HL Deb 17 July 1995 vol 566 cc1-2WA
Lord Lyell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

If they have completed their consideration of the advice that they have received from the Veterinary Products Committee on the report from the Institute of Occupational Health into possible chronic neuropsychological effects of occupational exposure to organophosphate sheep dips; and if they will make a statement.

Lord Lucas

Yes. In the light of the assessment of the Institute of Occupational Health (IOH) report by its Medical and Scientific Panel, the Chairman of the Veterinary Products Committee (Professor Sir James Armour) has advised me that while the report contributed to the body of information now available, and its publication was to be welcomed, it was not in itself a definitive study. The committee found that the study did not provide sufficient scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that chronic health effects are associated with long term, low level, exposure to OP sheep dips. The conclusions reached by the IOH in the associatedLancet article did not appear to be adequately supported by the data in the full report. The committee therefore reaffirmed its previous advice that, on the basis of current scientific evidence, the marketing of OP dips should continue.

Among other recommendations, the committee urged that the award of contracts for the epidemiological research be pursued as a matter of urgency, and the need for farmers to follow the guidance in the "Sheep dipping" booklet was re-emphasised. A copy of the chairman's letter, and the full findings and advice of the committee are being placed in the Library of the House.

Having consulted the other agriculture and health Ministers who form the licensing authority, I can confirm that the Government has accepted the VPC's advice in full. In doing so, we are mindful of the continuing reports of outbreaks of sheep scab, and the importance of OP dips to animal welfare. Nevertheless, it is essential that users consider what treatment is best, take the steps necessary under the COSHH Regulations to assess the risks and decide what precautions are needed in the use of OP dips, and recognise the importance of following the available guidance and instructions on the label to ensure safe use of the product. This is just as important for non-OP dips, where the same precautions are recommended as for OP dips.

We also welcome the IOH report as providing a valuable contribution to the continuing debate on the possible long term effects of exposure to organophosphates. It forms a basis for the further epidemiological research for which we are currently assessing proposals. Following the recent advertisement we have received a total of 12 proposals, and these are being urgently considered. I hope to make a further announcement about progress with this before the end of the month.