Document Directory

21 Dec 99 - CJD - I was wrong over BSE-CJD link, says Nobel scientist
21 Dec 99 - CJD - BSE study raises fear of danger to humans
21 Dec 99 - CJD - Top civil servant forced out
21 Dec 99 - CJD - New Evidence On Human Link To BSE
21 Dec 99 - CJD - Experiments point to same infectious agent as BSE
20 Dec 99 - CJD - New CJD strain may have claimed 10 more victims
19 Dec 99 - CJD - Ten new CJD cases raise fears of cattle-cull fraud
18 Dec 99 - CJD - CJD death toll of 48 may be 'just the tip of the iceberg'
17 Dec 99 - CJD - CJD deaths 'may be tip of iceberg'
17 Dec 99 - CJD - CJD 48 victims 'could be just the tip of the iceberg'
17 Dec 99 - CJD - BSE hearings end after two years
15 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair turned down French offer
15 Dec 99 - CJD - I did not betray Blair over beef, insists Jospin
15 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair spurned offer on Scots beef
12 Dec 99 - CJD - BSE epidemic may have been caused by bug in soil
12 Dec 99 - CJD - Jospin: real countries don't eat British beef
10 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair backs farmers' move to sue French for millions
09 Dec 99 - CJD - Farmers' fury as France refuses to lift beef ban
09 Dec 99 - CJD - French refuse to lift British beef ban
09 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair Leads French Beef Ban Protests
09 Dec 99 - CJD - France refuses to lift ban on beef
08 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair Protests As France Maintains Beef Ban



21 Dec 99 - CJD - I was wrong over BSE-CJD link, says Nobel scientist

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegaph ... Tuesday 21 December 1999


An American Nobel prize winner today publishes new evidence of the link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the fatal human brain degeneration caused by variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, disclosing that he was wrong last year to cast doubt on the pioneering British research that had first made the connection.

Last year, Prof Stanley Prusiner told the public inquiry into the handling of the BSE crisis that he was not convinced that there was any link between the disease and new-variant CJD, which has affected about 50 people. The claim made headlines because the Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at the University of California won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1997 for his research, which suggested that the BSE agent was an infectious protein called a prion.

Today, in a paper he contributed to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof Prusiner publishes evidence from studies conducted in his laboratory that show prions from cattle with BSE have indeed infected humans and that "a large section of the United Kingdom population may be at considerable risk" .

Genetically-modified mice infected with prions from variant CJD victims produced the same incubation period and pattern of brain damage as had inoculation with prions from diseased cows, work that "now provides the most compelling evidence to date " of the link. However, this link was well established in pioneering British work.


21 Dec 99 - CJD - BSE study raises fear of danger to humans

By Nigel Hawkes, Science Editor

Times ... Tuesday 21 December 1999


Compelling evidence that BSE can be transferred to humans has been found by American and British scientists. The findings, they say, "raise greater concern that a large section of the United Kingdom population may be at considerable risk ".

Their experiments show that BSE ("mad cow disease") and the variant CreutzfeldtJakob disease in humans are caused by the same infectious agent . Until now, the link between BSE and vCJD has been conjectural, based on the emergence of a new type of CJD occurring in younger people at a time consistent with it having been caused by BSE.

Government policy since 1996 has assumed that this link is real but conclusive evidence has been lacking. This has now been provided by experiments in which mice treated with material from BSE-infected cows and vCJD-infected people have developed identical symptoms after an identical incubation period. The team consists of experts from the University of California at San Francisco and the CJD Surveillance Unit at Western General Hospital, Edinburgh. They include Stanley Prusiner , the professor who won a Nobel Prize for originating the theory that the diseases are caused by rogue prion proteins, and Robert Will and James Ironside from the CJD unit.

They used mice genetically engineered so that the prion in their brains was that normally produced by cows. In this way, there was no "species barrier" to prevent the mice developing BSE. Material from brains of infected cows was injected into the mice brains. Disease developed after an incubation period of 250 days , which came as no surprise.

Next they took material from the infected mice and injected it into healthy mice. They too developed the same symptoms after the same period of time, showing that the agent had not been changed in the mouse brain.

But the most striking result came when the mice were injected with material from the brain of a vCJD patient. They developed the same symptoms in the same time .

These results, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that BSE and vCJD are the same disease. Introduced into transgenic mice, vCJD prions assumed an identity "indistinguishable from BSE prions", the team says.

"That human vCJD prions so precisely duplicate the properties of native bovine BSE prions in their behaviour on transmission... creates a compelling argument for an etiological link between BSE and vCJD. Although earlier proposals of an etiological link between BSE and vCJD were disquieting, the investigations reported here raise greater concern that a large section of the United Kingdom population may be at considerable risk ."

The experiments do not provide any indication of how many people may be at risk, because the mice were modified to eliminate the species barrier to the transmission of the agent. In practice, such a barrier does exist between cows and humans but it is not clear how easily breached it is.

The size of that barrier, and the amount of contaminated beef eaten before effective controls were introduced, will determine the ultimate number of vCJD cases. At present, the number of cases in Britain stands at 48 .


21 Dec 99 - CJD - Top civil servant forced out

Valerie Elliott and Jill Sherman

Times ... Tuesday 21 December 1999


The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture was forced to resign last night after being told that there was no place for him in Whitehall. Richard Packer, in his post for seven years, is the first casualty of Tony Blair's modernisation of the Civil Service. He had been tipped to go because of his uncompromising views and a habit of standing up to ministers.

Mr Packer, having secured what is thought to be a six-figure pay-off , walked out of his job before an awaited critical inquiry report on the BSE crisis.

Whitehall sources made clear yesterday that Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, had told Mr Packer to go, warning him that there would be no place for him in any restructuring of the department. The move presages a reorganisation that could lead to it becoming a Ministry of Rural Affairs , or simply disappearing .

Mr Packer's friends insisted that he had decided to seek a new career in the private sector, adding: "He is job-hunting and will consider anything suitable." With intense speculation over the future of the ministry, Mr Packer had seen the "writing on the wall", they said. His friends accepted that the timing of his resignation before the publication in March of the BSE report was "unfortunate ".

Mr Packer became Permanent Secretary in 1992, after the main decisions had been made about handling the crisis. He had confidently told colleagues that he was "a bit player" in the saga and had predicted: "The inquiry will show that my actions have been close to exemplary."

He was one of the lowest paid permanent secretaries. Under a system introduced about four years ago, permanent secretaries are entitled to limited performance-related pay - of a few hundred pounds - but tend to get more if they move to another department.

