Skip to main content

Health: Organophosphates

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What has been the total cost of government-funded research into organophosphates and human health since 1992.

My Lords, the Government have so far committed £4.1 million to research and development on whether organophosphates cause chronic ill health in humans. None of the research so far has confirmed this suggestion.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Perhaps I may take this opportunity also to thank her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has long shown an interest in and consistent attitude to this matter.

Does the Minister agree that some of this research—notably that by Dr Mackenzie Ross of University College, London—needs urgent completion? Does she also recognise that victims of OP poisoning are increasingly concerned that every bit of research so far seems simply to have produced the result that more research is needed? Does she recognise that the point may be reached where it is more important to deal with the symptoms and to ensure that any compensation claims are dealt with than to pursue additional research endlessly and at great cost to the taxpayer? Does she recognise that the victims feel that the manufacturers’ procrastination, and the tortuous way in which Government have dealt with these matters, adds to their concern? Does she recognise that many of them feel that they will be dead before there is a completion? Will she and her noble friend meet the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and me to discuss these matters?

My Lords, I recognise that the sufferers are frustrated by the current situation and wish the research to be completed as soon as possible. That is entirely natural, and I am sure that that is what wider society wishes. However, we have to ensure that the research has a good scientific basis and is excellent. I understand people’s desire for compensation, but because no link between chronic ill health and exposure to OPs has yet been proven, we are not in a position to discuss it. I would be very happy to meet the noble Lord to discuss these issues.

My Lords, have any recent studies shown a link between organophosphate residues and the human food chain?

My Lords, as I understand it, no research has made that connection. If I am wrong, I shall certainly put it in writing to the noble Earl.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that organophosphate poisoning can lead to liver disease? Will she contact St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, which has expertise on this subject? It knows about a cluster of people with liver disease who have been connected with organophosphates.

My Lords, I should be very happy to contact St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, as the noble Baroness suggests.

My Lords, what has the Department of Health done as a result of the study by Dr Cherry published in the Lancet in 2002 which showed that some farm workers were genetically disposed to have a low resistance to the chemicals used in organophosphates?

My Lords, as I understand it, that research has not yet been completed and we are still looking at it. However, the Government as a whole have done an enormous amount to ensure that people still using organophosphates in sheep dip are properly protected. We have introduced many measures. We have, for example—I beg your Lordships’ pardon; I cannot read my notes—ensured that pesticides are used in a diluted form and that people using them are properly registered and licensed and that they wear proper protective clothing. It is well recognised that the Government are doing everything they can to protect those who are currently using these organophosphates, though I recognise that the problems that people now suffer result from past use of the pesticides.

My Lords, to what degree are the Government consulting the Americans on this issue? In the case of the Gulf War sufferers, for instance, the Americans decided a long while ago that some of their claims were well based, while as far as I know the research continues on this side of the Atlantic as if it is still a question in doubt. To what degree do we work with the Americans?

My Lords, there is certainly a dialogue with our American colleagues; how great that dialogue is I do not know, but I will come back to the noble Baroness. We are also aware of the literature that abounds on these issues and take careful note of what is written in scientific journals.