Crop Spraying (Alkaline Arsenites)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1957.

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Photo of Mr Somerville Hastings Mr Somerville Hastings , Barking 12:00 am, 19th December 1957

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many cases of poisoning have been notified in those engaged in agricultural spraying with sodium and potassium arsenite in the last five years; and in how many cases spraying with these substances has been regarded as a causative agent in cases of dermatitis and cancer.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

My right hon. Friend is aware of one case of a person taken ill after being engaged in spraying with alkaline arsenites; and of one occurrence in which arsenical poisoning was diagnosed in seven persons who had picked potatoes very shortly after the haulm had been sprayed with arsenites. He knows of no cases in which spraying with these substances has been regarded as a causative agent of dermatitis or cancer.

Photo of Mr Somerville Hastings Mr Somerville Hastings , Barking

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable evidence that those working with arsenic in various forms are more liable to cancer than the normal population? Will he ensure that, as far as is possible, careful records are kept in his Department of those using these sprays in case they suffer similarly from cancer or eczema?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I would point out that in agriculture these substances are used in the open air, and, therefore, the same concentrations are not involved. We have laid down very strict rules about the clothing that has to be worn. We will naturally keep a very close watch on the position.

Photo of Mr Somerville Hastings Mr Somerville Hastings , Barking

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for how long after the spraying of the haulms of the potato plant with arsenical compounds this element has been detected in the soil; and how far arsenic or its compounds are known to have been absorbed by the potato plant, and deposited in the tuber.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

My right hon. Friend has no information on the first part of the Question. As regards the last part, potato plants, like all plants, may absorb arsenic in minute quantities and some tubers of potato crops sprayed with arsenical haulm-killers have been found to contain arsenic, nearly always in the peel only, but in quantities below the limit recommended by the Food Standards Committee.

Photo of Mr Somerville Hastings Mr Somerville Hastings , Barking

Does the arsenic which has been found, as the hon. Gentleman agrees, in the peel of the potato arise from the soil, or is it arsenic absorbed by the plant and then re-deposited on the surface of the tuber?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

There is generally a certain very small amount of arsenic found in ordinary potatoes where no spraying or anything of the sort has taken place. It is a very small quantity, amounting to about 0·1 parts per million. The amount has been slightly higher where spraying has taken place.