Permanent secretaries earn between 104,000 and 140,000. Mr Packer was on 109,999 in January, fourth from the bottom, though his salary would have risen a little in August.

Staff at the department's Nobel House headquarters realised that "something was bubbling" on Thursday when Sir Richard met Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister. Mr Packer is believed to have signed up to an early retirement package at the end of last week and he informed his five senior colleagues yesterday. Jack Cunningham, the former Agriculture Minister, tried to remove him two years ago but Mr Packer was defended staunchly by other senior civil servants.

There were also rumblings among ministers about a potential conflict of interest when Mr Packer's wife, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, left the Cabinet Office to become corporate affairs director of Tesco. The announcement of his departure yesterday also appeared to fit in neatly with last week's message about modernising Whitehall and the need to replace senior officials unlikely to be promoted further.


21 Dec 99 - CJD - New Evidence On Human Link To BSE

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Tuesday 21 December 1999


A major epidemic of new variant CJD - the deadly human illness linked to the mad cow disease BSE - cannot be ruled out, the Government's Chief Medical Officer has warned .

Professor Liam Donaldson was commenting after publication of new research which he said comes "as close as you can get to proof" that BSE could spread to humans .

Experiments with mice show that BSE and new variant CJD are almost certainly caused by the same infectious agent - and scientists say this increases concern that "a large section of the UK population may be at considerable risk" .

Prof Donaldson said: "We are not going to know for several years whether the size of the epidemic will be a small one - in other words in the hundreds - or a very large one in the hundreds of thousands .

"The exposure is a historic one so, it is very unfortunate, but we are just going to have to wait and see what eventually the size of the outcome is."

Most experts think the sudden appearance of new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease in 1996 - a new form of the human brain disease with distinct characteristics - was the result of people eating BSE-infected beef.

It is thought that both diseases are caused by rogue "prion" proteins that may have jumped the species barrier into humans.

However, the hypothesis has never been conclusively proved, and since the scare began scientists have sought hard evidence to back the theory.

Now researchers at the University of California in San Francisco and the National CJD Surveillance Unit at Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, have reported findings that firmly establish a link between BSE and nvCJD.

Scientists suspect BSE may have originated in cattle as a result of feeding them sheep remains infected with scrapie.


21 Dec 99 - CJD - Experiments point to same infectious agent as BSE

Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent

Guardian ... Tuesday 21 December 1999


Scientists today produced the most compelling evidence yet that mad cow disease can affect humans - increasing fears that the British population is at risk .

Experiments with mice showed that the cattle disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and new variant CJD are almost certainly caused by the same infectious agent .

The results, reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that BSE and nvCJD are interchangeable .

The findings were that "a large section of the United Kingdom population may be at considerable risk ".

So far 48 people have died from the disease, which is always fatal, but because of its long incubation period it has been impossible to say how many of the millions who ate infected beef would be affected.

The scientists, led by Michael Scott from the university of California, San Francisco, and Robert Will at the government's CJD surveillance unit at Western general hospital in Edinburgh, conducted experiments with mice genetically engineered to produce the same prions naturally found in cows.

They noted that most experts thought the sudden ap pearance of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in 1996 - a new form of the human brain disease with distinct characteristics - was the result of people eating BSE-infected beef.

It was thought that both diseases were caused by rogue "prion" proteins that may have jumped the species barrier into humans.

However, the hypothesis has never been conclusively proved, and since the scare began scientists have sought hard evidence to back the theory.

The researchers discovered, not unexpectedly, that there was no "species barrier" between the mice and cows. Diseased brain tissue injected into the mice produced symptoms in 250 days, the same incubation period experienced by cattle with BSE.

A second group of mice given prions from the first group became sick in virtually the same period of time.

The big surprise came when human brain tissue infected with the prions that cause new variant CJD was injected into the mice.

Again there was no apparent sign of a species barrier. New variant CJD had the same incubation period in the mice as BSE, and produced an identical pattern of brain damage.

The results suggested that BSE and nvCJD were interchangeable.

Introduced into transgenic mice, nvCJD prions assumed an identity "indistinguishable from BSE prions".

The scientists wrote: "That human nvCJD prions so precisely duplicate the properties of native bovine BSE prions in their behaviour on transmission into... transgenic mice creates a compelling argument for an etiological link between BSE and nvCJD.

"Although earlier proposals of an etiological link between BSE and nvCJD were disquieting, the investigations reported here raise greater concern that a large section of the UK population may be at considerable risk ."

The experiments do not indicate how many people are at risk because the mice were modified to eliminate the species barrier which, in practice, does exist between cows and humans.

The mice were also highly susceptible to infection with the sheep prion disease scrapie, although this produced a different biological pattern.

Scientists suspect that BSE may have originated in cattle as a result of feeding them sheep remains infected with scrapie.

In report published today the researchers suggested that transgenic "bovine prion" mice could be used to check the potential of scrapie to produce BSE in cattle.


20 Dec 99 - CJD - New CJD strain may have claimed 10 more victims

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Monday 20 December 1999


As many as 10 more people are believed to have fallen victim to the fatal form of brain disease linked to BSE in cattle.

The Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed yesterday that medical experts were investigating at least seven suspected new cases of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This strain of CJD, which was discovered early in 1996, has already killed 48 people in Britain. There have also been two cases in France and one in the Irish Republic.

Last Friday Lord Phillips, chairman of the BSE inquiry in London, said that the current death toll from the new form of CJD could be "just the tip of an iceberg" . News of the latest cases came as the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that farmers and cattle dealers in the West Country are being investigated for allegedly trying to sell high-risk cattle into the human food chain .

Police and trading standards officers are also involved in the investigation, which targets mainly producers and dealers in Somerset. They are alleged to have used false identification documents to pass off older cattle as animals below 30 months of age.

Under emergency controls designed to protect the public from BSE and to halt the spread of the killer disease among herds, all cattle in Britain over the age of 30 months are banned from being slaughtered and processed for beef. This is because no cattle below the age of 30 months have shown clinical signs of BSE.

The investigation has provoked new fears that, although Britain has some of the world's tightest controls on cattle herds and abattoirs, animals harbouring BSE may be slipping through the net and ending up as beef. But a MAFF spokesman said last night: "People have no cause to worry because our current investigations simply show that our controls are working."


19 Dec 99 - CJD - Ten new CJD cases raise fears of cattle-cull fraud

Jonathan Leake and Jon Ungoed Thomas

Sunday Times ... Sunday 19 December 1999


Up to 10 more people are believed to be suffering from variant CJD, the killer brain disorder thought to be caused by eating beef infected with BSE, known as "mad cow" disease.

