JANUARY 30, 2010: The NFU is taking the unprecedented step of opening its archives to help farmers who believe they have been poisoned by organophosphate (OP) pesticides.

NFU president Peter Kendall agreed to the step after an impassioned plea by OP campaigner and Lancashire county chairman Tom Rigby during the union’s council meeting on January 26. OPs are considered one of the most acutely toxic pesticides. Their use – especially in sheep dip – has been blamed for cases of poisoning, respiratory failure and even death among farmers. Mr Rigby said: “Twenty years ago, farmers had to dip their sheep. It was compulsory. It was done under police supervision. It was done with products and formulations we now know were not safe. The protection gear was inadequate.” As many as 15,000 farmers who used OPs could have seen their lives shortened through no fault of their own, Mr Rigby told NFU council delegates. He was due to meet Health Secretary Andy Burnham to discuss the issue.NFU archives might reveal whether the government was aware of the dangers of OP pesticides, said Mr Rigby. They might also show whether government work examining organophosphate safety had been properly completed. Union officials will now examine NFU records stretching back almost two decades. Of particular interest are likely to be minutes of meetings with civil servants prior to the relaxation of rules requiring mandatory sheep dipping. Mr Kendall said he was happy to look at the union’s records. The NFU had an obligation to members past and present to show it had nothing to hide. “There is no indication that the NFU was ever involved in any sort of cover up,” he said.

Image(s) provided by: