Government Knew of Farm Poisoning Risk But Failed to Act.

Revealed: government knew of farm poisoning risk but failed to act.

Tom Levitt, Monday 20 April 2015.

Documents show officials knew of danger from chemical mandated for sheep dipping that left hundreds of farmers with debilitating health problems, prompting politicians to call for Hillsborough-style inquiry. Government officials knew of the dangerous health risks to farmers using a chemical treatment in the 1980s and 1990s but still refused to end its compulsory use, documents reveal for the first time.

At least 500 farmers across the UK were left with debilitating health problems after using organophosphate-based (OP) chemicals to protect their sheep against parasites, whose use was mandated by government until 1992.

Successive UK governments have claimed they did not know about the dangers farmers faced using the OPs for sheep dipping at that time and also dispute any link between repeated, low-level use of the chemical and chronic ill health, including serious neurological damage.

It has now emerged that government officials were privately warning of the dangers of exposure to even low doses of the chemical and criticising the safety measures offered by manufacturers, prompting calls by senior political figures for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey of farmers, released under an freedom of information request, said that: “Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?”

However, in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

“This revelation is explosive,” said shadow health secretary Andy Burnham. “I am 100% convinced that this is a major scandal and that people have suffered in silence and isolation. It shows that the risks were known and yet mandatory dipping continued. There may have been a risk, but they didn’t act. I want a Hillsborough-style disclosure of what was known, by whom and when.”

A number of scientists and medical experts have long spoken out about the use of OP sheep dips and the high number of incidents of chronic ill health within the farming community in the 1980s and early 1990s. Campaigners have previously claimed the government knew about these risks when dipping was compulsory, but The Health and Safety Executive has now become the first government agency to be forced to admit that publicly.

“It’s appalling that this information was never acted upon or passed on to farmers at the time,” said Teresa Layton, whose husband David, a sheep farmer on the Welsh border, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993 and later confirmed as having suffered OP poisoning. “Luckily my husband is still here today, but he can no longer do anything for himself.

“It’s so frustrating to think of all the things we could have done as a family and with our children which we haven’t been able to do. Now we have grandchildren and it’s heartbreaking seeing David sat in bed or in a wheelchair not being able to hold them. And all because of this sheep dip product that the government and chemical companies knew was dangerous, yet let so many peoples lives be ruined.”

Another victim, former sheep farmer Margaret Mar, a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent the past 25 years campaigning in Westminster on the issue. “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time,” she said.

Although the HSE document shows it knew about the risks, a spokesperson said it had “no record” of whether the document was ever passed on to ministers or HSE’s parent department at the time, the Department of Employment. HSE had no comment to make on the document’s contents. Gummer, now Lord Deben, told the Guardian that he did not know whether he had seen the HSE document, but said he had always consulted the “best available science” during his time as a minister.

The government ended mandatory use of OP sheep dips in 1992 and later admitted that since packaging had been redesigned to better protect farmers coming into contact with the chemical, following a temporary ban in 1999, there had only been one reported case of a human adverse reaction arising from the use of organophosphate dip products.

Victim support groups compiled a list of more than 500 farmers who suffered ill health from using OP sheep dips in the 1980s and 1990s (later used by Defra for its own research), but campaigners believe the real number of victims was likely to have been in the thousands.

A spokesperson for the environment department said it still disputed the suggestion that the use of OPs had been a health hazard to farmers. It said its independent advisors, the Committee on Toxicity, had concluded last year that exposure to organophosphates at a level insufficient to cause acute poisoning did not cause anything more than minor and subtle damage to the nervous system.

However, a leading toxicologist said the committee’s review of the evidence on OPs was flawed.

Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross, from University College London’s review of existing scientific evidence, published in 2013, found 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to OPs.

Burnham said that when parliament returns he will push for an independent inquiry into why farmers were not adequately protected.


Under Threat Oceans Are World’s Seventh Largest Economy

Oceans are world’s seventh largest economy worth $24tn, says WWF report.