The victims are all still alive and mostly young , including at least one child , a 13-year-old girl. Variant CJD has already claimed 48 lives in Britain, but the appearance of new cases is particularly serious.

It is more than a decade since the government banned the use of parts of cows thought to present the greatest risk. These new cases imply either a long incubation period for the disease or that infected meat is still entering the food chain (UK Correspondent's note: the median age of nvCJD deaths thus far is 29) .

Dr Richard Knight, a clinical neurologist at the CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh, confirmed that the unit is dealing with a further 7-10 suspected cases.

"There is a long-term rise in the number of cases but the overall numbers are still too small to tell us the eventual size of the epidemic," he said.

The Sunday Times has established that meat banned because it could be infected with BSE is still being sold for human consumption . After the BSE scandal erupted, the government decided to slaughter all cattle over the age of 30 months. By the end of September last year, more than 2.5m cattle had been killed. Last week, however, an official involved with the cull claimed that it has been open to systematic fraud .

"It has not been monitored properly and not nearly enough has been done to stop dishonest practices ," said Graham Bell, who worked at the Intervention Board, a government body. He has sent a file detailing his evidence to the French authorities.

British investigators have confirmed that they are examining more than 50 cases where farmers and cattle dealers have allegedly used bogus identity documents to conceal cows' ages in order to sell them for human consumption . Last week the agriculture ministry admitted that 90,000 cattle have gone missing from its surveillance scheme. About 1,600 cows a year are still being diagnosed with BSE.

Trading standards officers at several county councils, including Gloucestershire, Shropshire and Somerset, said last week that they are involved in dozens of investigations .

"There is a hard core of people who are trying to get animals over 30 months into the human food chain ," said Nigel Durnford, an animal health inspector in Gloucestershire.

A ministry spokesman said there were stringent controls to prevent fraud. "The farming community supports this system and the enforcement of the rules is taken very seriously indeed," he said.

On Friday at the close of the official inquiry into BSE, Lord Phillips, its chairman, warned that the 48 deaths so far could be "just the tip of an iceberg". Three more people, one in Ireland and two in France, have also died from the disease. It emerged last week that a 36-year-old French woman has the disease but is still alive.

Previously, firm evidence of variant CJD could be obtained only through postmortem examinations. New tests, devised by the CJD unit in Edinburgh, now allow diagnoses to be made with some confidence while victims are alive.

The tests include tonsil biopsies and magnetic resonance imaging, which shows victims to have undergone specific changes in a part of the brain called the thalamus. Details of the tests are to be published shortly in a medical journal.

Frances Hall, secretary of the Human BSE Foundation which represents families of victims, said: "Ten new cases is truly shocking."


18 Dec 99 - CJD - CJD death toll of 48 may be 'just the tip of the iceberg'

By Steve Connor Science Editor

Independent ... Saturday 18 December 1999


The inquiry into BSE closed yesterday, the same day that the ban on beef on the bone was finally lifted, with a warning that the 48 people who have died of the human version of the disease so far in Britain may be "just the tip of an iceberg" .

Lord Phillips, the chairman of the public inquiry into bovine spongiform encephalopathy, said in his closing statement that the number of victims had doubled since he began taking evidence nearly two years ago. "No one can say whether or not those victims are just the tip of an iceberg of infection that is still concealed from sight," he said. "This is an unusual inquiry in that, while we are investigating events which led to the disaster, the full extent of that disaster may not be clear for years to come."

Outside Britain there have been three more confirmed deaths from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), one in Ireland and two in France, where doctors are investigating a third suspected case. The discovery of France's latest victim - a woman of 36 - was made public this week. There were suggestions yesterday that Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, may have known about the case when he resolved to maintain the ban on British beef.

Yesterday, Britain's problems with its European Union partners over beef looked set to deepen, when the European Commission said that the German parliament appeared not to have moved towards lifting its ban and that it could take legal action against Germany as early as next Wednesday.

Professor Peter Smith, acting chairman of the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, emphasised yesterday that it would take at least two more years before scientists could judge whether the human epidemic will remain small or spiral out of control, with tens of thousands of cases over the coming decades. The crucial unknown, he said, was the length of the incubation period between exposure to BSE material and the onset of the variant form of CJD, the human brain disease. "If the average incubation period is 10 years, then we are well into the epidemic and it could remain relatively low. If it is 20 years, then we may face a much bigger problem," he said.

Lord Phillips said that the inquiry - which is due to report in March - would be unable to resolve all the scientific issues, such as the final scale of the epidemic, but might help to dispel some misconceptions, such as whether BSE is the true cause of v-CJD .

The inquiry was set up to establish the early history of the BSE epidemic and v-CJD, assess the measures introduced to tackle the problem and reach conclusions about the adequacy of that response. More than 560 witnesses gave evidence.

Lord Phillips said that the public had made many value judgements as the BSE epidemic unfolded, culminating in the announcement in March 1996 by the Tory government of the link between BSE and the new variant form of CJD. "What is important at the end of the day is to identify whether there are any improvements that can be made to the way our national systems operate when faced with a challenge such as that posed by the emergence of BSE," he said.

David Body, solicitor to the families of CJD victims, said the inquiry had been meticulous and thorough.


17 Dec 99 - CJD - CJD deaths 'may be tip of iceberg'

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

Times ... Friday 17 December 1999


The 48 deaths from the human form of "mad cow" disease could be the tip of the iceberg , the chairman of the BSE inquiry said yesterday. On the day that the ban on beef-on-the-bone was lifted, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers said that it could be many years before the full extent of the BSE disaster became clear.

The judge served notice that the inquiry's final report could criticise ministers and civil servants who had not responded adequately to the crisis.

Families of the 48 victims of new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has been linked to BSE in cattle, were incensed last night that the Government had chosen to implement the lifting of the beef ban on the day the inquiry closed.

Frances Hall, from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, whose 21-year-old son Peter died of CJD, said the timing was "in very bad taste , and I am sure it was deliberate ". Inquiry officials were also surprised at the timing, given that they had informed the Ministry of Agriculture weeks ago that the final date for public hearings would be December 17. One of the lawyers representing the families believed that the move was "a pointed gesture" from the Government, but a MAFF spokeswoman denied this and said the timing was "coincidental". (UK Correspondent's note: news management has been a feature of Government BSE reaction from the start, including delaying post mortems on nvCJD victims to avoid clusters of "bad news" and timing news releases of the post mortem results when other more newsworthy issues are current - to minimise the attention the deaths receive. The "beef on the bone" news release was almost certainly deliberately timed to coincide with the end of the enquiry to detract attention from the latter)

In his closing statement, Lord Phillips said: "When we started, 24 families had seen a loved one struck down by the new variant of CJD. Today that number has doubled . No one can say whether or not those victims are just the tip of an iceberg of infection that is still concealed from sight. This is an unusual inquiry in that while we are investigating events which led to a disaster, the full extent of that disaster may not be clear for many years to come."

He and his team are to spend three months compiling a final report. They want to receive further comments about BSE and government handling of the issue by January 21. The judge gave no hint of the report's final conclusions.

David Churchill, of Devizes, Wiltshire, whose son Stephen died of new-variant CJD aged of 19, said last night: "What has come over has been the poor communication between government departments when something as serious as BSE was on the horizon. It just appeared there was apathy and that is unacceptable."

France reported a new case of "mad cow" disease yesterday, bringing the number of cattle in the country found with the illness to 29 this year . Three new cases have been recorded in Switzerland, bringing the total to 49 this year , Swiss authorities announced. (Reuters)


17 Dec 99 - CJD - CJD 48 victims 'could be just the tip of the iceberg'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 17 December 1999


The number of people who have died from the human form of mad cow disease could be "just the tip of the iceberg", the chairman of the BSE inquiry warned yesterday.

Lord Justice Phillips said that 48 people had died of the disease in Britain but the full extent of the disaster may not become clear for years . He issued his warning in his closing statement on the final day of the public inquiry, which has gone on for almost two years and cost 26 million, and paid tribute to the families of the victims of new variant CJD, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of BSE.

But the families accused the Government of insensitivity for choosing yesterday officially to end the ban on beef-on-the-bone. Lord Phillips said: "When we started, 24 families had seen loved ones struck down by the new variant of CJD. Today that number has doubled. No one can say whether or not these victims are just the tip of the iceberg of infection that is still concealed from sight.This is an unusual inquiry in that, while we are investigating events which led to a disaster, the full extent of that disaster may not be clear for many years."

Frances Hall, from Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, who lost her son Peter, 21, said: "The timing is very bad. The Government has known for some time that the inquiry would end now." Asked whether relatives of the victims now believed beef is safe, she said: "In our minds it was apparent all along that our loved ones were dying through some contact with bovine products. People should be erring on the side of caution ."

Roger Tomkins, of Tonbridge, Kent, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Clare to the disease, said "Beef is now far safer. What has happened should be a word of warning to everyone.What comes over to me from this inquiry is the poor level of communication between government departments when something as serious as the BSE crisis was obviously on the horizon. The apathy was unacceptable to me."

Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, withdrew from a publicity stunt yesterday to mark the end of the ban. He also refused to attend a special lunch featuring oxtails and beef-on-the bone . On Wednesday, France confirmed that it had a second suspect case. One man has already died there from new variant CJD. Both victims had never visited Britain .

Lord Phillips said that the inquiry, which is scrutinising events in the 10 years or so up to March 20, 1996, would help the Government shape policies. "It is now for us to prepare a report which reviews that story, identifies what went right and what went wrong and draws attention to the lessons to be learned. These lessons must help Government to rebuild trust in the systems that protect both human and animal health." The inquiry's final report is likely to run to 18 volumes when it is presented to ministers by the end of March.

France has been given four extra days before it will be taken to the European Court for refusing to lift its ban on British beef after European Commission officials made a mistake in a legal document.


17 Dec 99 - CJD - BSE hearings end after two years

James Meikle

Guardian ... Friday 17 December 1999


Inquiry board has three months to sift evidence of cattle epidemic that still creates political fault lines throughout Europe

It has cost more than 25m , held nearly 140 days of hearings, and collected a mountain of scientific papers, government memos and official reports. Today the BSE inquiry ends nearly two years of public hearings into the catastrophic cattle epidemic that still creates political fault lines throughout Europe.

More than 300 ministers, civil servants, scientists, farmers, veterinarians, beef industry representatives, local authority officials and relatives of those who probably died from eating infected meat, have been questioned by a legal team under the chairmanship of Lord Phillips to unravel lessons from a crisis that may yet have worse consequences as the human toll, already 48 , continues to mount.

In a room on the sixth floor of a south London office block, key players in the long, often secret, story, have given their version of events. Some, accompanied by lawyers, have been called back to explain more thoroughly crucial decisions. In the front rows of the public seats have sat relatives of the dead. To one side government officials who every day monitored proceedings for which witnesses also supplied written accounts.

This has also been the first inquiry by internet. Every day's transcript, every witness statement and other documents have been posted on a website. More than 3,000 files, each containing hundreds of pages, form the master record for the inquiry.

Lord Phillips and two colleagues, June Bridgeman, a public policy specialist, and Malcolm Ferguson-Smith, professor of pathology at Cambridge university, must deliver their verdict to ministers by March 31.

Their brief is to find out what went wrong, and why, between the identification in 1986 of what seemed an obscure cattle disease, and March 20, 1996, the day the then Tory government admitted people might be dying because of what they ate.

Kenneth Clarke, then health secretary, disclosed how in 1989 he and the agriculture minister John MacGregor had to fight to get Mrs Thatcher and colleagues to agree to precautionary measures. "There were some members of the cabinet... who were extremely reluctant to accept the recommendations because of the public alarm they might create..."

Douglas Hogg, agriculture minister when the government admitted the link between BSE and the fatal human condition Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in 1996, even suggested the crippling export ban might have been avoided if John Major and cabinet colleagues had not rejected his proposed emergency programme, which included barring all beef from cattle over 30 months old.

"There was no point in trying to overturn the view of the prime minister and his colleagues... Either I accepted that or resigned." Within days, the government, under EU pressure, agreed a similar programme.

The main danger early on was thought to be from vaccines using bovine material, and still no one knows what "dose" in food may infect humans . The cause of BSE itself is unknown. Did it come from scrapie in sheep, was it a random affliction as early as 1970, was the use of organophosphates involved, or was it a rogue microbe? Did changes in the way carcasses were rendered for food and other uses make a difference?

There has been some progress in identifying parts of cows most likely to carry the infection. This has led to successive bans on offal, organs and spinal cord from human and animal food chains. Just how controversial these can still be was shown by the rows over the beef on the bone embargo, lifted only today.

Politicians often say they make such decisions on scientific evidence, but Lord Phillips suggested to John Gummer, who when agriculture minister in 1990 fed his daughter a hamburger to demonstrate his confidence in beef: "Policy in relation to BSE was not fundamentally based on science but on a lack of it." The inquiry has been trying to determine whether politicians, officials and scientists were too complacent. From the earliest days there was confusion within government - about the very existence of BSE, then about experiments designed to test whether BSE leaped the species barrier to other animals and how much infective agent was needed for that jump, then about checks on how cattle parts were used, not only in food, but in medicines and other industries, or finally about checking that rules about keeping potentially dangerous materials out of the food chain were being properly observed.

