
The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, also inquired why it is that no regulations are made under the Food and Drugs Act either prohibiting or limiting the amount of toxic chemical residues in food. The answer is quite simply that we do not think it necessary. The information which we have at present does not reveal the need for regulations because, it seems to us, of the successful and effective operation of the scheme for approved chemicals used in agriculture. But I hasten to add that this does not mean that there is an open door in our powers under the Food and Drugs Act. The noble Lord is quite right in assuming that we could, if necessary, make regulations which could exclude any specific chemical from food sold to the public. We would certainly not hesitate to do so if evidence became available which showed that it would be necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has referred to the statement of Professor Boyland of the Chester Beatty Institute, a statement that there is no safe test for a carcinogen, and if there were we would not know what it was. One can say that about many things. Equally it can be said that in London there is absolutely no safe moment to cross a road, and if there were we should not know when it was. I trust that will not discourage any noble Lord from trying to get home tonight.
The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, also asked about the building-up of DDT in human fat. Surveys of the accumulation of DDT and other chlorinated insecticides in human fat have been carried out in this and many other countries. A recent 1213 survey published in the British Medical Journal showed that the levels in the United Kingdom are lower than in West Germany and considerably lower than in the United States. There are indications that an equilibrium in the levels in fat have been reached. Further surveys in the United Kingdom are being planned by the Ministry of Health and other organisations in consultation with the Government's Advisory Committee on Poisonous Substances.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, have referred to bird deaths, and I think, this was largely dealt with by my noble and learned Leader. But the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, made a particular reference to a resolution passed at a recent conference in Cambridge which discussed the problem of the decline of certain birds of prey in the United Kingdom. The evidence that the decline in the population of the peregrine falcons and other birds of prey is due to toxic chemicals is, at present, mainly circumstantial, and the direct evidence so far is relatively slender. It seems likely that the use of toxic chemicals is one factor in the decline, and it may prove on further investigation—
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but this argument that the evidence is circumstantial is precisely what his Department was saying three years ago about the effect of the toxic seed dressings. Evidence is partly circumstantial, as all evidence is, and it is partly statistical, as all evidence is, but perhaps he would like to account for the fact of toxic chemicals getting into the birds' eggs. If that is not scientific evidence, I do not know what is. I do not in the least accuse him of complacency, but I do say his Department is very slow to admit facts; and it will be very disturbing and destroy very much of what his noble Leader has said this afternoon if he now reverts to this position that the evidence is really circumstantial, that he does not accept it, that it is very doubtful, and so on.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The noble Lord himself said that the evidence needed to be both circumstantial and statistical. The statistical evidence is not convincing.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The noble Lord also mentioned the amount found in eggs. That amount was measured and it was not found sufficient to addle the egg. It may have had sufficient, but it was not sufficient in itself.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, you do not need to addle an egg; you need only to make it infertile, and there is abundant information on infertility of eggs. I have reports here produced by scientists. Could the noble Lord tell us one ornithologist of repute in this country who agrees with this view which he is expressing?
LORD ST. OSWALD
I do not know quite what view the noble Lord is referring to. The view I have given is that the amount of DDT discovered in the egg was not, in fact, sufficient by itself to make the egg infertile.
The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, suggeted that the solution of the problem of high toxicity of insecticides is to replace those currently in use with less toxic chemicals such as pyrethrum and synthetic pyrethins. This is, of course, the normal approach of synthetic chemists working on pesticides and, in fact, the Sanders Research Study Group directed attention at the importance of studies on the mode of action of pesticides as a basis for the search for less toxic and more selective chemicals. Unfortunately, a solution to the problem is not quite so simple as this. Pyrethrum and synthetic pyrethrins have limited uses. Certain pests have developed resistance to them. Also, of course, dermatitis is found to develop in sensitive persons handling pyrethrum.
The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, referred to the use of arsenic in pesticides. Although arsenic exists naturally in the soil, as my noble friend Lord Stonehaven pointed out, arsenic as a herbicide has not in fact been used since the end of 1960 and for other applications it is being replaced by diquat. Obviously there are other dangers in the countryside which we have been less successful in overcoming: perils not even mentioned by Miss Carson or by any noble Lord, which we and animals, both wild and domestic, have to survive. I am thinking of one that must be familiar to most of us. This particular danger will soon be asserting itself, because it is widespread in the countryside during 1215 both spring and autumn, and is consumed by many animals, sometimes with fatal results. The first signs of poisoning are vomiting and diarrhœa, followed by stupefaction. Death may occur within six days. The poison may be secreted in the milk and young animals, and even humans can be affected. I am referring, of course, to the autumn crocus.
§ LORD HURCOMB
Would the noble Lord allow me to say one word again? The peregrine egg was, in fact, addled, as I am informed on the best authority; and the eggs of two Montagu Harriers, also birds of prey, which contained these chemicals were similarly found to be addled. I am sure that all naturalists have the utmost respect for the biologists who advise the noble Lord. They have always found them impartial; but I hope that we are not going to get into controversy on facts of this sort and have all the evidence which has been so laboriously accumulated discredited by statements which I think he will find, on reflection, are not completely well-founded.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My information was precisely on the Montagu Harriers, and my information is that it was not convincing.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the dangers to hedgerows. Hedgerows are, in fact affected only in a few selected spots in our 195,000 miles of roads, selected spots where vegetation represents a positive danger to motorists. If the death of wild flowers is balanced against the death of human travellers on the roads, I think most noble Lords would make the former sacrifice. But there has been, and there will be, no wholesale spraying of roadsides such as Miss Carson described, with natural horror, in America. This is another assurance I can give to certain noble Lords.
