HL Deb 22 May 2000 vol 613 cc470-2

2.56 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the workshop on research on organophosphates held on 28th March.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, this broadly based scientific workshop was set up to assist the development of a targeted research programme, taking forward the recommendations of the Committee on Toxicity and other research questions identified in the workshop. It was an extremely productive day, with useful input from all those who attended. The record of the proceedings has now been finalised and is being made public. It is being published on the MAFF, Department of Health and HSE websites and copies are being sent to all participants. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank the Minister for organising the workshop. The noble Baroness will know that for many years I have been asking for just such a workshop. Perhaps I may also express my gratitude to her for the help that she has given to OP sufferers.

Can the Minister tell the House whether extra research will be undertaken as a result of this workshop? Furthermore, will that research concentrate in particular on the synergistic effects of using combinations of organophosphates, either two together, with synthetic pyrethroids or with phenols? I understand that blood tests can be undertaken at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee to see whether antibodies can be made to these. Furthermore, can she encourage the development of the unit at the Middlesex Hospital which is investigating the neurological effects?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Countess for her remarks. She will be aware that the Committee on Toxicity recommended that research be undertaken into a number of specified areas. The reason for holding the workshop was in order to investigate whether it was important to look into additional, broader areas. We are building up the research requirements document which will be published and will call for bids by open competition to address research questions. We hope to be able to publish that document before the summer break. I shall ensure that the issues pointed out by the noble Countess—I appreciate that she has identified certain specific areas—will be taken into account when we come to draw up that research requirements document. Equally, I shall look into the issues surrounding support for particular services also mentioned by the noble Countess.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, whatever is the outcome of any new research, does the noble Baroness accept that, in effect, her ministry forced the use of organophosphates for 10 years and then proved astoundingly complacent about initiating investigations into the misery that that use has caused?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's suggestion that the Government have been complacent in any way. We have put more effort into investigating OPs than I believe has ever been done before. The Committee on Toxicity was asked to take a fresh and completely independent look at the toxicity of OPs. On the basis of its results, not only have we undertaken the extra work necessary but we have taken regulatory action in order to withdraw OP sheep dips from the market while their containers are not considered safe by the VPC. Such action has not been universally welcomed but has been taken on the advice of the regulatory authority.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, will the Minister give more information as regards the outcome of the meeting that was held on 28th March? My understanding is that a great deal of evidence came out of that meeting and the Minister has suggested that research will be undertaken. Will she say more about the timing and the programme? She said that the report will be published in the summer. How soon will the suggestions in the report be followed up?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am not certain that new evidence was presented at the workshop. It was a matter of bringing together people who had worked in fields slightly peripheral to the mainstream investigations into OPs. It has been of particular concern to sufferers that we should investigate the database of people who believe that they are suffering from the effects of OPs. We are funding a study to do just that and the work should get under way shortly, before the research requirements document to which I alluded is published. When I attended the workshop, one of the main areas of concern related to the potential effects on children and foetuses in the womb. We need to look carefully at whether that matter should be included in research requirements.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, did the workshop consider rumours that French wine barrels are treated with organophosphates?

Baroness Hayman

Not while I was there, my Lords. Having looked briefly at the report published today, I have not seen a reference to the issue. If it is of concern to my noble friend, I shall certainly investigate whether it should be examined in more detail.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, the Minister spoke of the Government withdrawing organophosphates from sheep dip because of inadequate containers. Will she indicate when there will be containers that the Government will approve?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the question is when the industry will produce containers that are considered by the Veterinary Products Committee to be safe for use. I understand that several suggestions for new container design are currently being examined by the committee and that it hopes to give advice to the licensing authorities next month.

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