Keith Meldrum, the government's chief vet for much of the period, gave five days of testimony and produced more than 300 pages of written evidence. He said neither he nor colleagues had any responsibility for advising the public on human health issues. In 1989, when there was concern over the safety of beef, "I did not get into a discussion, to my knowledge, with the department of health, or anybody else, to my recollection, on the infective dose to man, even if BSE were to become a problem for man and cause disease in man." Yet agriculture officials often reminded Lord Phillips the "inspired" decision to ban offals from the food chain in 1989 was recommended by "their minister" John MacGregor.

A year later, the government's spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee of independent scientists said: "Our judgment, based on our assessment of the available scientific evidence, is that the BSE risk, if there is one, is so slight it can be ignored." The same commitee of experts - with some new members - determined in 1996 that there was a serious risk after all.

Senior health officials, often under pressure from the agriculture ministry to give reassurance to the public, revealed their anger when they found out in 1995 that rules on keeping dangerous materials out of the food chain had been flouted . Kenneth Calman, chief medical officer in England from 1991-98, attacked the "astonishing attitude" of farmers and slaughterhouse operators and the failures of the agriculture department.


15 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair turned down French offer

By Philip Webster, Charles Bremner And Jason Allardyce

Times ... Wednesday 15 December 1999


Secret deal on Scottish beef blocked

The Anglo-French beef dispute flared again last night after Lionel Jospin embarrassed Tony Blair by revealing that he had offered to lift his country's ban on grass-fed Scottish beef ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr Blair was swiftly accused of betraying Scotland by refusing to take a chance to restore links with its biggest beef market. But the Government accused the French of "divide and rule" tactics and said that the idea could never have worked and was never formally tabled.

The French Prime Minister made his suggestion in a conversation with Mr Blair in October, but it was immediately turned down by him as impractical at a time when he wanted the ban on all British beef to be raised.

M Jospin's decision to reveal the details of a private conversation with Mr Blair was the latest salvo in the increasingly bitter clash and appeared deliberately designed to cause embarrassment in London. He made the revelation in an unprecedented briefing to British journalists based in Paris.

In Strasbourg, Britain's MEPs vented their fury at France's continued British beef ban by walking out as President Chirac opened the European Parliament's new headquarters.

The French leader was just thanking the Parliament for its "warm and friendly welcome" when several dozen Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat members rose and filed silently out of the vast, circular chamber in full view of the television cameras. One left behind a model cow impaled by a flagpole and a Union Jack bearing the words Vive le Provocateur.

The British Government's discomfort intensified when Downing Street was forced to confirm that Mr Blair had not told Donald Dewar, the Scottish First Minister, or John Reid, the Scottish Secretary, about M Jospin's offer.

The Scottish Nationalists, who have been arguing for special treatment for Scotland, called it "an extraordinary and outrageous turn of events". The Scottish National Party called on Scots ministers to make an emergency statement in the Scottish Parliament.

Nationalists said it was "totally unacceptable" that ministers in London failed to consult Ross Finnie, the Scots Rural Affairs Minister, about the offer of the ban being lifted in Scotland.

Alasdair Morgan, the SNP Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, said: "This is a betrayal of Scotland. France was Scotland's largest beef export market before the ban - worth 45 million a year. This would have been a golden opportunity to re-establish the bulk of Scottish beef in this core market."

Downing Street insisted that M Jospin's idea was not a formal proposal and had not been pursued by the Prime Minister because it was unworkable. Government officials argued that to have accepted a partial lifting of the ban would have damaged the credibility of the age-based system for screening cattle for BSE, approved by Europe's top scientists.

"However superficially attractive, this would only have undermined the whole of the date-based export scheme, which provides higher safeguards than any certified herd scheme," a Downing Street spokesman said.


15 Dec 99 - CJD - I did not betray Blair over beef, insists Jospin

Charles Bremner

Times ... Wednesday 15 December 1999


French Prime Minister would have been 'crucified' had he allowed exports to resume.

Lionel Jospin spent 50 minutes pleading his case but acknowledged that early talks were unlikely given the high emotions .

Despite Britain's fury over the French ban on its beef, Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, insisted yesterday that his personal relationship with Tony Blair had not been harmed.

Pressed, however, on the prospects for negotiations over labelling and new tests to resolve the extent of BSE, or "mad cow" disease, M Jospin acknowledged that emotions were still running too high for early talks.

The French Prime Minister was sufficiently stung by reaction to the ban to take the rare step of summoning British correspondents to explain that he would have been "crucified" if he had allowed the meat into France. Mr Blair had no reason to feel betrayed, he said.

In what he said was an attempt to cut through misunderstandings, the Socialist leader spent 50 minutes pleading the French case. He had, he insisted, acted sincerely and only with public health at heart when he ruled last week that the ban must stay. "I am absolutely convinced that, faced with the same situation, a British Government would have taken exactly the same position," he said.

The foray into personal spin-doctoring by the reserved Prime Minister was a first for his administration. There were suspicions that Downing Street may have encouraged M Jospin's briefing.

To back his case, he brandished a faxed copy of a British newspaper which reported yesterday that school canteens were keeping beef off the menu . Consumers in Scotland and other parts of Britain were also reluctant to touch English beef, he claimed.

Referring to another document, he added that Germany, the United States and Britain's other big "Anglo-Saxon" allies were keeping their bans. Only a handful of "micro-states", such as Gibraltar, Mauritius and the Falkland Islands were importing British beef .

While Germany was avoiding confrontation with Britain, France had opted for a clear position. "We are are more coherent even if we are clumsy," he said.

M Jospin said that he had at one stage suggested lifting the ban on Aberdeen Angus and other beef from Scottish grass-fed herds, but Britain had rejected the idea.

He added that France had no commercial interests at stake because there was virtually no market for British beef. "The figures speak for themselves, they cry out," he said. "We lifted the embargo on the transit of beef a month ago. Since then, only two lorries have gone to Italy."

He had been surprised when the scientists at France's independent food safety agency had advised in the autumn and again last week that there was still a risk of BSE in British beef, despite stringent EU measures.

There had been no question of overriding the scientists' opinion, he said. "If we had not followed it, we would have killed the agency and we would have been crucified by French public opinion. I would rather that was done by British public opinion. "Our personal relationship with Tony Blair has not been affected, although he was not very happy with the decision... The UK Government knows that we did not deceive it even if it was hoping for a different outcome."

