HC Deb 03 March 1989 vol 148 cc372-3W
Dr. Ron Davies

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) whether his Department has any information relating to human fatalities resulting from strychnine poisoning from agricultural and related uses;

(2) what controls exist on the stockpiling, or sale of substances containing strychnine;

(3) whether any restrictions or licensing arrangements are placed on individuals who use substances approved by his Department for agricultural use which contain strychnine;

(4) what evidence his Department has of the incidence of fatal poisoning of wild animals or birds by substances containing strychnine;

(5) whether his Department has institued any proceedings within the last three years in respect of the misuse of strychnine;

(6) what information his Ministry has concerning the poisoning of animals either deliberately or accidentally by the misuse of substances containing strychnine;

(7) what guidance his Ministry issues on the purposes for which strychnine is considered to be an appropriate substance;

(8) if he will list those substances approved for use by his Department which contain strychnine;

(9) what information his Department has about the incidence of poisoning of domestic pets by substances containing strychnine; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ryder

The sale of strychnine is controlled by the poisons rules, 1982. As a pesticide the substance also falls within the scope of part III of the Food and Environment Protection Act, 1985 and the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (COPR) which allow its use.

The Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act, 1927 allows the placing of poison against small ground vermin, where it is necessary in the interests of public health, agriculture, or the preservation of other animals, domestic or wild, or for the purpose of manuring the land. Its only permitted use in agriculture, under the Animals (Cruel Poisons) Act 1962 is to control moles.

MAFF guidance reflects the above and advises that strychnine hydrochloride and strychnine sulphate, but not strychnine alkaloid, are suitable for use in mole control.

In the last three years there have been no known cases of harm to people arising from agricultural and related uses of strychnine.

The use of all pesticides is prohibited unless the conditions of a Ministers' consent are followed. The latest consent to use (C)(i)) was published in the gazettes on 20 January 1989. The conditions applicable to the use of strychnine require employers to provide instruction and guidance to employees; forbid use unless the user has had adequate instructions and guidance in the safe, efficient and humane use of the pesticide and is competent for the duties to be performed; and places on the user the obligation to the take all reasonable precautions to protect the health of people and creatures and to safeguard the environment. We expect all farmers to keep proper records of all the pesticide treatments they apply.

Inexcusably, strychnine has been used illegally in attempts to kill birds of prey, foxes, badgers and victims have included pets and working dogs. In the last three calendar years the number of cases in England of abuse of pesticides involving strychnine identified by the Minister's wildlife incident investigation scheme were 10 in 1986, seven in 1987, and eight in 1988. Of these, the number of cases involving harm to wildlife were three in 1986, three in 1987 and two in 1988 and the numbers affecting dogs were seven in 1986, four in 1987 and six in 1988.

The agricultural departments investigate such cases thoroughly. With the advent of the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986, in the last three calendar years my Department initiated one successful prosecution. This was taken under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. We urge the public to provide evidence, and at the earliest opportunity, as without it prosecutions cannot be undertaken.

Strychnine has been tightly controlled since before the Control of Pesticides Regulations came into effect and is subject to the general statutory requirement that it should be used safely. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issues sales authorities for England. Farmers are allowed to buy only enough for one treatment at a time. Contractors and certain organisations are allowed to buy enough for foreseeable needs. Stockpiling of strychnine by users should not occur.

Storage for immediate use by users is controlled under the Control of Pesticides Regulations and only skilled users of the substance are authorised.

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