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Farmers who allegedly suffered as a result of organophosphate (OP) sheep dip poisoning are entitled to a ’Hillsborough-style disclosure’ of the truth, Labour MP Andy Burnham has said.
Mr Burnham, who led the fight to secure an official inquest into the 1989 football stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died, has now called for a proper inquiry into suspected cases of OP poisoning.
The call was welcomed by leading OP poisoning campaigners.
The move by Mr Burnham came after it emerged officials from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warned, as far back as the early 1990s, that exposure to even low doses of OP could cause neurological damage and the advice and protective equipment provided by manufacturers was inadequate.
Speaking at the Guardian newspaper offices, the Shadow Health Secretary called the revelation ’explosive’.
"I am 100 per cent convinced this is a major scandal and people have suffered in silence and isolation. It shows the risks were known and yet mandatory dipping continued. There may have been a risk, but they didn’t act."
Mr Burnham said he would push for an inquiry when parliament returned next month.
"I want a Hillsborough-style disclosure of what was known, by whom and when," he added.
The evidence in question is a HSE document based on a survey of farmers and published in 1991 which states: "Repeated absorption of small doses have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase."
It then goes onto to say: "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?"
Despite these concerns the Farming Minister at the time, John Gummer, continued to demand local authorities act against farmers who refused to use the chemical, with compulsory dipping continuing until 1992.
The document was published after a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group, set up by Warrington dairy farmer Tom Rigby.
He added: "OP sufferers have to pay for private treatment because they can not find treatment on the NHS for something which, in the eyes of many medical professionals, does not officially exist.
"Calls for an inquiry are a step in the right direction."
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