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6 Dec 1995 : Column WA79

Written Answers

Wednesday, 6th December 1995.

Soya Milk

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is their view that upon the merits of the case the term "soya milk" should be prohibited or whether the prohibition which they intend to make has been forced upon them by a decree of the European Commission.

Lord Lucas: The proposed change of name for the product "soya milk" is one which has had to be taken to comply with Community legislation.

In 1987 the Community adopted legislation prohibiting the use of dairy terms such as milk on non-dairy products. A list of products exempt from this requirement was adopted in 1988. Her Majesty's Government argued then, unsuccessfully, that "soya milk" should be on this exempt list.

Since 1988 there has been protracted correspondence between the Commission and Her Majesty's Government about the exact status in the United Kingdom of the term "soya milk". In June 1994, at the request of Her Majesty's Government, the issue was discussed by the Community committee designated to consider such issues. It overwhelmingly supported the Commission's proposal that "soya milk" should not be added to the list of exempt products.

Her Majesty's Government are in discussion with the soya milk manufacturers about the practical arrangements necessary to change the names of the products involved.

Organophosphate Poisoning: Symptoms

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ask the manufacturers of organophosphate products to provide a more detailed definition of: "if you feel unwell" so that users of these products will seek medical aid in good time for acute symptoms which might not seem serious.

Lord Lucas: Extensive information is already given on the labels of organophosphate products used as both veterinary medicines and pesticides about the symptoms associated with feeling unwell. The labels of sheep dips include information such as: "If you have breathing problems, or if you have felt persistently unwell after using a product containing an organophosphorus compound, consult your doctor before working with this product. All accidental spillages of the concentrate should be washed off the skin immediately. Cases of heavy contamination should be treated as an emergency and the patient taken to hospital. The symptoms of mild poisoning are a feeling of unnatural exhaustion and weakness which may be accompanied by cramp-like

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abdominal pains, diarrhoea, excessive sweating and salivation to up to 12 hours after exposure. Severe poisoning causes generalised muscle twitching. Symptoms of over-exposure include: stomach pains, nausea, diarrhoea, headache, faintness, small pupils, muscle tremor, and difficulty in breathing. If any of these symptoms occurs, stop work, call doctor at once."

This is reinforced in the advisory leaflet Sheep dipping AS 29 (rev) published jointly by the Health and Safety Executive, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Department of the Environment, and circulated free to all registered sheep farmers, which recommends that "If anyone feels unwell during dipping, or within 48 hours of dipping, they should stop work, wash any contamination from their skin or clothing and consult a doctor. They should take the product label details so the doctor knows which chemicals are involved." The leaflet further explains that the effects of the dip can include: "skin redness, discomfort and pain, especially on the face; or with OPs headaches, dizziness, weakness, anxiety, blurred vision, watery eyes or mouth, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, cold sweating, runny nose, chest tightness, muscle twitching, loss of co-ordination and mental confusion. More serious poisoning can result in diarrhoea, extreme difficulty with breathing and convulsions in the absence of medical treatment."

For pesticides products containing organophosphates, the following information is included on labels:

"Symptoms of Poisoning

These may include excessive sweating, headache, weakness, fainting and giddiness, nausea, stomach pains, vomiting, small pupils, blurred vision, muscle twitching

First Aid

If any of the above symptoms occur, particularly if there is known contamination; STOP WORK: Remove contaminated clothing, wash exposed skin and hair. Prevent all exertion. Call doctor AT ONCE and show label."

It is, as ever, most important that label instructions are carefully followed, whether for products containing organophosphates or not, and that medical advice be sought if any of these symptoms occur.

Organophosphorus Pesticides and Medicine Users: Biological Monitoring

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By what means regular users of organophosphate pesticides and veterinary and human medicines have been, and are, advised of the need for regular biological monitoring.

Lord Lucas: People who use organophosphate pesticides and veterinary medicines regularly as part of their paid employment are subject to Regulation 11 of The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994 (COSHH). This places a duty on employers to ensure that their employees are under

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suitable health surveillance when using certain substances. This may include biological monitoring. Although this requirement does not apply to self-employed people, the Government advise them to adopt the same standard.