Oliver Milman, Wednesday 22 April 2015.

Vast economic worth of world’s oceans includes fishing, tourism and shipping but is declining due to pollution, climate change and overfishing

The monetary value of the world’s oceans has been estimated at US$24tn in a new report that warns that overfishing, pollution and climate change are putting an unprecedented strain upon marine ecosystems.

The report, commissioned by WWF, states the asset value of oceans is $24tn and values the annual “goods and services” it provides, such as food, at $2.5tn. This economic clout would make the oceans the seventh largest economy in the world although the report’s authors, which include the Boston Consulting Group, say this is an underestimate as it does not factor in things such as oil, wind power and intangibles, such as the ocean’s role in climate regulation.

The economic value is largely comprised of fisheries, tourism, shipping lanes and the coastal protection provided by corals and mangroves.

However, the oceans are facing mounting pressures. They soak up around half of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by human activity, a process that is warming the water and increasing the acidification of the ocean.

The report warns that nearly two-thirds of the world’s fisheries are “fully exploited” with most of the rest overexploited. The biological diversity of the oceans slumped by 39% between 1970 and 2010, while half of the world’s corals and nearly a third of its seagrasses have disappeared in this time.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and director of the Australia-based Global Change Institute, said it was important that the business community understood the value of the oceans so that a strategy could be devised to reverse its decline.

“If you don’t look after an asset like the ocean it starts to degrade so it’s important we start to solve these problems now on an international basis,” he said. “The oceans are in a bad state that is rapidly getting worse. Fisheries are starting to collapse, there are record levels of pollution, such as plastic pollution, and there is climate change.”

Hoegh-Guldberg said the “shocking” rate of change in the world’s oceans was illustrated in the latest report by the UN’s climate science panel, which stated that changes in the ocean’s chemistry due to an increase in CO2 emissions was faster than at any point in the past 65m years.

Warming temperatures can make life challenging for some marine species, while the acidification of the ocean hampers the ability of creatures such as corals and molluscs to form their shells and skeletons.

“The changes we are making will take 10,000 years at least to turnaround, so we don’t want to go down this pathway,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. “This generation of humans is defining the future of 300 generations of humans. We are conducting these experiments with our world despite the consequences for people.”

Hoegh-Guldberg said that nations should do more to manage localised issues such as pollution and overfishing to help oceans deal with climate change. “If you protect marine areas and regulate fishing, you can help corals survive the impact of climate change,” he said. “If we solve these local problems we can buy some time while we deal with the global climate issue. But let’s not pretend here – if we don’t get off the current CO2-rich pathway we’re on now, all the attempts to control local factors won’t work. Coral reefs will become a distant memory and the ability to feed people will be severely degraded.”

The report calls for eight key steps to revive the health of the oceans, including a stronger focus in UN agreements on oceans, deep cuts to emissions, at least 30% of marine areas to be protected by 2030 and greater action to tackle illegal fishing.

Scientists Say 75% of Known Fossil Fuel Must Stay in Ground.

Adam Vaughan, Wednesday 22 April 2015.

Scientists say 75% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in ground.

Leading scientists and economists release[d a] statement to mark Earth Day in which they urge leaders to keep to commitments to avoid dangerous global warming

Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, a group of leading scientists and economists have said in a statement timed to coincide with Earth Day.

The Earth League, which includes Nicholas Stern, the author of several influential reports on the economics of climate change; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel; and the US economist Jeffrey Sachs, urged world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming.

Spelling out what a global deal at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year should include, the group demanded governments adopt a goal of reducing economies’ carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, put a price on carbon and that the richest take the lead with the most aggressive cuts.

In its “Earth statement”, the group said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if warming was not to breach a rise of 2C, the “safety limit” agreed to by governments.

Johan Rockström, the statement’s lead author, said: “From a scientific perspective, 2015 is a decisive moment. The window to navigate ourselves free from a ‘beyond 2C future’ is barely open. It’s the last chance to navigate ourselves towards a desired future. “It’s so frustrating, because it’s the choice of moving down a business-as-usual route with devastating outcomes for humanity and, at the same time, we have this almost unprecedented opportunity, we can transform the world economy to a fossil fuel-free one and moreover do it in a way that is security and health-wise more attractive.”

The statement says that failure by the world to act on climate change would bring is a one in 10 chance of temperatures rising by more than 6C by 2100, a level of risk that would be comparable with accepting 10,000 plane crashes daily worldwide.

Rockström said there was now enough scientific evidence that the world was approaching irreversible tipping points where the Earth’s system begins to accelerate the warming that man has already caused. Methane being released as permafrost thaws and melting ice meaning less solar energy reflected back into space are two examples.

“That’s the scientific nightmare,” Rockström said. “You don’t want the Earth to go from friend to foe … this could happen quite soon; we need to bend the curve on emissions over the next 10 to 15 years.”

He admitted, however, that there was a significant gap between the group’s demands and what might be achieved at the Paris conference, COP21, with several significant players already playing down expectations. “We’re not at all where we need to be,” Rockström said.

Sachs said: “COP21 is the moment of truth, the last chance to stay within the 2C upper limit.”

The statement called for developed countries to help scale up financial aid for developing countries to deal with climate change, and for Paris to agree the beginnings of a strategy to make countries more resilient to the extreme weather a warming world is expected to bring.

Brian Hoskins, one of the Earth statement signatories and the director of the Grantham institute for climate change at Imperial College London, said that given the importance of the Paris summit, the attention given to climate change in the UK general election campaign was “pathetic” and “extremely disappointing”.

“The contrast between the importance of this year and our election is just stark,” he said. “It seems we go towards the lowest common denominator in such a discussion of this, instead of stepping back and saying what do we want, what is our vision for the country, what is our vision for the world, we’re saying, are we going to get a pack of butter for 20p rather than 30p? It’s a shopping list rather than a vision.”

This year’s Earth Day was marked by Barack Obama in his weekly video address. He said he would be visiting the Florida Everglades on Wednesday to see how the environment is at risk from rising sea levels there: “Climate change can no longer be denied or ignored,” he said.


Week Ending Saturday, April 18th

Spring has at last arrived!  Wednesday, the temperature reached the low 20’s C.  With respect to the pony grazing operation, March was a ‘hungry March’ (dryish and cool conditions) with grass growth being almost non-existent.

Have noticed that the herb Alexanders (an Umbellifer – cow parsley family) is slowly spreading out from a stronghold on Friston Hill along the coastal A259.  Is this due to traffic carrying seed, the use of road salt in modern times or climate change?  It provides those vibrant, bright green splashes of colour with pale greenish-cream flowers along some road verges, mainly near the sea.

Summer bird migrants are arriving in force now; here are my firsts – nothing notable though.

Sunday, April 12 – 2 swallows flew over the garden.

Monday, April 13 – heard a cuckoo calling on Old Lodge nature reserve; willow warbler at Hindover.

Tuesday, April 14 – a number of wheatears flitting about on the Seven Sisters.

Wednesday, April 15 – four house martins early evening wheeling about over village of Hartfield.

Week Ending Saturday, April 4th

March has been and gone…  It was what I term ‘a hungry March’ for due to the relative coolness and often cloudy conditions, the native grasses on our pony grazing sites has been very slow in growing.  However, an advantage with this situation is that on the three current downland grazing sites, means the ponies are still grazing the ‘thatch’ from last year.

Tuesday, March 321st. Sussex police briefly close the busy A272 at Chailey Common to enable Sussex Pony Grazing's ponies to cross to summer grazing area.  (Image courtesy of Linda Ball).

Tuesday, March 31st. Sussex Police briefly closed the busy A272 at Chailey Common to enable Sussex Pony Grazing’s ponies to cross to their summer grazing area. (Image courtesy of Linda Ball).