Document Directory

15 Dec 98 - Medicines 'greater BSE risk than beef'
08 Dec 98 - Gummer unrepentant on feeding daughter a hamburger
07 Dec 98 - Sharp rise in BSE cases on the continent
07 Dec 98 - Ban antibiotics in all farming
07 Dec 98 - CJD epidemic won't happen, say scientists
03 Dec 98 - Ban on offal went beyond official advice
01 Dec 98 - Dorrell was 'let down' on BSE offal ban
01 Dec 98 - BSE warning was poor, says Dorrell
01 Dec 98 - Former Health Secretary tells BSE inquiry of confusion over advice
01 Dec 98 - Minister tells of BSE 'thunderbolt'
30 Nov 98 - Beef Safety Advice Could Have Been Clearer - Dorrell
28 Nov 98 - Whitehall turf wars did not affect BSE policy, says Clarke
26 Nov 98 - Cystitis drug may help to prevent CJD
24 Nov 98 - Fear factor lingers as beef ban ends
24 Nov 98 - Currie flays Tory record over 'classic case for compensation'
24 Nov 98 - Destruction of cattle must continue
24 Nov 98 - Inadequate ministers 'caused deaths'
24 Nov 98 - Currie renews attack on Tory handling of mad cow crisis
24 Nov 98 - Beef ban to be lifted in the spring
24 Nov 98 - Farmers face a bumpy ride to market
23 Nov 98- Currie Demands Compensation For 'mad cow' Victims
23 Nov 98 - Beef Ban Lifted
22 Nov 98 - Hogg: Major ignored me on BSE
19 Nov 98 - Who will give evidence next
19 Nov 98 - History of mistakes and delays
19 Nov 98 - Currie condemns Tory 'incompetence' on BSE
19 Nov 98 - Currie attacks 'incompetent' Tory handling of BSE crisis
19 Nov 98 - Currie attack on 'crass' food safety



15 Dec 98 - Medicines 'greater BSE risk than beef'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 15 December 1998


People have been in greater danger of contracting BSE from medical injections than from eating beef, according to the Government's main scientific adviser in the early stages of the epidemic.

Prof Sir Richard Southwood, whose advisory committee reported in 1989 that there was only an "extremely remote" chance of humans being infected with BSE by eating beef, warned another key Government adviser that year that there was a "moderately high" risk of the brain disease being passed to people in cattle-based medicines.

But serum extracted from British cattle was still being used in a range of vaccines and other medicines until 1991 - four years after the existence of BSE was admitted publicly and six years after the first case was discovered on a farm in Kent.

Prof Southwood, professor of zoology and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, expressed his fears about human medicines in a private letter to Dr David Tyrrell, the virus expert who succeeded him as the Government's leading independent adviser on BSE.

In his letter, which emerged at the BSE inquiry in London yesterday, Sir Richard criticised the then Conservative government's "ridiculous attitude" towards public spending on BSE and expressed his horror that "high priority" research into vertical transmission from cow to calf had not been put in place.

He also expressed his concern that some early BSE cases would be lost as a result. He said: "Personally, I would have thought the possibility of human infection was moderately high if some medicinal products were made from tissues of infected animals and injected into humans . That's an extreme case, but we certainly had such anxieties very much in mind."

At that time, while the Government was reassuring the public about the safety of beef, it had not moved to ban the use of a number of specified bovine offals in pharmaceuticals.


08 Dec 98 - Gummer unrepentant on feeding daughter a hamburger

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Tuesday 8 December 1998


The former minister who fed his six-year-old daughter a hamburger to promote a government line that "beef is safe" expressed no regret yesterday, saying that he was not then aware of any health risks from eating cattle offal.

John Gummer, who held office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) from September 1985 to May 1993 - including a promotion in 1989 - told the BSE inquiry yesterday that in 1990 he had not heard any scientific evidence to back a ban on offal such as the spinal cord and gut. "In matters as important as these it is essential to have a personal benchmark to be applied to decisions wherever appropriate. In such circumstances I applied the test, 'Would I be entirely happy for my children to eat this?'" Mr Gummer said.

So in 1990 he posed for photographers at an agricultural fair, pressing a hot burger on his daughter Cordelia.

The Southwood report, published in February 1989, had suggested such a ban on offals for humans because those would be the most infectious parts of cattle incubating the disease.

The previous ministerial team, including John MacGregor, had announced that such a ban would be implemented.

Mr Gummer said that despite the rising numbers of BSE cases - then nearly 5,000 annually - and although it was his job to implement the legislation, he did not feel a sense of urgency . He said: "The offal ban had not been asked for. On the other hand it was something we had determined to do."

He added that he did not then believe the ban was "essential for public health" and said that when he took over his ministerial position many local authorities whom he had to consult were on summer holiday.

Asked if he might have moved quicker if he thought there was a serious risk to public health he said: "All I can say is that was not put to me. In fact the opposite was put to me."

But Mr Gummer agreed that if legislation was seen as urgent there was often room to "find a way through". In fact, the offal ban was not introduced until November 1989 - 10 months after the Southwood report suggested it.

In the time Mr Gummer was at Maff, BSE was first identified and the epidemic peaked. But the first cases in humans, as CJD, were only recognised three years later.


07 Dec 98 - Sharp rise in BSE cases on the continent

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Monday 7 December 1998


The "unscientific and unnecessary" slaughter of thousands of cattle belonging to herds on mainland Europe where cases of BSE occur will cost the European Commission millions of pounds this year, new figures reveal.

To attempt to allay consumer fears, entire herds, sometimes containing 200 cows, are slaughtered when a single case of "mad cow disease" is found. A 59-page report by the EC on BSE in Europe states that this will cost more than 100m this year, and probably the same in 1999.

So far this year, there has been a sharp rise in the number of cases of the disease , with 192 recorded in Continental countries including Switzerland and even Liechtenstein.

The average herd size in the different countries means that the 177 BSE cases recorded in Continental European Union countries have led to the slaughter of more than 9,000 cows .

But such measures are condemned by the EU. "It is not Commission policy. Scientifically, there's no justification for doing it," said the spokesman for Franz Fischler, the agriculture commissioner. "We have always argued that it is not necessary. A 'cohort' approach, tracking down cows of the same age from the same farm, which logically would have eaten the same infected meat and bone-meal, is far better. The animals in a single herd are of mixed age. They won't all necessarily be infected."

In the United Kingdom the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) has only ever required the slaughter of affected cattle, rather than herds or cohorts. Since BSE became notifiable in 1987, there has been a total of 172,000 cases in 34,000 different herds - an average of roughly five cattle per herd.

When the herds are killed after a case of BSE is found, the farmer receives the full market price for all the animals - half paid from national funds, and half from the EU.

Despite the measures, there are fears on the Continent that a BSE epidemic could be about to start. Portugal, which has had 80 cases this year, has been banned from exporting its beef , putting it in the same position as Britain was until last month. The EU has also notified 10 countries - France, Belgium Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and Greece - that they are breaching rules set up to avoid another epidemic.

Though the UK is still the country worst affected by the disease, with 2,041 cases this year, it does not slaughter herds when cases are found. The present UK total is the lowest since 1988, two years after BSE was recognised as a new disease.


07 Dec 98 - Ban antibiotics in all farming

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Monday 7 December 1998


Non-medical use of antibiotics should be banned and vets should receive less income from selling drugs to farmers, says the Soil Association in a new report today.

In an attack on the growing use of the drugs in agriculture , it points out that many cattle are fed antibiotics throughout their lives, and that use of tetracycline and penicillin , two of the best known ones, has increased by 1,500 per cent and 600 per cent in the past 30 years, even though it was supposed to fall.

"Pigs, poultry and even cattle are getting antibiotics on a daily basis , both to make them grow faster and in an attempt to control the diseases caused by intensive livestock production," said Richard Young, the association's policy co-ordinator. "Total use in farming is actually higher than in human medicine ." Of the 1,225 tonnes of antibiotics used annually in the UK, only 40 per cent goes to humans. About a third goes to farm animals and a quarter on pets and horses.

The result, says the report, is that "the use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance ."

If bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics then they would be useless to combat diseases in humans.


07 Dec 98 - CJD epidemic won't happen, say scientists

by Michael Hornsby, Agriculture Correspondent

Times ... Monday 7 December 1998


Fewer than 100 people are likely to die from the human form of "mad cow" disease and an epidemic can be ruled out, it is claimed today.

Two scientists at City University in London say they reached this conclusion through tried and tested risk analysis methods. "What we are saying is that there is not an epidemic and that it has been obvious for the past 21/2 years that there is not going to be an epidemic," Philip Thomas, visiting Professor in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Information Engineering, said.

Professor Thomas and Martin Newby, Professor of Statistical Science, believe government policy has been mistakenly based on "worst-case conjectures", at huge cost to the taxpayer. They calculate that as few as four, and no more than 15, lives will be saved by the billions of pounds spent since 1996 on such BSE counter-measures as slaughtering all cattle over 30 months old.

The scientists' findings have been submitted as evidence to the BSE inquiry. A more detailed report on their research will be published next month in the British Food Journal.

Their study is based on the 23 people who had died of new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by the end of 1997. Since then the disease has claimed nine more victims, a death rate fully in line with their predictions, they say.

The most likely number of deaths over the whole course of the disease is 87, they estimate. The time between infection and death is likely to average 61/2 to eight years.

The scientists expect the annual incidence of new cases of new-variant CJD to reach a peak of 16 next year and then to start falling, with no more occurring after 2006.

The forecast death toll of 87 assumes that the ban introduced in 1989 on brain, spinal cord and other potentially infected cattle parts has been 70 per cent effective in preventing such material from entering the human food chain. Had the ban been 100 per cent effective, they calculate, no more than 26 people would have died over the course of the disease. But even without any ban, the number of victims would probably not have exceeded 109.

Even if the average incubation period were to turn out to be nearer 20 years, the scientists say the number of deaths would not be more than 330.

Their prognosis is in striking contrast with the far more cautious view of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, the panel of scientists advising the Government. Peter Smith, a Seac member and Professor of Tropical Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "I fear they are going much further than the data allows at this stage."


03 Dec 98 - Ban on offal went beyond official advice

By Jackie Brown

Independent ... Thursday 3 December 1998


The former Tory Agriculture minister John MacGregor yesterday told the inquiry investigating the BSE crisis that he went beyond the scope of scientific advice to ban certain types of beef offal from human consumption.

Mr MacGregor and his deputy, Sir Donald Thompson, both decided to ignore the advice of officials and announced the offal ban in June 1989. They took the decision despite concern that it would cause a media outcry.

The inquiry into "mad cow disease", sitting in London, heard from Mr MacGregor that he originally took a cautious approach over BSE after taking up his role in 1987. He wanted scientific evidence before making decisions to protect the Government from any threat of legal action.

As a result, in April 1988 he set up a working party of experts, under Sir Richard Southwood of Oxford University, to report to him on the issue. The party's final report, in February 1989, included a recommendation that those offals should not be included in baby food. Mr MacGregor said he grew increasingly concerned about this recommendation and decided to take a "belt-and-braces approach" by banning offals, such as the spinal cord, brains, spleen and tonsils, from all human foods. He called a meeting of officials from his own department and the Department of Health in 1989 to tell them of this.

"It was controversial," Mr MacGregor told the inquiry. "One reason my officials were concerned was because it put the issue up more strongly and could result in a flurry of concern, which we managed to avoid. It was not popular with some of the industry. It was a very clear example of where the ministry was acting in the best interests of food safety and not just taking the producers' line."

He met Sir Richard the following day to discuss the fact that there was not scientific evidence to support such a ban.

The two finally agreed on the move and decided that it would be presented as being the most effective way of dealing with the baby-food issue because it would ensure that no such material got into the food chain.

Sir Donald, who was in charge of food safety at the time, said they had expected an outcry. "We expected to get the same press as the ban on beef-on-the-bone got recently," he said. "At the end of the day, it was an ultra-safe measure."


01 Dec 98 - Dorrell was 'let down' on BSE offal ban

By James Meikle

Guardian ... Tuesday 1 December 1998


Stephen Dorrell yesterday denied that the previous government gave conflicting messages on beef, and blamed slaughterhouses for helping undermine confidence.

The Conservative former minister rejected suggestions at the BSE inquiry that the then government failed to explain to the public and the industry how it could have declared beef to be safe while also banning offal, brain and spinal cords from the food chain in 1989.

The risk of BSE spreading to humans had been said by scientists to be remote but the ban was "the second line of defence". Slaughterhouses were governed by law, and government assurances during the 1990s had been made on the assumption that safeguards were enforced.

Mr Dorrell was secretary of state for health in March 1996 when the government had to admit there was a probable link between BSE and new variant CJD in humans.

June Bridgeman, a member of the inquiry committee, told him: "We have different people - feed manufacturers, slaughter house managers - telling us the chief medical officer and ministers were saying 'beef is safe'. That was the message. They did not say 'these people were saying to us it is crucial you should operate this [the offal ban] otherwise people might die '." What had been done to "bridge that gap of comprehension"?

Mr Dorrell replied that ministers were entitled to believe safeguards were working. "These were people who were not being invited to do something if they thought it was all right - they were under a statutory obligation to perform a duty; in those circumstances I am not sure what more ministers can do."

He added that, as far as he was aware, the scientific view was still that the crossing of BSE to humans was a result of beef eaten before 1989. "That is not to say any failure is to be excused. It is not..."

Mr Dorrell had earlier been asked by Lord Justice Phillips, chairman of the inquiry, whether the reaction which led to plummeting beef sales had been because prior to the 1996 announcement the public equated the line that "beef is safe" with "BSE is not transmissible to humans".

Mr Dorrell said the best formulation had actually been devised by Sir John Pattison, chairman of the special advisory committee on BSE and new variant CJD, after the link had been revealed: "beef is, in the normal usage of the word, safe." He admitted that, before March 1996, "I think that was what we were seeking to say but it was not expressed with that degree of clarity".


01 Dec 98 - BSE warning was poor, says Dorrell

By Sally Pook

Telegraph ... Tuesday 1 December 1998


The Tory government's advice to the public that beef was "safe" could have been clearer, Stephen Dorrell, the former Conservative Health Secretary, admitted at the BSE inquiry yesterday.

Ministers and officials insisted that the meat was safe until Mr Dorrell announced possible links between a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and BSE-infected meat in March 1996.

Sir Nicholas Phillips, the inquiry chairman, said that, until then, people may have believed that they could not be infected with BSE and the apparent U-turn was the main reason behind the public hysteria which greeted the announcement.

Mr Dorrell said: "I am very conscious of the difficulty with the choice of words here. I think the best formulation was one that we came up with, or I heard Sir John Pattison use a week after the events of March 20, 1996, when he said that 'beef is, in the normal usage of the word, safe '.

"When Sir John felt comfortable using that formulation, that is the one I then used repeatedly: 'Beef is, in the normal understanding of the word, safe'. Until March 1996, I think that was what we were seeking to say, but... it was not expressed with that degree of clarity."

Mr Dorrell said it had been a government priority to quell public anxiety over the escalating BSE crisis. It was hard to imagine a worse form of death than from CJD. He said: "We are talking about a terrible disease." Under cross-examination, Mr Dorrell said: "The only basis on which I felt free to say beef is safe was on the basis that safeguards were in place and being enforced."

Hill farmers' net incomes were down by 67 per cent before the Government announced its recent 120 million aid package, official figures disclosed yesterday.

Average net incomes for cattle and sheep farmers in less favoured areas of the hills and moors for 1998-99 were only 2,400, compared with average net incomes of 7,200 last year.


01 Dec 98 - Former Health Secretary tells BSE inquiry of confusion over advice

Valerie Elliott

Times ... Tuesday 1 December 1998


Dorrell admits 'lack of clarity' over beef safety

The former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell yesterday told the BSE inquiry that government advice on the safety of beef could have been clearer .

Mr Dorrell, the Conservative Health Secretary between July 1995 and May 1997, said that the initial statement that beef was safe was later replaced by a further definition: "Beef is, in the normal usage of the word, safe."

Cross-examining Mr Dorrell, the inquiry chairman Sir Nicholas Phillips said he believed the general public had equated the words "beef is safe" with the statement "BSE is not transmissible to humans" .

He said that was part of the reason why the media and general public had reacted with horror at the announcement in March 1996 that there was a possible link between new-variant CJD and BSE.

Mr Dorrell told the inquiry: "I am very conscious of the difficulty with the choice of words here. I think the best formulation was one that we came up with or I heard Sir John Pattison [chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee] use actually first something like a week after the events of March 20, 1996, when he said that 'beef is, in the normal usage of the word, safe'.

"When Sir John felt comfortable using that formulation, that is the one I then used repeatedly.

"Now during the time leading up to March 1996, I think that was what we were seeking to say, but it did not... it was not expressed with that degree of clarity until that usage of words was formulated." Mr Dorrell also blamed slaughterhouses for undermining public confidence in beef by their failure to remove spinal cord from cattle . He talked of his anger and dismay that instructions by ministers to abattoirs had been ignored.

It was clear that the inquiry is concerned the Government failed to give implicit instructions to slaughterhouses about the need to remove bovine offal . June Bridgeman, a former civil servant, and member of the inquiry panel, said abattoirs were not warned "you should operate these otherwise people might die" .

But Mr Dorrell insisted: "The only basis on which we and my colleagues felt free to say that beef was safe is on the basis that the safeguards were in place and being enforced. So beef is safe given those safeguards, and clearly if the safeguards were not being enforced then we could not have felt that beef was in the normal meaning of the word was safe.

"In these circumstances I am not sure what more ministers can do than to impose a duty on people and put in place furthermore a reporting duty to insure that that duty can be discharged." The Government was formally told in November 1995 that spot checks to insure that beef offal was not entering the food chain had found 17 breaches.

But Mrs Bridgeman suggested that the Department of Health should have done more to check what was happening and that food was safe to enter the food chain.

It was during Mr Dorrell's period as Health Secretary that a fourth dairy farmer contracted CJD, raising fears among scientists that BSE could be passed from cattle to men.

In October 1995 two teenagers were diagnosed as having contracted CJD, which was later confirmed by scientists as a new variant of the disease. By March 1996 there were nine confirmed and three possible cases of CJD in young people .


01 Dec 98 - Minister tells of BSE 'thunderbolt'

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Tuesday 1 December 1998


The former agriculture minister William Waldegrave said yesterday that news of the link between mad cow disease, or BSE, and "new variant" CJD in humans, was "a thunderbolt" and "the worst moment " of his political career.

Yet he and other former Tory agriculture ministers, Angela Browning and Earl Howe, insisted to the BSE Inquiry that their prime interest had always been public health rather than that of the farming industry - and that the two were not mutually antagonistic.

"It's false to suggest there's a dichotomy between human health and protecting the farming industry," said Mr Waldegrave. "As we have seen after this disaster, the best way of protecting the farming industry was being tough on the human health issues."

As the minister at the top of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) in 1995 and 1996, and before that as a minister in the Department of Health, he had had "scares" when it seemed that the Government's repeated insistence that BSE could not pass to humans would turn out to be false.

But ministers had no contingency plans for what to do if that happened, because the problem seemed neither large enough to qualify as a civil disaster - nor small enough to be easily solved by busy civil servants. The result was that no plans were made, despite mounting evidence that slaughterhouses were continuing to let potentially infected material pass into food.

"I was scared at one point because of the issue of CJD in farmers," Mr Waldegrave said, referring to November 1995 when a fourth case of "classic" CJD - which still has no known cause - was discovered in a British farmer. However, he was "very firmly advised" the case was a statistical fluke which did not herald an epidemic.

But in March 1996, a memo arrived detailing a link between BSE and nv-CJD. "This was the biggest emergency of my political career, the most difficult and important crisis which I have ever dealt with. There were a number of ways in one's nightmares one could have imagined this happening.

"But all through my period at the Ministry of Agriculture, it felt the opposite. It felt like the epidemic was disappearing slowly from animals, it was all turning out - thank God - as predicted. There was the flurry of alarm over the farmers, which went away. Then the thunderbolt came."

Agriculture ministers also came under repeated pressure from the animal feedstuff companies to ease rules banning the recycling of cattle in animal feed . One delegation from the Agricultural Suppliers' Association suggested that the Government should just redefine recycled cattle remains as "safe" for use - despite the fact that such products first led to the BSE epidemic.