As a reader of the British press, M Jospin said that he was aware that "media groups" hostile to the European Union had exploited the affair, but nothing would change the fact that Britain now played a big role in the Union. "It is listened to and understood." However, he left no doubt of his view that Britain was still a reluctant partner.

He refused to be drawn on the euro but took a swipe at Mr Blair's current resistance to EU moves to harmonise taxes on savings income. The Government was "taking refuge" behind the need for unanimity in EU tax policy, he said.

M Jospin added that the key to France's position on beef was the trauma suffered when a former Prime Minister and three former ministers were prosecuted for allowing the transfusion of blood contaminated with HIV in the 1980s.


15 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair spurned offer on Scots beef

Ewen MacAskill, and Paul Webster in Paris

Guardian ... Wednesday 15 December 1999


French claim over lifting ban sends Labour into a spin

The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, succeeded in sowing division within Britain over the beef crisis yesterday when he disclosed that France had offered to let in the meat from Scotland while keeping the ban on English beef.

Mr Jospin threw the government into chaos when he revealed at a briefing for British journalists in Paris that he had offered Tony Blair a deal on Scottish beef three months ago.

Downing Street said last night that Mr Blair had rejected the offer at the time, and had failed to inform the Scottish secretary, John Reid, and the Scottish first minister, Donald Dewar.

The confusion Mr Jospin created quickly became apparent yesterday afternoon in the Commons, where the Scottish Office minister, Brian Wilson, accused him of trying to "drive a wedge" between the governments in London and Edinburgh. Two hours later, in contrast, a Downing Street spokesman claimed Mr Jospin had only been trying to be helpful in calling the briefing.

Mr Jospin's revelation angered Scottish Nationalists, some of whom have argued for special treatment for Scottish beef. Scottish farmers were also unhappy .

But the Downing Street spokesman described France's proposal as a "suggestion" rather than a firm proposal: "It was never a runner." Britain had negotiated a deal with the European Union on behalf of all British beef and that had been accepted by 13 of 15 European Union partners: "All British beef is safe."

Brussels lifted the EU ban on British beef on August 1, more than three years after it was imposed because animals had been contracting mad cow disease or BSE. France and Germany have not followed suit.

Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture minister, yesterday criticised Mr Blair's rejection of the Scotland deal: "It was odd of Labour to dismiss this concession out of hand when they had already made so many more damaging concessions in an attempt to get France to lift their illegal beef ban."

He added: "At the very least, there should have been a debate about the merits of this offer. Instead, as usual, Tony Blair dismissed it without reference to his ministers in Scotland or those most affected by this decision. So much for joined-up government."

The latest row came as the EU commission gave France until midnight next Tuesday to lift its beef ban or face European court action.

British members staged a noisy walkout from the European parliament yesterday during a speech by the French president, Jacques Chirac.

In his Paris briefing, Mr Jospin denied that there was any material or political motive behind France's continued ban on British beef.

"I have been cut up and sliced like sirloin by the British press but there is no hidden offensive against British trade," he said during the informal meeting. He claimed that only health interests were involved.

The meeting was hurriedly arranged after a barrage of media criticism in Britain over the weekend and threats of boycotts of French products.

Implicitly confirming that his relationship with Britain's prime minister had suffered from the argument over BSE, Mr Jospin said that he would rather his handling of the affair be considered clumsy than deceitful.

Reports from the recent EU Helsinki summit said that Mr Blair turned his back on his French counterpart because he had been led by Paris to think the embargo would soon be lifted.

"If we lifted the ban on British beef it would make no difference to public opinion on the potential risks or re-establish imports," Mr Jospin said. "There is no demand from European buyers . We lifted restrictions on the transport of beef through France to other EU countries a month ago but so far only two lorryloads have passed through.

"There have been attempts to market Northern Ireland beef here because that is free to circulate but it has been abandoned for commercial reasons."

He also pointed out that the US, Australia and New Zealand were among those maintaining the ban .


12 Dec 99 - CJD - BSE epidemic may have been caused by bug in soil

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Sunday 12 December 1999


BSE could turn out to be one of science's greatest mistakes . New research just published by a government-funded scientist suggests that the epidemic has been caused by a bacterium and not by the mysterious particles known as prions .

The work, by Alan Ebringer, professor of immunology at King's College in London, suggests that BSE was actually caused by a runaway immune response to a common soil bacterium called Acinetobacter calcoaceticus. It was published last week by the American Society of Microbiology in its journal, Infection and Immunity.

If Ebringer's theory is right, it will mean that the multi-billion-pound cull of British cattle was a huge blunder - they could simply have been immunised against the bacterium. This, plus changes in abattoir rules to stop offal becoming in-fected with the bacterium, would have halted the epidemic in its tracks.

A second paper, nearing completion, describes how the same bacterium may be responsible for CJD, the human form of BSE.

It suggests, however, that humans are infected independently - which means there is no risk of people contracting the disease from eating beef.

This weekend Ebringer's work looked certain to spark a scientific controversy . It was dismissed by some senior scientists such as Professor John Collinge, who runs the Medical Research Council's prion research unit at Imperial College, London. However, it has also emerged that Professor Bob Will, appointed by the government to run the national CJD surveillance unit, has asked Ebringer to analyse blood serum samples taken from CJD patients.

Ebringer studied particular protein sequences in the Acinetobacter bacterium. These sequences are targeted by antibodies - the molecules made by the body in response to such invading micro-organisms.

He found, however, that the bacterial proteins were identical to a section of protein found in bovine brain cells and in the protective myelin sheath that surrounds them.

He believes that, after a cow has repelled an Acinetobacter invasion, the antibodies carry on working, mistakenly identifying brain cells as bacteria because of the similar protein sequences.

Such reactions are known as auto-immune responses and they cause a wide range of other illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Ebringer's crucial finding was that most cows with BSE also had high levels of antibodies capable of attacking both Acinetobacter and their own brain cells. Few normal cows had such antibodies. He sees this as powerful evidence that exposure to the bacterium is what causes BSE .

"Prions are not infectious particles. Instead they are the breakdown products of damaged nervous tissue," he said.

Ebringer's next paper will deal with the causes of CJD. He is studying whether human sufferers also have elevated levels of antibodies to Acinetobacter - and has already found increased levels of antibodies in sufferers from multiple sclerosis (MS).

It could even be that CJD is just another form of MS , Ebringer's forthcoming paper will say.

However, he remains cautious about such findings. His human study has already looked at 58 MS sufferers, but so far Ebringer has only studied two with CJD. Both the CJD patients had high Acinetobacter antibody levels, but the sample is too small to offer more than a hint.


