UK Government

Government position on oilseed rape allergy syndrome

The following statements were made by the UK Government in response to public concerns that oilseed rape (rapeseed/canola) is a genuine cause of ill health in persons who live in close proximity to the crops. Government opinion is conflicting, provides no satisfactory resolution to public concerns and confirms that  important research recommendations, made in the MRC Institute for Environment and Health A3 Assessment published in 1997, have been largely ignored and/or concealed.

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Parliament Publications & Records                                                                      Appendices to the Minutes 1 March 2000 App. 25 – Annex A

Industry-related MAFF-funded research: significant outputs

Does oilseed rape cause allergies?

Oilseed rape is a very important arable crop in the UK and its oil is used for cooking in the home and by the food industry. Its levels of saturated fatty acids (thought to contribute to heart disease) are amongst the lowest in the major edible oils. There has, however, been increasing public concern about the links between flowering oilseed rape and asthma and allergic reactions in people living nearby. MAFF (with HGCA) funded a key review of research undertaken to assess whether adverse health effects were associated with this crop. The study concluded that although some individuals may have an allergic response to oilseed rape pollen, the scientific papers examined did not indicate that oilseed rape was responsible for widespread adverse health effects.

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East Dumbatonshire Council                                                                                   Technical Services Committee 26 October 1999

Oilseed rape has been associated with seasonal symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, headache and eye irritation during its flowering season for a number of years. It is not commonly grown in the West of Scotland and, consequently, within East Dunbartonshire the production of the crop is amongst the lowest in the country.

Attempts to identify the factors causing these medical symptoms focused on pollen, fungal particulates, spores and natural volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off by the oilseed rape.  Agrochemicals applied to the crop to control pests and diseases were also considered.

All studies concluded that there was a link between ill-health and oilseed rape, however, none were conclusive in identifying the causative factor and it was suggested that the health problems may be caused by a combination of factors. Further research is recommended.

No data is available regarding the incidences of possible ill-health related to the cultivation of oilseed rape within East Dunbartonshire. The Greater Glasgow Health Board does not hold such detailed statistics.

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Parliament Publications & Records                                                                        Questions & Answers 30 November 1998

Mr. Purchase: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce guidelines on the cultivation of oilseed rape in relation to its proximity to domestic dwellings.

Mr. Rooker: A report by the Institute for Environment and Health in 1997, based on the most recent scientific research, found that oilseed rape may cause respiratory problems in certain people who already suffer from other allergy and respiratory problems. Currently available data suggest that allergic responses to oilseed rape make very little contribution to the burden of allergy in the United Kingdom. On the basis of its size and very limited distribution into the air, oilseed rape pollen does not contribute greatly to the total amount of pollen present in the general environment at the time oilseed rape flowers.  We are, however, considering areas for further research suggested by the report but at present have no plans to introduce guidelines on the cultivation of the crop.

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Department of Health - CMO’s Update 15 August 1997                                           A communication to all Doctors from the Chief Medical Officer

Oilseed rape allergenicity and irritancy

A small increase in cough, wheeze and headache has been reported during Spring in some individuals living in areas where oilseed rape is grown but the cause of those symptoms is unclear.  Some individuals, most of whom are atopic, may have an allergic response to oilseed rape pollen.  However, sensitisation to oilseed rape pollen alone appears to be rare, and the public health impact seems to be minimal in comparison with that of other pollen allergen sources.

Furthermore, no causal association can yet be established between exposure to oilseed rape and non-specific symptoms of general malaise, as noted in a recently published report from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute for Environment and Health. There is currently no direct evidence to suggest that either volatile organic compounds emitted by oilseed rape or pesticide treatments of oilseed rape are responsible for any adverse health effects apparently associated with the crop.