Of his role at the Department of Health, from 1990 to 1992, he defended saying then that beef was safe to eat. "If you want to know if it's safe to fly on an airplane, and as a minister I reply that it's been certified as airworthy, I'm then going to be asked 'Would you fly in it?' And the answer is yes, I would. But if you say it's safe, you aren't saying there's no risk there."


30 Nov 98 - Beef Safety Advice Could Have Been Clearer - Dorrell

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Monday 30 November 1998


Former Conservative Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell has told the BSE inquiry that Government advice on the beef safety could have been clearer .

Mr Dorrell - Health Secretary between July 1995 and May 1997 - said the initial statement that beef is safe was later replaced by a further definition : "Beef is, in the normal usage of the word, safe."

Cross-examining Mr Dorrell, inquiry chairman Sir Nicholas Phillips said he believed the general public had equated the words "beef is safe" with the statement "BSE is not transmissible to humans ".


28 Nov 98 - Whitehall turf wars did not affect BSE policy, says Clarke

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 28 November 1998


The Yes Minister television image of rivalry between Government departments had no effect on policy decisions about mad cow disease, Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor, said yesterday.

Mr Clarke, also a former Health Secretary, told the BSE inquiry in London that there were "territorial battles " with the Ministry of Agriculture during his time at the Department of Health between 1988 and 1990 but they were a "normal" pattern of events between Whitehall departments.

He said he did not get involved in them at his level. "Leaping on this as evidence of a mistake would be wrong," he said. "Turf battles and territorial rivalries are not unknown. There was a certain territorial rivalry between medics and the ministry but the rivalry did not interfere with the proper transaction of business."

Mr Clarke also denied that there had been confusion or awkwardness over the division of responsibility between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Health. "There was a clear split of responsibilities with my department being fundamentally responsible for public health and the ministry being responsible for food," he said. "Nevertheless, we should have been pointing in the same direction and, generally, we were."

He had relied on the opinion and advice of scientific and medical experts during the crisis because he had no expert knowledge of the disease himself and he was caught up in a time-consuming reorganisation of the National Health Service.

Mr Clarke said BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease raised complex scientific issues. He praised the advice that he had received from Sir Donald Acheson, then Chief Medical Officer, who he described as "one of the wisest people I have ever worked with". He said: "At no stage did I suddenly get the feeling that I was being misled by the advice, and as it happens I have the same confidence in the advice now as I did when I received it then."


26 Nov 98 - Cystitis drug may help to prevent CJD

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Thursday 26 November 1998


Government health officials are investigating the possibility that a drug used in America to treat a form of cystitis can prevent people developing the human form of "mad cow" disease .

Scientists working on sheep scrapie, a similar brain disorder to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), demonstrated in the 1980s that the drug pentosan polysulphate can delay or avert the onset of the disease

Because pentosan polysulphate is already in use in America, it has undergone the extensive toxicity trials that all new drugs have to pass and so would pose few practical problems for licensing in Britain.

Although the scrapie research on pentosan polysulphate was abandoned more than 10 years ago, scientists believe the work should be revitalised to investigate whether the drug might be used to help people at high risk of developing new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (nvCJD), the human form of BSE.

Chris Bostock, the director of the Institute of Animal Health, said he had applied for funds from the government to research the drug, which was first investigated by the institute's Neuropathogenesis Unit in Edinburgh.

Alan Dickinson, the institute's former director who carried out the work with his colleague Christine Farquhar, said pentosan polysulphate "should be taken seriously" as a possible anti-CJD treatment.

In 1984, two independent teams of researchers showed in experiments on mice which had been injected with scrapie that pentosan polysulphate can prevent the onset of disease in some animals, Dr Dickinson said. He cautioned, however, that this does not mean the same effects will occur in humans because of differences in the genetics of mice, and because the doses used on the animals were relatively large.

Stephen Dealler, a scientist from Burnley Hospital who is pressing the Department of Health to adopt the new drug, said there was evidence that pentosan polysulphate will work as an anti-CJD agent at much lower doses to those used in the mouse experiments.

He said the dose of 100 milligrams a day given to American patients to treat interstitial cystitis was 100 times greater than the amount that would have an effect against CJD.

"The problem is that pentosan polysulphate cannot be given to humans as a CJD prophylactic unless it is proven to work and it is impossible to prove it will work unless it is tried," Dr Dealler said.

