1996: defence minister Nicholas Soames confirmed that many of the soldiers returning from the Gulf War reporting fatigue, memory loss, weakness, joint and muscle pain and depression – a condition now known as Gulf War Syndrome, had been exposed to some sort of organophosphate pesticide .
1999: the US Government accepted that their veterans’ illnesses were mostly due to service in the Gulf. Of their 700,000-plus troops deployed there, 88% became eligible for benefits through their equivalent of the Veterans Agency and 45% had by then sought medical care. The US Government had also accepted the extremely serious consequences of using organophosphates.
2000-2001: the UK government funded more research into the effects of organophosphate exposure and poisoning. The results of some studies provided support for the poisoning hypothesis but the research was delayed by the FMD outbreak and only completed in 2007.
2004: A study published in the British Medical Journal: Overcoming apathy in research on organophosphate poisoning, concluded that high rates of pesticide poisoning in developing countries and increasing risk of nerve gas attacks in the West mean effective antidotes for organophosphates should be a worldwide priority
2008: the American government concluded an intensive study into the cause of “Gulf War Syndrome” Their $400,000 study was published last November – it found that OPs had causal responsibility for the harm inflicted. This finding was reported to the British Government by the Chief of Defence Staff [RAF].
Conflicts of interest
Those who are convinced of the dangers and are campaigning for a ban on organophosphate pesticides have to face opposition from the agro-chemical industry, whose representatives sit on expert committees advising governments on pesticide safety.
As the Countess of Mar explained: There seems to be a nucleus of about 25 individuals who advise on a number of committees. The scientific community is very close-knit and because the numbers of individuals in specialties is small, they will all know one another. They are dependent upon one another for support, guidance, praise and recognition. If they wish to succeed, they must run with the prevailing ethos of their group, department or specialism Hansard 24 Jun 1997: Columns 1555-9
The establishment of a link between Gulf War Syndrome and organophosphate poisoning could cost the MoD and its counterparts in other Gulf War coalition member states large sums in compensation.
If a government were to ban organophosphate products, it would have to pay compensation to the chemicals industry for withdrawing licences (Marketing Authorisations) that have already been issued. At present, the government’s position remains that organophosphate pesticides are safe, if used in line with the manufacturers’ instructions. A certification and registration scheme exists for ensuring that those using organophosphate products understand how to do this,
Amongst those actively campaigning on these subjects for years are Brenda Sutcliffe, a Lancashire sheep farmer whose whole family has been affected by this chemical, Councillor Peter Evans, Paul Tyler – Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Organophosphates and Pesticides, and chaired the All Party Group on Organophosphates while he was an MP, and more recently, MP Tom Watson
THE LAST WORD:
There is no higher duty for the parliamentarian than to act justly to those prepared to lay down their lives for this country and the dependants of those who do so. Gulf Veterans say that has not yet been done and I am reminded of the saying of American veterans that “a nation can’t afford to do right by its veterans can’t afford to go to war”. Ours is the fourth richest economy in the world and we most certainly can afford, in Tom Watson’s words, “an honourable settlement” with Gulf War veterans.
PCU adds that parliamentarians should also act justly to those whose health has been seriously damaged in providing food – essential to life.