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Parliament Publications & Records                                                                        Questions & Answers 13 March 1996

Oil Seed Rape

Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list the findings of project FF382, carried out by the Scottish Crop Research Institute on the characterisation of oilseed rape; when it will be published; and what correlation the study found between oilseed rape and allergies.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson [holding answer 13 March 1996]: The objective of the study was to determine the existence, identification, nature and mobility of volatile chemicals and pollen emitted by oilseed rape, and fungal spores from the crop, which are possible causes of an allergic response in humans, and to purify and standardise them for use in any clinical tests carried out. The study concluded that evidence that the crop can cause such problems has been obtained although as yet the precise cause or causes have not been identified. The study reports that some people react to pollen and fungal spores, but not in the numbers indicated by the percentage of study populations expressing symptoms, most of which showed no correlation with pollen or fungal exposure. The results indicated that agrochemicals seem unlikely to be involved in producing the symptoms. The study concluded that the most likely causes of allergic response in man appear to be volatile organic compounds, although categorical proof of the involvement of one or more is required. The study therefore recommends that further research in a number of areas is required.

Results from the study have already been published. Refereed papers include:

1. Robertson, G. W., Griffiths, D. W., Macfarlane Smith, W. H. and Butcher, R.D., 1993. The application of thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to the analyses of flower volatiles from five varieties of oilseed rape (Brassica napus spp. oleifera). Phytochemical Analysis 4, 152-157.

2. Butcher, R. D., Macfarlane Smith, W. H., Robertson, G. W. and Griffiths, D. W. (1994). The identification of potential aeroallergen/irritant(s) from oilseed rape (Brassica napus spp. oleifera): volatile organic compounds emitted during flowering progression. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 24, 1105-1114.

3. Parrat, D., Macfarlane Smith, W. H., Thompson, G., Cameron, L. A. and Butcher, R. D. (1995). Evidence that oilseed rape (Brassica napus spp. oleifera) causes respiratory illness in rural dwellers, Scottish Medical Journal 40, 74-76.

4. Butcher, R. D., Goodman, B. A. and Deighton, N. (1995). Evaluation of the allergic/irritant potential of air pollutants. Detection of proteins modified by volatile organic compounds from oilseed rape (Brassica napus spp. oleifera) using electrospray ionisation-mass spectrometry. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 25, 985-992.

In addition, the results of the research have been presented at a number of scientific meetings and in technical notes; to relevant agricultural trade bodies; and other bodies. A number of other publications are in preparation.

Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he has taken, and what sums the Government have spent to address the health risks of oilseed rape; and if he will make a statement.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton [holding answer 13 March 1996]: The Scottish Office has funded the three-year research study by the Scottish Crop Research Institute into the volatile chemicals etc., emitted by oilseed rape, at a cost of some £235,000. In addition, a research grant of £63,000 was awarded to Professor Anthony Seaton and colleagues at Aberdeen University in support of a three-year study into the health effects of oilseed rape.

The results of the latter study indicated that the health effects were slight. However, we are considering the implications of these studies with a view to determining what further research into the health effects might be useful and appropriate.

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Parliament Publications & Records

Presentation & discussions during ajournment - 8 February 1990

Oilseed Rape (Allergy)

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East): My purpose in drawing this subject to the attention of the House is to air an issue that is important to the health of the many sufferers who blame flowering oilseed rape for their allergies and to meet the needs of those involved in agriculture, for whom this crop is an important source of income. Both the public and farmers have a right to seek action from the Government in producing a solution to a proven problem.

Oilseed rape is a relatively new crop, appearing in the mid and late 1960s in England and Wales and from 1981 in Scotland. Its popularity, encouraged by Common Market subsidy, has seen a 25-fold increase in its planting in Europe, a 47-fold increase over 21 years in the UK, and a spectacular rise in Scotland from 0% to 14% of the UK total in only nine years.  There has been an estimated 25% rise in the planting of the crop this year alone.

To clarify the extent of the situation, perhaps the Minister will inform the House, if he can, of the acreage of oilseed rape and of spring-sown oilseed rape that will be grown in 1990 as a percentage of previous years. What are the Government’s figures for the acreage of Brassica campestris or turnip rape that is to be grown in 1990 and its percentage change? I ask that because I should like to know whether the Minister is aware of the extent to which those forms of rape will extend the flowering period of the rape crop and thus the period during which complaints may occur. If he does not have those figures to hand, perhaps he will respond in writing at a later date, because far from going away, the problem is here to stay and is increasing rather than decreasing.