12 Dec 99 - CJD - Jospin: real countries don't eat British beef

by David Cracknell Political Correspondent in Helsinki

Times ... Sunday 12 December 1999


The beef war was intensified last night when Lionel Jospin, the French prime minister, declared that he would defend the ban on British beef "to the end ".

In his strongest defence of the illegal embargo yet, Mr Jospin said that "only micro-states", such as Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, were taking British beef exports.

Mr Jospin acknowledged that Tony Blair had to fight for the interests of British beef farmers, but said: "France will also defend its decisions and motivations to the end." His comments came at the close of the European Union summit in Helsinki at which Mr Blair was humiliated by France's refusal to lift the ban and was left - by his own admission - "isolated" in Europe.

The Prime Minister's aides put their faith in the European Commission, which will launch legal proceedings against France on Tuesday. Commission officials, confident that the French are in clear breach of EU law, are considering applying for a rare fast-track remedy from the European Court of Justice, which could see the ban lifted as soon as next month through the use of an interim injunction.

Mr Blair, clearly worn down by a difficult summit in which he has been on the back foot over beef and the proposed EU-wide savings tax, launched a passionate defence of his approach to Europe, contrasting it to that of Margaret Thatcher.

"I'm not playing the game, as British Prime Minister, of ending up swaggering around the place saying I have had to handbag everyone to get my own way," Mr Blair said. "When I fight my corner I will fight as hard and tough as anyone. But I'm not going to let my country down for the sake of a few headlines in the next day's paper by playing the game of euro-scepticism - not while I'm Prime Minister."

Mr Jospin responded with a strong defence of the ban, claiming that French law was on his side and that the people supported the embargo.

Ricardo Levy, the official spokesman for Romano Prodi, the commission president, said that the commission would be giving France just five days - instead of the usual 60 - to respond to its claim that the ban was in clear breach of EU law. The spokesman added that it was virtually unprecedented to take such "shocking" action.


10 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair backs farmers' move to sue French for millions

By Colin Brown, Stephen Castle and John Lichfield

Independent ... Friday 10 December 1999


The Government last night threw its weight behind a move by furious British farmers to sue the French government for millions of pounds in compensation over its defiance of European Union law by refusing to lift the ban on British beef.

In Helsinki last night, Tony Blair told his French counterpart, Lionel Jospin, of his anger at the refusal to lift the ban. The two men met at a dinner of Europe's socialist heads of government in Finland, which currently holds the EU presidency, and aides disclosed that Mr Blair made his fury clear in private.

With anger mounting in London at France's stance, Mr Blair said on his arrival in Helsinki: "The position is clear, we tried the gentle way of persuasion and the French wrongly decided that they couldn't lift the ban. They have defied the law and the science and there is nothing now to hold up legal action."

Brussels earlier took the unusual step of speeding up moves to prosecute Paris in the European Court. The next stage of legal proceedings will be rubber-stamped next Tuesday, after which the French government will be given just five days to respond. The European Commissioner for health and consumer affairs, David Byrne, is also looking at the scope for an interim injunction to force a rapid lifting of the ban.

French ministers spent the day trying to douse the political brush fires. In interviews they stressed that the decision was not intended as a hostile act towards Britain. But Mr Jospin said he saw no reason to be worried by the British reaction. "I am not worried" he said "I am first and foremost accountable to French people for what I do." Domestic reaction - from opposition politicians, consumers, farmers and the press - supported the ban.

Lawyers for the National Farmers' Union, meanwhile, began work on possible court action to sue for compensation. They are following the precedent set by Spanish fishermen who successfully sued the Government through the British courts in October for compensation totalling 100m over an illegal move to restrict their fishing.

In a clear signal of backing, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Government can offer political support. Certainly, the farmers have got 100 per cent political support from the Government."

France could also face fines of 100,000 per day for refusing to lift the ban if the European Court rules that it is in breach of the law.

The row plunged Mr Blair's policy on Europe into turmoil . Labour MEPs plan to boycott the European Parliament when the French President, Jacques Chirac, formally opens the new building in Strasbourg next Tuesday. However, in Westminster the Government was facing accusations that it had been "weak and incompetent" in its handling of the row.

Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, faced shouts of "resign" in the Commons as he condemned France's "astonishing" decision and claimed Paris had delivered a "blow to the credibility of European law".

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, asked: "How much longer must Britain tolerate the humiliating spectacle of our Prime Minister dancing like a puppet to Mr Jospin's tune?" And William Hague said Labour's " policy of compromise and concede has failed again".

The Government fears the French flouting of EU law will harden British public opinion against its policy in favour of early entry to the single European currency. Mr Blair told the Cabinet that a "tit-for-tat trade war with the French would be wholly wrong, and counter productive". He said that the Government was right to pursue more dialogue with the French.


09 Dec 99 - CJD - Farmers' fury as France refuses to lift beef ban

By Patrick Bishop, in Paris, and Sebastien Berger

Telegraph ... Thursday 9 December 1999


France announced last night that it was still not ready to lift its illegal ban on British beef , provoking anger from farmers and politicians.

Nick Brown: 'We couldn't have tried harder to get this disagreement resolved by discussion' A communique issued at the end of a five-hour meeting of ministers said there were insufficient guarantees to end the embargo, despite the assurances of British and European Union experts. Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, called Tony Blair with the news which ensures the continuation of the beef war and a protracted legal struggle between France and Britain and the rest of Europe.

The announcement came as a surprise to British officials who had been predicting that France would climb down or seek to extract further cosmetic assurances before falling into line with European law. Mr Blair said it was totally wrong, given that Britain had Europe, the law and science on its side.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It now means we have to go through the courts, a process that everyone had hoped to avoid. It means too that the French are totally isolated on this issue."

He said the Government was already in touch with the European Commission to ensure that the legal action was being taken forward. Mr Blair and M Jospin are expected to discuss the matter at the Helsinki summit today.

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, told BBC2's Newsnight: "It is a very big disappointment. We couldn't have tried harder or worked harder to get this disagreement resolved by discussion."

Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture minister, said: "This confirms the total failure of Labour's softly, softly approach to France during the beef crisis. British beef farmers will now pay the price of Nick Brown's incompetence. The Labour Government have been totally humiliated by France."

Farmers were furious, with Ben Gill, president of the NFU, suggesting that there was a case for expelling France from the EU. He said: "I do not possibly see how France can continue to act like this and remain within the European Union. This is a real crisis for Europe, and something must be done."

He will travel to Brussels today to put his case to commissioners, and asked consumers to step up their boycott of French goods. He said: "We have to send a very clear message to the French government about what the British people think of their actions."