Anxieties have been expressed that the labelling of these chemicals, especially for domestic use, is not sufficiently clear or controlled, and even that certain chemicals, such as aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor, which are already proscribed, are appearing under other names. We are now advising that all pesticides of this kind should be passed and approved and should be properly labelled. This, I 1216 think, will also be a matter of reassurance to certain noble Lords.
I have expressed my admiration for Miss Carson's book, including the science fiction passage. I think it is worthy of praise and gratitude, so long as it is not read as a treatise—and I am certain that the author does not intend it to be read as a treatise. It would be, I think, unfair to her to treat it as such. What she has written is a brief—a brief for the prosecution. She is out to put the American authorities in the dock. Happily I am neither competent nor called upon to defend the American authorities. But it seemed possible that a slightly extended and here and there Anglicised version of Miss Carson's brief might have been used by certain noble Lords in this debate, which is concerned with conditions in this country.
What stands out at the end of the debate is that in Great Britain there does not begin to be enough evidence to bring such a case to court. There have been exhortations—I remember particularly the one from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in winding up for the Opposition—but no direct accusations. Miss Carson's book has served, so far as we are concerned, to highlight the dangers that might arise if our authorities and Legislature were not so alert as they are. What matters—and from this I derive great encouragement—is that we all have the same purpose in mind; it must he to the benefit of all if we can meet halfway. My Lords, I hope that I have been able to show, in assisting my noble and learned Leader, that the Ministry of Agriculture have already gone halfway to meet and greet Miss Rachel Carson and the two noble Lords. I hope that this valuable debate may establish that meeting of minds and mutual intentions to the reassurance of the country at large.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and whose contributions I think have helped to support the view that very great care needs to be taken with regard to these matters. That, I feel, was the general tenor of all the speeches which have been made. I was a little disappointed that my noble friend Lord Taylor thought I should not have introduced fluorides into my speech, but I 1217 would beg him to remember that the human race have, since prehistoric times, managed to have very good teeth without having their water containing fluoride. The noble Viscount, Lord Hail-sham, treated us, as usual, to a philosophical discussion of a very wide range. We are always interested to listen to what he has to say, but I felt that when he came to the concrete account of what was being done in these matters it was a little thin.
I am glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, a little more about what his Department is doing, but I think there is a very great deal more still to be done, and it seems to me to be very late in the day to be only now endeavouring to find out how much of these toxic chemicals used in agriculture is in fact getting into the food supply, because that is the crucial question. I was also extremely surprised—I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said it—to hear that DDT was not a dangerous substance. This is really quite ridiculous. I have in my hands a paper dealing with the public health aspects of these insecticides, which cites more than a hundred references to the literature and which contains this particular statement, which I feel I must read:Without exception, every one of the chlorinated cyclic hydrocarbon insecticides is a liver poison.I would also draw attention to the fact that the study group of the World Health Organisation as far back as 1956 said:It is well known that DDT, BHC. and dieldrin are eliminated in the milk of lactating animals, and DDT has been found in human milk. It has further been observed that the toxicity of many members of the chlorinated hydrocarbon group is much greater for the very young, who normally receive milk as a large part of their diet. It should therefore be a normal precautionary procedure to require that milk should not contain these substances at all.We have done nothing, so far as I am aware, to make certain that that is the case in this country: there is no regulation which governs it. In fact the noble Lord admits that the Government do not know about it, and that they are only now beginning to make inquiries. I think that is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
1218 I think I should also read this extract from a more recent report of the World Health Organisation:Confirmation of correct use …of agricultural toxic substances—… should be obtained by repeated analysis of treated foods for residue content.This is extremely important, because until this information is obtained and collated systematically, we shall not know what is happening. I did not say, as the noble Viscount suggested, that the use of all agricultural chemicals should be prohibited. What I said was that we should make sure that toxic chemicals did not get into the food supply. Neither did I say that all new chemicals of every kind should be prohibited—that is obviously quite impossible. I merely drew attention to the fact that steps can be taken to protect consumers, and that substances which are commonly used in the home, or for industrial purposes, ought to be properly labelled so that people understand that they are handling dangerous substances. And as the chemical industry progresses, that will become more and more important. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have stayed so long. I do not want to detain the House any longer, and therefore I ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw this Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I had not intended to move my Motion, but I now rise to do so only because it enables me to correct the Record. My Motion is:To draw attention to the ecological dangers and the destruction of wild life resulting from the widespread use of toxic chemicals in the countryside and in gardens; to urge the need for further research, education and restraint on their use; and to move for Papers.The noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, really was unfair to Miss Carson. I can only say that I have in my pocket a letter from a very distinguished English biologist, a Fellow of the Royal Society, who says (and his opinion is of some worth) that not only is this a first-rate book but she is a first-rate biologist. The fact that she happens to be able to write English as well does not mean she is not a first-rate biologist. She not only 1219 took her degree in it but also did graduate work in genetics.
I am rather shocked, as was my noble friend Lady Summerskill, by the almost hysterical reaction of the Ministry of Agriculture. The noble Lord knows that I would never apply the word "bland" to any person, and he knows that there is no Minister in this House who is better liked or whom we hold in greater affection. But it is part of an almost hysterical form of guilt—the sort of thing that produces literature sent to all the papers, with a request to pass it on to their big reviewers, sent out by the Association of British Manufacturers of Agricultural Chemicals. I am frankly disappointed, because I had hoped that we were reaching a measure of agreement and moderation. The noble Lord said that we had not accused the 1220 Government, although we were critical. I am now inclined to accuse the Government that they are still indifferent to this problem. It would be only fair at this moment to allow the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, to reply to this debate; but if he does not wish to do so, I thank noble Lords who participated and those other noble Lords who have refrained from speaking on this occasion for their attendance; and I ask leave to both move and withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.