Oilseed rape is a popular and lucrative cash crop, which is very much suited to Scottish conditions. It is a major agricultural income-earner and has seen a massive and rapid expansion in its planting and thus in the exposure of the public to its effects on health. That creates problems for the general public, agricultural workers and livestock. The Minister may be aware of reports suggesting that oil seed rape may cause disease in animals, especially horses and dogs. I should be grateful if the Minister could make it clear whether he believes that the problem requires urgent investigation.

Other factors such as spring sowing, mild winters and new varieties are extending the oilseed rape flowering season and are adding to the problems. Quite simply, this is a situation on the move. Changes in varieties are occurring, especially from single to double low breeds, and in species, with the introduction of Brassica campestris rape as well as of spring-grown Brassica napus rape with its extended flowering period. All those changes in agricultural techniques will increase and influence allergic responses among the general public and agricultural workers.

Has the Minister any information to hand about the effect of the introduction of double low varieties of oilseed rape on allergic responses? Can he provide any facts about the effect on human health of sulphur-containing matabolites in cruciferous crops? On what exactly is the present policy of non-intervention based? There is now solid evidence pointing to oilseed rape as a source of health problems. Stories of harmful effects of the crop on health were at first anecdotal, with patients who reported to general practitioners’ surgeries showing a wide range of symptoms during the oilseed rape flowering season. Doctors in Angus have consistently drawn that to my attention over many years.

Oilseed rape, with its bright yellow flower and heavy scent, is in some ways a very obvious and easy target at which to direct blame for a range of allergy symptoms, such as eczema, hayfever, coughing, sneezing, headaches, asthma and simple general debilitation. The question is: is it the culprit?  Now, thanks to the Angus District Council and Dundee University joint research project, there can be no doubt that there is a definite link between oilseed rape and allergic responses. Nor can there be any doubt that the problem is widespread, posing the real possibility of a public health nuisance and of a specific health hazard to agricultural workers.

During the 1989 flowering season, an epidemiological study was carried out in the village of Bowriefauld near Letham, in Angus. Angus District Council, to its great credit, funded that study in response to allegations of public health nuisance. Eighty-five adults and 40 children were studied, and medical information obtained before, during and after the flowering season using questionnaires, diary cards and standard skin and blood tests, along with the monitoring of pollen counts, wind-speed direction, temperatures and pollen collected by the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Invergowrie. The results were both startling and clear: 46% of the study population reported symptoms at the time when oilseed rape pollen counts were high and when no other pollens were present. The culprit is clear. Half of those individuals confirmed positive allergy tests. Allergy skin testing revealed that reactivity increased from 5% before the flowering season to 38% after the season. That is a massive rise compared to the 20% sensitivity normally shown for most allergic substances. Many previously non-allergic persons became reactive suggesting that oilseed rape is a very potent inducer of allergy. Individuals sensitised to oilseed rape were very likely to become sensitised to other substances also, such as grass pollen, animal dander and house dust mites. All that suggests that oilseed rape might well be triggering off allergic reactions to other substances. That must be a cause for concern.

As almost half the study group had symptoms that were due to oilseed rape, does the Minister agree that it is reasonable to infer that half the population in areas where oilseed rape is grown may equally be affected by these problems? Do the Government not regard it as alarming that oilseed rape may contribute to the development of other allergies and that it may seriously disturb the immunity of people in contact with the crop? If that is not a spur to action, what would be?

The study gives rise to major doubts about oilseed rape and should have been the stimulus for further detailed research to discover the exact nature of the problem and its solution.  But, so far, Government funding has not been forthcoming. Previous experience at the Scottish Crop Research Institute reinforces the evidence and has revealed similar problems for staff working with Brassicas as well as other related plants. The problems range from rashes and blisters, especially on the face and hands, but occasionally more widespread - for example, for staff wearing shorts or short-sleeved shirts - all the way to asthma and hayfever.  For some staff the problems have become so severe that they have had to discontinue work with Brassica crops. For others there has been a need to avoid contact with those crops, most usually at the time of flowering, either by not entering the glasshouses or seed production tunnels where the plants are in flower, or by wearing gloves or using barrier creams.