The Government promote compliance with COSHH by:

giving advice to employers, employees and the self-employed during visits by the Health and Safety Executive's staff and inspectors, and by the Employment Medical Advisory Service's practitioners.


producing guidance, including:

the Health and Safety Commission's (HSC) Approved Codes of Practice on the general requirements of COSHH and on The Safe Use of Pesticides For Non-Agricultural Purposes;

the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) booklet Surveillance of People Exposed To Health Risks At Work (HS(G)61) and Guidance Note MS17 Biological Monitoring of Workers Exposed To Organo-Phosphorus Pesticides;

the joint Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and HSC publications Code of Practice For The Safe Use Of Pesticides on Farms and Holdings and Sheep Dipping (AS29 revised March 1995); and

the joint Veterinary Medicines Directorate's and National Office of Animal Health's leaflet, Safe Use of Organo-Phosphorus Sheep Dips;


giving advice to members of the public on request.

Human medicines containing the organophosphate malathion are indicated for the treatment of scabies and louse infections. They are for short-term, intermittent use only. Regular biological monitoring is not therefore appropriate.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they regard farmers who regularly spray crops and buildings with organophosphate pesticides as well as dip their sheep once or twice a year as candidates for biological monitoring.

Lord Lucas: Whether or not biological monitoring is appropriate will depend on the frequency, duration and level of exposure rather than "regularity" in itself.

The Government's advice is detailed in both the Health and Safety Commission's (HSC) Approved Code of Practice The safe use of pesticides for non-agricultural purposes, and the joint HSC and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Code of Practice The safe use of pesticides on Farms and Holdings. Both documents include the following advice:

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"For organophosphorus pesticides health surveillance should include biological monitoring where there is a reasonable likelihood that an adverse health effect may occur under the particular circumstances of work . . .[including] . . .where there was daily use of these substances over an extended period, for example by full-time pest control operators, pilots or ground crew exposed to pesticides containing these substances or those working with such pesticides in confined spaces."

Similar advice is given in the Health and Safety Executive's Guidance Note MS17 Biological Monitoring of Workers exposed to organophosphorus pesticides.

The decision on whether a particular individual will require health surveillance and what that surveillance would comprise, will depend on the results of the assessment employers carry out under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994 (COSHH).

Dichlorvos and Diazinon Products: Health Effects

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have ever inquired into the extent to which farmers, veterinary surgeons and their staff, horticultural and forestry workers may be exposed to organophosphates such as dichlorvos fly strips and sprays and diazinon cat and dog flea collars in addition to the organophosphates they might use in the course of their work.

Lord Lucas: Organophosphorus exposure from products such as fly strips and sprays and flea collars, when used in accordance with the label directions, is very low. Dog and cat flea collars are specially formulated to give a very slow, local release on to the surface of the animal.

The independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides reviewed earlier this year the use of dichlorvos in public hygiene and amateur insecticides. The committee concluded that:

"Field trial data in domestic situations indicate that the use of dichlorvos-containing strips at the recommended rates should not affect human health when used for periods of up to six months. No field data are available to assess the longer term use of strips in situations where people are continuously exposed. On the basis of estimated exposures, using worst case assumptions, label amendments have been recommended to warn the user that strips should not be used in rooms/areas where people could be exposed continuously. No actual exposure information is available following use of dichlorvos-containing hand held aerosol products. Exposures have been estimated, again using worst case assumptions, and compared with air concentrations of dichlorvos measured in human volunteer studies. These comparisons have shown

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that space sprays or surface sprays applied in bands should not affect the health of users or others occupying the treated areas when the products are used in accordance with the label instructions. It has been recommended that the directions for use of all surface sprays be limited to band spraying around the perimeters of rooms and the edges of soft furnishings."

I have arranged for a copy of the Committee's findings to be placed in the Library.

Workplace exposure to organophosphorus compounds should also be low if the activity is carried out in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions and the proper controls have been adopted following the risk assessment required under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994 (COSHH). Exposure to organophosphorus compounds in domestic pest control products would not constitute any appreciable additional risk.

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