M Jospin and his government have been under strong political pressure from opposition politicians and consumer groups to maintain the ban following a report by the French food safety agency Afssa which claimed that there were still "plausible but not quantifiable risks" . The communique issued at the end of last night's meeting said that France was "not able today to lift the embargo failing sufficient guarantees".

It was Afssa, set up by the government to calm public fears about food safety, that started the crisis on Sept 30 by advising against lifting the embargo after the European Commission ruled that British beef was once again safe to eat.


09 Dec 99 - CJD - French refuse to lift British beef ban

By Charles Bremner And James Landale

Times ... Thursday 9 December 1999


The beef war erupted again last night when France announced it would not lift its ban on British imports without further guarantees.

Stunned British diplomats and ministers reacted with fury to the decision which could mean the ban remaining in place for years pending legal action.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We have science and the law on our side and it is regrettable that the French had ignored the science and defied the law. It now means we have to go through the courts, a process that everyone had hoped to avoid."

He added that the Government had already been in touch with the European Commission to ensure that legal steps were being taken.

France now faces full-scale legal action from the Brussels Commission, which had set a deadline of today for it to comply with EU orders to ease the 1996 embargo.

The French decision is bound to overshadow this weekend's European summit in Helsinki and Tony Blair is expected to make a protest as soon as he arrives today. It also marks a personal blow for Mr Blair , who thought he had won over his French counterpart Lionel Jospin and President Chirac two weeks ago.

The French made their decision after the independent safety agency refused earlier this week to give full backing to a deal with Britain and the European Commision. M Jospin telephoned Mr Blair within an hour to explain that he had had no alternative but to abide by the agency's warnings . The scientists' ruling handed M Jospin and his team an excruciating dilemma. If they ignored the warning, they would heal the diplomatic row but breach the Government's commitment to place consumer safety above all other priorities.

The scientists had said on Monday that the deal with Britain on labelling and new tests still did not guarantee that there was no risk that Britain would be sending beef contaminated with BSE to France. There was a "plausible but unquantifiable risk" that beef exported under the so-called date-based export scheme still carried the disease.


09 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair Leads French Beef Ban Protests

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Thursday 9 December 1999


Prime Minister Tony Blair is leading the protests against the French government's refusal to lift its ban on British beef.

Mr Blair made clear his anger at the French decision, saying: "We can't have countries simply picking and choosing which laws they obey.

"The law has got to be upheld. It is a decision the French government has taken and they have to face the consequences of that in the law courts."

Mr Blair is expected to raise the beef ban when he meets his French counterpart Lionel Jospin at the European Union summit in Helsinki.

In Brussels, Europe's food safety Commissioner David Byrne expressed "extreme surprise and disappointment" at the French decision.

"In the circumstances there seems to be no alternative but to proceed with legal action against France in the European Court of Justice as soon as possible," he said.

But the Government was facing accusations that it had been "weak and incompetent" in its handling of the row.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown faced shouts of "resign" in the Commons as he condemned France's "astonishing" decision and claimed Paris had delivered a "blow to the credibility of European law".

Tory leader William Hague said: "The Government's European negotiations have once again proved to be a complete failure."

Meanwhile, Labour Euro-MPs plan to boycott the European Parliament when French President Jacques Chirac formally opens the new building in Strasbourg next Tuesday.


09 Dec 99 - CJD - France refuses to lift ban on beef

By John Lichfield in Paris

Independent ... Thursday 8 December 1999


In a stunning rebuff to the Blair government and the European Union, France last night refused to lift its illegal embargo on imports of British beef.

Against all expectations, French ministers decided that new safeguards agreed with London and Brussels last month did not offer sufficient protection to French consumers from possible infection with the human version of mad cow disease.

The beef dispute now seems certain to drag into a lengthy legal battle in the European Court - exactly the outcome that the Government wished to avoid. The French government - saying that it was "driven by a priority concern for public health" - called for immediate new negotiations on two points: improved and wider testing of British cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE); and the systematic labelling of British beef exports.

These demands seem certain to be angrily rejected by both the European Commission and the Government today. Both London and Brussels thought that last month they had negotiated in good faith a package of measures covering precisely these points, and others, which would be enough to end the two-month-old Anglo-French beef crisis. The European Commission will now go ahead with the second stage of its legal action against France for refusing to admit British beef.

A committee of French BSE experts gave a non-committal response on Monday to the new safeguards agreed last month, saying that progress had been made but that "plausible" risks remained . It was thought that the experts' report was sufficiently vague to allow the French government room to take a political decision to avoid a major European crisis and lift the ban.

But the Jospin government's political courage appears to have failed in the face of pressure from consumer groups and right-wing opposition parties. French farmers were in favour of lifting the ban.

A two-hour meeting of ministers directly involved in the dispute is believed to have been split down the middle last night. It was Lionel Jospin who finally came down on the side of public safety and decided to keep the ban.

The French government said in a statement that it had decided to put the "safety of consumers first" .

It said that the committee of French scientists had expressed fears that some of the new measures agreed with Britain would not take effect immediately. They were also concerned that scientific understanding of BSE was still "developing rapidly" and that unknown methods of transmission of the disease between cattle might still be proved to exist.

In these circumstances, the statement said, the French government was "not in a position today to lift the embargo". It hinted, however, that it might change its mind if it could be satisfied on two points: an enlarged and improved system of tests of cattle for mad cow disease and an immediate adoption of EU rules on the labelling of British beef and the traceability of meat exports to their farm and animal of origin.

These demands will provoke consternation and fury in both London and Brussels. The French agricultural minister Jean Glavany had expressed himself satisfied last month with the progress in exactly these areas.

The Blair government will be furious that - despite being fully aware of the domestic and European consequences to Britain - the Jospin government appears to have taken the path of least political resistance at home. No 10 said last night that Mr Blair had already spoken to Mr Jospin to protest at the French decision.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We have science and the law on our side and it is regrettable that the French had ignored the science and defied the law. "It now means we have to go through the courts, a process that everyone had hoped to avoid.

"It means too that the French are totally isolated on this issue."


08 Dec 99 - CJD - Blair Protests As France Maintains Beef Ban

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Wednesday 8 December 1999


France says it will maintain its controversial ban on British beef .

Prime Minister Tony Blair has already spoken to French premier Lionel Jospin to protest at the French decision.

Mr Blair said it was totally wrong, given that the UK had Europe, the law and science on its side.

The decision was announced after a meeting called by Jospin and nine ministers.

It came after the French food safety agency failed to make a clear-cut decision in the case, complicating matters for Mr Jospin's coalition government.

The food safety agency, known as AFSSA, advised the government on Monday that new British and European measures reduced the risk of BSE but did not eradicate it completely .