There has always been some doubt as to whether pollen alone is involved. Some staff complain of discomfort from breathing what they describe as acrid vapour given off by flowering Brassicas. Others are aware of a strong smell, often as far as half a mile from the flowering crop, but suffer no ill effects. Yet others cannot smell the crop but suffer ill effects, which disappear as soon as they are no longer in close proximity to the crop. The men and women working with the crop know and confirm the views of the wider population. The Minister will know that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland has funded research into the harmful effects on deer of ingestion of oilseed rape. That shows an odd sense of priority, given the human suffering. The Minister disagrees, but, as far as I am aware, money was made available for research on animals but none has so far been provided for research on human beings.  That is the point of raising the matter.

The Government denied any link between ill health and oilseed rape when I first raised it. I note that in his reply to me of 29 June 1988 the Minister, Lord Skelmersdale, admitted:

“Oilseed rape pollen may be allergenic and affect the upper respiratory tract causing allergic rhinitis and the airways causing asthma”.

The Angus District Council study confirms that. Deeper and more detailed probing is required.

The scale of scientific investigation has to be expanded to ensure that the high responses observed initially are maintained in a larger study, and to relate more closely the symptoms observed to specific events in the growth and flowering of oilseed rape. We need to ascertain whether the problem relates purely to pollen release or involves chemicals released by the plant, some of which are mustard oils, which are known from other work to cause acute irritation to skin and mucous membranes.

Given the economic importance of oil seed rape to the Scottish economy, the problem should be resolved by modification of the crop’s characteristics and not by its elimination or its restricted growth in unpopulated areas. The required research is such that funding from Government agencies is essential. That is my plea to the Government. In view of the fact that in Tayside there is an established research group, drawn from several institutions, with the necessary expertise to research the problem, and that two and a half years of experience is already credited to the group, can the Minister explain why it has not been funded, and why funding has not been made available for studies during the 1990 flowering season? Again, is the Minister aware that medical, immunological, agricultural and environmental expertise have been co-ordinated through the Environmental Health Department of Angus District Council, the Scottish Crop Research Institute at Invergowrie and the Medical School of the University of Dundee?

The ability to tackle the problem exists already.  Is the Minister aware of any other research group with such expertise? If so, has the problem been studied in depth over a period? I am anxious that those with expertise should tackle the problem and produce solutions. The means of solving the remaining parts of the medical jigsaw puzzle are there. Is the Minister aware that the problem has been investigated in Tayside for two and a half years? Will he not use the existing expertise and knowledge urgently? I ask him to introduce immediately a two-pronged attack on the problem, with the funding of research into new, non-allergic strains of oilseed rape which would ensure that agriculture will not awaken in a few years to find the health risk totally proven and a major financial crisis on its hands. That can be avoided by action now to investigate and eliminate the problem. Failure to do so will represent serious neglect by the Government.

The second line of attack must be to discover through medical research the exact nature and cause of the allergies which would lead to their elimination and to the end of the suffering of large numbers of people whose only crime is to live near or pass by fields of flowering oilseed rape.

I pay tribute to Les Cameron, the director of environmental health, to the convener of the committee, who happens to be my wife, Councillor Sheena Welsh, and to the councillors of Angus District Council who have supported the work done by Dr. Parratt of Ninewells Hospital and Bill McFarlane Smith of the Scottish Crop Research Institute, all of whom have done a public service in providing scientific evidence to track down the source and cause of this major health problem. We do not know the exact nature of the problem, although the symptoms and the human misery attached to it are clear and obvious.

The Angus District Council study shows that 40% of persons living in one rural environment become sensitive to the pollen of oilseed rape during the flowering season and many have hayfever symptoms as a result. Conventional grass fever affects at most, only 15% of the population. Oilseed rape is a major environmental hazard during the months of April to July. That period may well be extended because of the extra growth in the new types of crops.

The position deserves closer attention to seek out the truth and remedy the problems. The Government must act now, rather than awakening later, in a year’s time or so, to find a major crisis in one of the nation’s leading crops. If oilseed rape is poisoning the general population, we must find out why and cure the problem. Inaction will only inflict greater misery on the population and unnecessarily endanger the livelihoods of farmers. The Government should act now.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth): I congratulate the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) on securing an Adjournment debate on a matter of considerable concern. It was first drawn to my attention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). I know that the hon. Member for Angus, East has been active on the matter. I join with him in passing on congratulations to his wife and others who have spent some time in considering the issue.

