THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 

Search thepoisongarden.co.uk:

This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 16th September 2011

I thought David Tredinnick MP was bad enough. It shouldn’t be surprising that in a group of 650 people, albeit people who are well-educated and, supposedly, capable of understanding the evidence about any situation before reaching a conclusion about it based on their underlying philosophy, there turns out to be one who supports homeopathy.

And not just homeopathy. Mr Tredinnick also believes in medical astronomy, whatever that is, and his particular contribution to the MPs’ expenses scandal was the discovery that taxpayers had funded the purchase of computer software based on this mumbo jumbo. But now along comes another MP with bizarre opinions, denying science.

Richard Benyon is the Conservative MP for Newbury. He is also a junior government minister; Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Natural Environment and Fisheries), Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. But Mr Benyon doesn’t let his ministerial position stop him from stating his thoughts robustly. ‘I hate ragwort’ he posted on his Facebook wall before describing it as ‘a vile poisonous weed’ and saying ‘I am on the warpath for those who let this vile poisonous weed spread. Chief target at the moment is the Highways Agency’.

This was to accompany a photograph of the minister pulling up Jacobaea vulgaris whilst a, fortuitously placed, cow looks on. Unsurprisingly, his wall has received a number of comments about the use of such inflammatory language, especially as this does not reflect the position of his department as shown in the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort (COP) issued following the Ragwort Act of 2003.

It is perfectly clear that the minister has not read this document, as much from the photograph as from Mr Benyon’s ill-judged comments. Here’s a 5-point guide to what the photograph shows Mr Benyon doing wrong.

1. The COP makes it clear that pulling needs to be thorough because ‘any root fragments not removed can produce weak growth’. The plant in Mr Benton’s hand seems to have little or no root attached to it.

2. With either pulling or ‘levering out’ the COP summary of control methods states ‘Best results when soil is wet’. Now, I grant that the sky is cloudy but Mr Benyon is not dressed for wet weather and his choice of trousers suggests he isn’t expecting to be in amongst wet foliage of any sort.

3. The COP also calls for arms and legs to be covered so wearing a short-sleeve shirt is not the recommended safe way to deal with the plant. It is worth taking a moment to consider the reason for that recommendation. Many people say it demonstrates that ragwort can be absorbed through the skin and that pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) poisoning can result from skin contact.

Providing a completely scientific rebuttal of that claim is a little difficult because there has been no proper research on the matter. Now, that suggests that it is not a problem worthy of investigation. We know, for example, that PA poisoning from honey is not a threat because it was of sufficient concern for research to be carried out. You can assume that skin absorption of ragwort has never been a realistic concern.

The other way to look at the question of skin absorption is by extrapolation from research on rats using a plant from the Symphytum genus, comfrey, also a source of PAs. That extrapolation leads to the conclusion that a normal human would need to maintain skin contact with 150kgs of ragwort to absorb a lethal dose of PAs.

What ragwort does have is other chemicals known to cause contact dermatitis in sensitive people. It is to avoid that possibility that the COP recommends covering up.

4. While the COP says ‘Arms and legs should (emphasis added)…be covered’ it says ‘Hands must (emphasis added) be protected by wearing sturdy waterproof gardening type gloves’. The use of ‘must’ rather than ‘should’ is because, in addition to any sensitivity to contact dermatitis, there is the chance of mechanical damage to the hands if pulling is carried out for any length of time.

5. The COP also says ‘A facemask should be used to avoid the inhalation of ragwort pollen’. As the photograph shows, Mr Benyon has decided against wearing a face mask; perhaps he was concerned it would spoil his photo opportunity. This suggestion of a facemask is another cause of a myth about ragwort. You will often read claims that you can die just from breathing close to the plant. In fact, the first published draft of the COP said, of facemask wearing, ‘to reduce the risk of hayfever’; nothing to do with PA poisoning.

The Internet age has made it much easier for anybody to obtain information about any subject but MPs are still at an advantage because they may have access to unpublished information and they have staff that can read all the available material and present them with a summary. This is even truer of a government minister and, given that it would not be unreasonable to expect the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Natural Environment and Fisheries) to be asked about ragwort, Mr Benyon would have been perfectly justified if he had asked his staff to provide him with the official view of ragwort control.

Had he done so, he would not have made a spectacularly stupid remark on a social network.

But, this is not really about ragwort. The idea of a parliamentary democracy is that the people elect representatives to undertake the study of issues affecting society on their behalf so that they can get on with their lives trusting their MPs to be informed.

Mr Benyon has demonstrated that such trust may be misplaced. 

 

Full Entries

2016

Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016

2015

Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013
 

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog



IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.