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Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the most recent independent research commissioned by the Government into the toxic effects on humans of the use of organophosphate chemicals was; what response the Government made to its conclusions; and if she will make a statement. [109809]

[holding answer 29 April 2003]: As part of the Government's Four Point Plan on OPs a research requirements document was published on 20 July 2000.The current state of play on each of the successful bids is set out in the table. The table also details two Government sponsored OP research projects that were already underway before the announcement of the Government Four Point Plan:A University of Manchester study into genetic variation in susceptibility to Ops; and A Porton Down study into the effects of OP exposure on brawn activity.In addition, Defra is funding a survey on health complaints amongst sheep dippers by Dr. Tony Fletcher (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). The first results for this survey are expected shortly.


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Disabling neuropsychiatric disease in farmers exposed to organophosphates.Defra Science Directorate/DHDr. Andrew PoveyCentre for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of ManchesterAvailable at VMD website at http:// > Research & Development > Current Projects Identification of, and access to worker records has delayed survey
January 2002December 2006Work in progress
Characterisation of non-
acetylcholinesterase actions of organophosphates by identification of novel protein targets
Defra Science DirectorateDr. David RayNeurotoxicology Section, MRC Applied Neuroscience Group, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham.Available at VMD website at http:// > Research & Development,lb/> > Current Projects
June 2001June 2003Work in progress
Investigation of possible autoimmune responses induced by organophosphate exposureDefra Science DirectorateDr. Howard MasonHealth and Safety Laboratory, SheffieldAvailable at VMD website at http:// > Research & Development > Current Projects
April 2001September 2003Work in progress
A review of the effects of low level exposure to organophosphate pesticides on foetal and childhood healthDHDr. Leonard LevyMRC Institute for Environment and Health, University of LeicesterFinal Report available on IEH website, http:// > reports & publications > human exposure & risk assessment > W11
April 2001May-2002Completed
A case-controlled study of neuropsychological and psychiatric functioning in sheep farmers exposed to organophosphate pesticidesDefra Science DirectorateDr. Sarah Mackenzie-RossUniversity College LondonStart imminent (3 years expected duration)
Assessment of pattern and extent of autonomic abnormalities in a group of sheep farmers and dippersDefra Science DirectorateDr. Goran JamalImperial CollegeProposal under peer review by Royal SocietyProposal

The findings of all Government sponsored research into this issue are routinely referred for advice to the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC), the Government's independent advisory committee established to advise Ministers on the safety, quality and efficacy of veterinary medicines. The VPC's latest advice on OP research was on a research letter published in the Lancet on 2 March 2002 describing findings from the Health and Safety Executive funded research project into ill health in sheep dip farmers and polymorphism of paraoxonase (PON 1). The research letter concluded that these results "support the hypothesis that organophosphates contribute to the reported ill health of people who dip sheep".

Although the full results of this study are still awaited. The VPC, under guidance from its Medical and Scientific Panel (MSP), has advised that the differences reported from the study were not large and were not, in themselves, sufficient to support the hypothesis that organophosphates contribute to the reported ill health of people who dip sheep. However, the VPC considered that the hypothesis postulated by this study could merit a more robust and better designed study. The VPC considered that once the full findings had been published the authors of the study should be invited to present them to the MSP.

The VPC also considered that the evidence in the research letter did not justify any additional regulatory action on the current authorisations for organophosphate sheep dips.

A further report on the findings of this research was published in the February 2003 edition of "Pharmacogenetics" and this is being studied by the MSP.