Many people have been worried that oil seed rape has increased the severity of hayfever attacks or has affected people not previously prone to hayfever. The Government are aware of those concerns and, through various research agencies, are promoting investigations into those links.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about the acreages of various types of oilseed rape under cultivation. I am happy to write to him, but it would be best if he put down written questions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who is present, because I know that there is wider interest in the issue.

It is true that we currently produce around 1 million tonnes of oilseed rape a year. Production of rapeseed oil is encouraged under the EC oilseeds regime, under which subsidies are paid to processors of Community seed. Oilseed rape is grown for the production of rapeseed oil and meal, which are extracted from the seed by oilseed processors. The oil is used mainly by the food industry, as a cooking oil or in the manufacture of such products as margarine, shortenings and confectionery.

As the hon. Gentleman said, it is an important alternative crop to cereals for UK producers. Unlike cereals, which are in surplus in both the Community and the UK, we are not self-sufficient in seed oils and meals. Rapeseed is thus a valuable crop for UK farmers and makes an important contribution to both our food industry and our balance of payments.

The question of allergenic responses to oilseed rape has to be seen against that general background. The growing of oilseed rape does seem to be associated with an increase in the number of those suffering from allergic reaction. Those reactions may be severe; they may cause headaches, cold or “flu-like” symptoms, sneezing, coughing, sore throats and even asthma.

Of course, some people are likely to be sensitive to the pollen of oilseed rape, just as others are sensitive to the pollens of other plants, grasses, trees and various natural substances. Oilseed rape pollens may well cause respiratory symptoms, as do other pollens in those that are sensitive to them.  Oilseed rape pollen is heavy and, unlike other pollens, is not widely disseminated by the wind.  It is therefore usually localised in its distribution. While these allergic conditions are generally not life-threatening, they are obviously upsetting for the individuals concerned.

The hon. Gentleman argued for research to find out the nature of the problem, but throughout his speech he appeared to have identified the nature of the problem. Contrary to what he implied, there is no conclusive proof of any link between the growing of oilseed rape and any increase in numbers of allergy, hayfever and asthma sufferers.

Mr. Andrew Welsh: The reason I am sure of my facts in the matter is that the study conducted in Angus, which was almost pioneering work, showed a definite link and, though on a small scale, it showed enough of the open window to require more study to be conducted. That additional study may lead us to the exact route and nature of the problem. The Angus study showed a definite link. The important point is to find out what it is - whether it is the pollen or some associated chemical - and I am pleading for funds to ensure that a wider study takes place to pin down the exact nature of the problem.

Mr. Forsyth: I am, of course, aware of the studies to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. Mr. Leslie Cameron, to whom he referred - the director of environmental health for Angus District Council - has published his findings from a study which was based largely on anecdotal evidence of people living in villages surrounded by oilseed rape. About 45% claimed that their health had been affected by the crop.

That was interesting, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was not necessarily conclusive. Indeed, I understand that a separate, and as yet unpublished, study undertaken in Oxfordshire is likely to contradict those findings. I understand that those results will be subject to professional peer review before publication. The Medical Research Council is the main agency for the disbursement of public funds on medical research, including research into allergy and oilseed rape. It has ready access to the best scientific advice on the selection of projects and has great experience in the selection of soundly based and promising research proposals. The MRC currently funds £1 million of research into allergies. So the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the Government are not providing resources in this area was a little unfair. I am able to offer something to the hon. Gentleman in response to his criticism that there is no research in this specific area. I am pleased to say that my right hon. and learned Friend recently offered financial support for a project based at Aberdeen University. The grant of some £63,000 has been awarded to the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine for a three-year period. That important project will involve a cross-sectional epidemiological study of 2,000 adults in three north-east Scottish general practices with the aim of measuring the prevalence of seasonal allergic symptoms in oilseed rape and non-oilseed rape growing areas. People with seasonal symptoms will be selected as cases for case-control studies, with particular reference on allergy to oilseed rape and fungi associated with oilseed rape and exposure to volatile chemicals associated with oilseed rape plants. At the same time, the pollen levels in the air in the study areas will be measured and chemical analyses of volatiles, especially dimethyl sulphides, about which the hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned, arising from oilseed rape fields will be made. The results of this research should identify the size of any health effects of oilseed rape cultivation and point towards possible causes.

