Health Effects

Oilseed Rape Allergy Syndrome

The author has adopted the term oilseed rape allergy syndrome to describe the wide ranging symptoms associated with environmental exposure to oilseed rape crops. It was felt that since research scientists have so far failed to reach agreement about the symptoms and the underlying mechanisms it was prudent to introduce a term that can be used collectively to describe the symptoms without stimulating debate about the authors interpretation and understanding of allergy, immunology and toxicology.

The term oilseed rape allergy syndrome has been written in blue for clarity and to enable the reader to identify where the author may have inadvertently altered the true meaning of terms used by research scientists.  Narrative has also been included on some web pages for guidance. The authors narrative is written in text enclosed in square brackets.

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Oilseed rape gives rise to health complaints

The exponential increase in oilseed rape cultivation over the last 30 years is primarily due to intensive farming, lucrative Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies, the advent of set-aside, the development of the oilseed rape industry in the UK, and the development of genetically engineered crops.

There are no restrictions in the European Community to control the planting of oilseed rape in close proximity to houses and roadways. Farmers are not obliged to move the crops away from residential areas, even though there is public disquiet and scientific evidence to suggest that oilseed rape is indeed harmful to health.

Oilseed rape is grown not only in rural areas but around villages, towns and cities throughout the UK. Today, it is common place to see oilseed rape planted extremely close to houses, in some instances within a few metres. However, those who are more observant may have also noticed that farmers who are also concerned about the alleged health effects of oilseed rape, generally plant a variety of crops near their homes, but not oilseed rape. It would appear that charity does indeed begin at home.

Diminished quality of life for those affected by oilseed rape

For those who are affected by oilseed rape, it can mean numerous visits to the doctor and pharmacy for prescriptions. Drugs are heavily prescribed to people (children and adults) when avoidance is the only true method of allergy management, though some individuals do indeed require medication for additional protection.

The symptoms of some children are so bad that they are prevented from attending school, (schools in urban areas can be surrounded by rape fields), even some adults are signed off work, and many people are restricted from venturing outside and must keep their windows firmly closed, even in warm weather. People who regularly exercise outside (joggers, walkers, sports enthusiasts, etc.) are prevented from participating in their regular fitness activities.

Similar reports published in the learned journals

The following are extracts from previously published research papers:-

Coldahl reported: Investigation of the personal history of the patient revealed nothing suggestive of hereditory susceptibility to allergy.  In May 1951, when the rape began to bloom, itching of the nose, increased secretion from the nasal mucosa and sneezing occurred. There was also itching and congestion of both eyes. Some 3 weeks later breathing was wheezy. The symptoms almost disabled the man for about a month. As soon as he went near a rape field in bloom, the symptoms increased in intensity.  The first year the symptoms troubled the patient at night too.  The rape field was situated only some 30 metres from his bedroom, which was on the windward side of the house facing the rape field.  As soon as the rape began to bloom in 1952, the symptoms reappeared, but this time they were not so severe as before, probably due to the fact that the rape field had been grown in a field some 250 metres from the house.

Bucar reported: Several of our patients described acute itching of eyes and nose, sneezing or asthma when passing by or staying near a rape field in bloom.

Brostoff reported: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) will not settle out of the air, although they will disperse readily. VOCs were unlikely to affect people at low concentrations and individuals would only be affected by them if they were close to the source. Brostoff concluded that there was some evidence that VOCs could affect hayfever sufferers, but only some plants had this ability, and one known to produce VOCs in abundance was oilseed rape. Brostoff stated that VOCs from oilseed rape have an irritant effect on the nose that affects many people, not just those with an allergic disposition. Brostoff also clarified that the immunological mechanism was not antibody-mediated, but irritant.

Parratt reported the following symptoms which most strongly correlated with peak oilseed rape flowering:- sneezing, cough, headache, eye irritation and the total of these and other symptoms. Parratt believed that his study clearly demonstrated that oilseed rape induces symptoms in a significant proportion of otherwise healthy individuals.

Communication from Department of Health to all Doctors

In 1997, the Chief Medical Officer issued a formal communication to all doctors: - 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.

Recommendations that have been made

The National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFU of S) confirmed that whilst there are no restrictions governing the growing of oilseed rape in close proximity to house, the NFU of S hoped farmers would take consideration of complaints from the public and voluntarily restrict the growing of oilseed rape near to houses.

[The author has learned only of one farmer who has voluntarily restricted the growing of oilseed rape in close proximity to houses.  The farmer restricted the growing of oilseed rape near houses in the village of Stormontfield, Perthshire after the results of the Tayside study at Stormontfield were published. It is not clear whether the farmer received compensation.]

Logie of the National Farmers Union of Scotland advised the press in June 1995:- Oilseed rape brings many advantages and in the end you have to weigh up its effects on health with its very beneficial [economic] effects.

In April 1994, the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today Programme broadcast an interview with Seaton  (Soutars research colleague at Aberdeen University) in response to public concerns raised about the downside of oilseed rape.  Seaton advised that there was a case for not planting oilseed rape close to peoples homes.

In 1993, Dr Parratt of Ninewells Hospital in Dundee advised through the local press that when driving past fields of oilseed rape it would be wise to keep the windows firmly closed, switch off the fresh air intake and close the air vents. Apparently leaving the vents open would allow the pollutants to enter the vehicle and these may become concentrated within the vehicle making the situation far worse.

In a letter to the author, the Scottish Office Home and Health Department advised ... the Department sees no justification for issuing guidance to health boards or to local authorities on the issue of oilseed rape allergy syndrome.

Author- Armitage; copyright 2007

key words: sensitisation, immunogenic, asthmagenic, haptenic, haptens, synergism, tvoc, rhinitis, headache, asthma, rapeseed, canola, GMOs, immunocompromised, OSR, volatiles, volatile organic compounds, terpenes, attractants, alternaria, irritants, reactive airways dysfunction syndrome, chemical sensitivity, eczema, ozone, yellow peril, pungent, biodiesel, biofuel, rme, cap, set-aside, double low, allergy, armitage

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