Labour pledges chemicals clampdown

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The Independent Online
Labour has made a pledge to scrap the use of organophosphate (OP) pesticides in sheep dips and restrict them in the home.

The move was hailed yesterday as the "beginning of the end" for the chemicals which are being increasingly blamed for Gulf war syndrome and for devastating illnesses in hundreds of farmers.

In a rare policy commitment, the Labour Party announced last week that, if elected, it would withdraw OP sheep dips from the market by telling suppliers not to sell them and farmers not to use them. It would also stop products containing the chemicals from being sold to the general public without "clear advice about potential health risks and necessary safety precautions".

At present these products are freely available - to treat children for head lice, for example, and pets for fleas - without any clear warning that they contain OPs, though the names of specific chemicals, such as malathion, are given. It is 45 years since a top-level committee recommended that a legal prohibition should be put on their sale but this was never implemented.

Michael Meacher, the recently appointed shadow minister for environmental protection, has taken action after contacting the OP Information Network which has led the campaign against the chemicals.

"It is now clear OP products can be extremely dangerous. Yet they are still widely used and public knowledge about health risks is still far too low," he said. "Organisations like the OP Information Network have collected hundreds of cases of serious health damage, yet the Government has failed to conduct proper research into their findings."

After years of denial, the Government finally admitted last month that OPs may be a cause of Gulf war syndrome, which affects 750 British ex- servicemen. Some 500 farmers suffer similar symptoms, including weakness, muscle tremors, incontinence, depression, pain and heart disease.

In another policy commitment at the weekend, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman warned that the travel industry to clean up its act. At Abta's annual convention in Istanbul, Nigel Griffiths said present compensation rights over changes in flight times were inadequate: "I am giving the operators six months to sort this out or face legislation. Let the message be from a Labour government 'the consumer comes first, not the operator'."