Scientists who found a cluster of Parkinson’s disease in Victoria’s barley and pulse farming northwest are calling for more research into a possible link to pesticides.
A team from Monash University and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health found four neighbouring areas that produce barley and pulses including chickpeas, faba beans and lentils have higher rates of Parkinson’s disease than the rest of the state.
Researcher Dr Darshini Ayton says the question now is whether pesticides or other practices related to pulse farming are to blame for the cluster.
The team found Buloke, Horsham, Northern Grampians and Yarriambiack are exceptions to the rule that Parkinson’s prevalence does not differ between urban and rural locations.
Their study suggests recorded cases of Parkinson’s, based on medication usage, are 78 per cent higher than average in Buloke, 76 per cent higher in Horsham, 57 per cent higher in Northern Grampians and 34 per cent higher in Yarriambiack.
The four areas all have a higher intensity of pulse farming than elsewhere in the state.
While the prevalence of Parkinson’s is higher in the northwest, the number of people suffering from the disease is still less than one per cent of the overall population.
The research did not look at pesticides directly but overseas studies have identified exposure to herbicides, pesticides and bore water as risk factors for Parkinson’s.
Dr Ayton told AAP she suspects there will be other clusters and she is hoping that enough funding can be raised for a nationwide study.
“We want to work in partnership with industry and farmers to identify what type of farming practices are relevant that we need to be looking at,” she said on Monday.
“It’s worth noting that these are farming practices that could have happened decades ago – that no longer occur – and people were exposed to certain toxins or pesticides then, but we’re only seeing their Parkinson’s disease today.”
Industry groups insist pesticides are safe when used according to the instructions.
“It’s important not to mislead the public based on an untested correlation,” CropLife Australia chief executive Matthew Cossey told AAP in a statement.
“Now that the researchers’ thinking on this has been made public, the data should be immediately made available for scientific peer review so that the global scientific community and experts in this area can assist and contribute to identifying the real causes of any problems.”
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that affects the nervous system and co-ordination and movement.