Farming Minister George Eustice has agreed to hold a meeting with a small group of victims of organophosphate poisoning to discuss their ongoing plight and current Government thinking on the science behind the issue.
The closed 45-minute meeting will take place next Thursday, November 19, at Defra’s headquarters in London.
It will be attended by around 20 people, including OP campaigner Tom Rigby, one of the driving forces behind the revived OP campaign and a number of OP sufferers, including Paul Wright, Margaret and John Percival, Robert Davison, Richard Seymour, Robin Casson, Gary Coomber and Stephen Forward.
A number of those invited have said they are too ill to attend.
MPs will also be in attendance, including Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, who has recently hosted meetings for OP sufferers in the Commons and encouraged them to press ahead with their campaign, and Labour MP Jessica Morden, who led a Commons debate on the issue in July.
Others including Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, have been invited.
She said campaigners also wanted a full inquiry, independent of Defra and the various Government bodies that have looked into the issue in the past, that ‘looks at this matter afresh, so they can see who in Government knew what, when, and why they might not have acted on that information’.
Mr Eustice did not respond to calls for an inquiry but said he was ‘more than happy’ to meet the group. He was pressed about the meeting again by Mr Rigby and the Conservative Party Conference and has now finally confirmed it will take place.
He refuted accusations of a Government cover-up during the July debate, although he acknowledged OPs are ‘potentially dangerous substances whose use needs to be controlled to minimise the risks to humans’.
But he referred to a statement produced by the independent Committee on Toxicity in March last year, summarising the conclusion of its review of 26 studies into OP poisoning since 1999.
It concluded: “The current balance of evidence suggests that there is no long-term risk of clearly demonstrable peripheral neuropathy from exposure to organophosphates”.
However, Mr Rigby, a Warrington farmer, pointed out Mr Eustice’s comment missed ’the key phrase from the report’, which is that was examining the effects of OPs ’at levels insufficient to cause overt acute poisoning.
Mr Rigby said: "All those we represent did suffer acute poisoning which is why his reply (the standard DEFRA reply to MPs speaking up for their constituents for the last 15 years) is so misleading and why we hope EFRA will investigate."
He said he believed ’probably between 17,000 and 28,000 farmers’ had been affected by OP poisoning but had still not got the recognition or help they deserved.
Speaking earlier this year about the formation of the group, he said: “The group is for awareness. Officially the problem does not exist so we want people to see it does exist. There is a reluctance to diagnose.”
Until the early 1990s, sheep dipping was required by law yet affected farmers said there were few or, in some cases, no health and safety guidelines accompanying the chemicals.