I have mentioned the grant for the work at Aberdeen University and I have described the study. There is also the question of agricultural research. The Scottish Crop Research Institute, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, has considerable expertise in the characterisation of crops, varieties, pollens and volatiles as part of its programme of research and development on Brassica crops, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one might think that the Government were doing nothing in the matter.

Mr. Andrew Welsh: Not enough.

Mr. Forsyth: It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that, but we are clearly doing more than he was aware of when he rose to speak in the debate. The expertise developed by the institute through that programme would be available to medical researchers.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland officials have already had discussions with the institute director about the possibility of more detailed research on oilseed rape, such as research aimed at eliminating or altering in a breeding programme the substance thought to induce the allergic reaction. The director is currently arranging a meeting of interested parties, the main aims of which would be to review the evidence for and against sensitisation by, and allergic reaction to, oilseed rape, for which the hon. Gentleman was asking; to review the need for further research and development, which meets the hon. Gentleman’s point; and to consider the requirements for, and targets of, such research and development.

The meeting, which is to take place at the Scottish Crop Research Institute in the near future, will be attended by representatives of the institute itself; Angus District Council; the Department of Medical Microbiology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee; the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Medicine, Aberdeen University; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland.  Following the meeting, the institute director will make a further report to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland.  Obviously, in matters of this sort questions of research priorities must be addressed, and it is important to be clear about the true causes of the allergic reaction before proceeding further with a breeding programme, but it should be clear from what I have said that the Department has the matter under active review. The report, and any recommendations it contains, will be given very careful consideration.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Angus, East for raising this matter. I hope that what I have said will serve to reassure the House that my Department and the other Departments involved take this matter seriously and that work is currently being undertaken to establish the role of oilseed rape in allergy. The support that the Department is giving to the research project at Aberdeen University should lead to a greater knowledge about the real, or perceived, effects of oilseed rape.

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Parliament Publications & Records                                                                        Questions & Answers 15 Novemebr 1989

Oil Seed Rape

Mr. Home Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take any steps to encourage the breeding and production of varieties of oilseed rape which minimise the dispersal of pollen and other airborne material into the atmosphere.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: If it were shown conclusively that existing varieties of oilseed rape caused serious problems for human health we would consider what measures were necessary to tackle the problem. The breeding of varieties with specific properties could be one such measure.

Mr. Andrew Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland

1) what conclusions his Department has reached on the results of the oilseed rape research project funded by Angus district council and Ninewells Hospital on the relationship between oilseed rape crop and allergies, a copy of which has been sent to him; and if he will make a statement;

2) what research or investigation his Department has made into the health problems connected with the oilseed rape crop; what finance has been allocated to such projects; and what plans he has to develop further the recent research financed by Angus District Council and Ninewells Hospital.

Mr. Michael Forsyth: I received on 25 October a copy of the report of a project undertaken by Mr. Cameron, Dr. Parratt and Dr. Macfarlane-Smith. I am arranging for the report to be evaluated. The Scottish Home and Health Department is currently considering an application for funding research relating to the alleged health problems connected with the oilseed rape crop.

Pollen from many plants, grasses and trees are known to produce allergenic symptoms and the relative importance of oilseed rape pollen as an allergen has still to be determined.

Mr. Andrew Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what research his Department is undertaking or commissioning into developing less allergy-inducing strains of oilseed rape.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland is not engaged in, and has not so far commissioned, such research. The priority to be given to any proposals for adding work in this area to the Department’s programme of commissioned research and development would depend on a number of factors, including the extent to which the claimed adverse effects of oilseed rape on human health had been confirmed.

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MP Edwina Currie (Under Health Secretary) statement in 1988

Reply to questions from MPs representing Angus and Kincardine

“there was no evidence to suggest that the growing of oilseed rape causes any more problems to allergy or asthma suffers than any other crop or grasses”.

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Author - Armitage; copyright 2007

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