People at highest risk of nvCJD, such as the children of those who developed the disease or people who received blood transfusions, could be offered the drug with informed consent, he said.


24 Nov 98 - Fear factor lingers as beef ban ends

By Rory Carroll

Guardian ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


Continental consumers 'not ready to trust a product they suspect is riddled with human BSE'

Salvation is likely to elude Britain's beef farmers, despite their jubilation at yesterday's breakthrough in Brussels which lifted an export ban but left huge obstacles to the industry's recovery.

Experts said unforgiving consumers, competitors' whispering campaigns and the iron laws of trade would prevent a speedy return to profit for farmers after an episode estimated to have cost European taxpayers 4 billion.

The government-sponsored marketing drive, titled British Beef Returns, will founder once it goes into the real world beyond the glass towers of the European Commission, predicted BEUC, the European consumers' federation.

It said most Continental consumers were not ready to trust a product they suspected was riddled with the human form of BSE.

A recent federation survey of consumer groups in 15 countries found almost unanimous hostility to the ban's lifting, said Joanna Dober, its head of communications.

"There is a pretty strong anti-British sentiment. At every level of society there is a deep-rooted lack of confidence . The belief is that BSE is very prevalent in the UK . There is also a general lack of confidence in the inspection and surveillance measures operating there.

"I don't really see how any marketing campaign can get through the anti-British beef feeling."

Continental farmers, desperate to protect their share of a flooded market, are likely to fuel suspicion by telling consumers to beware claims that Britain had cleaned up its act, she said.

The experience of Northern Ireland, whose tighter safety regulations allowed it resume exporting in June, is grim. Sales remain below 30 tons a month, compared with 1,000 tons before the ban in 1995.

"It's the most lethal cocktail of market circumstances that we're going back into," said Richard Moore, director of Granville Meat Company, of Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

Phelim O'Neill, of Northern Ireland's Meat and Livestock Commission, said sales were now minuscule. "It took us 20 years to build up to a thousand and we lost it overnight. It's going to take years to build up."

The national office of the Meat and Livestock Commission will spend chunks of its 16 million marketing budget on promotional videos and leaflets in numerous languages aimed at continental importers, retailers and caterers.

Safety checks and regulations will delay the arrival of British beef into supermarkets until March, when the commission will begin targeting consumers directly. "Until then we won't know what they'll do," said spokesman Phil Saunders.

Ketchum, the London public relations agency behind the British Beef Returns campaign, said it was confident of restoring credibility.

Frans Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said nationalism was another obstacle. "It is clear it is not only a scientific problem. It is a psychological problem and a political problem."

Consumers were more willing to forgive domestic rather than foreign producers after food scares, said Ms Dober.

Nationalist appeals to shoppers were more successful when foreign countries urged boycotts of imports, she said.

British farmers, backed by the Meat and Livestock Commission, have run a high profile campaign against supermarkets who stock foreign meats.

France, whose purchase of 179 million of British beef in 1995 made it the largest export market, retained a psychological brake, said Ofival, its official French meat organisation.

"If the English don't die from eating beef in the next three years, then sales over here will begin to recover."

German consumers were expected to be the most hostile, and Dutch the most forgiving.

South American producers, who mostly filled the gap after Britain's withdrawl, are expected to put up a fierce fight to hold market share.

One Northern Ireland meat exporter said a whispering campaign had already started, claiming Brussels had lifted the ban solely for political reasons.

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, who complained that residual concerns were unfair, had seen nothing yet, said the exporter.

The final straw for many farmers was the strong pound, which crippled exports with higher prices. "That's the killer. Even if Europeans think it's safe, they're not going to pay more for our beef," said Mr Moore


24 Nov 98 - Currie flays Tory record over 'classic case for compensation'

Guardian

By James Meikle ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


The Government should pay compensation to victims of human BSE because former Tory ministers failed to take adequate steps to stop the disease crossing over from cattle, Edwina Currie told the BSE inquiry yesterday.

The former junior health minister said: "I feel more people became ill, more people became infected and more people died because of inadequate actions by government ministers over a long period of time .

"To me this is a classic case for compensation... I would very much like to see that recognised as a reflection of the responsibility that is carried by ministers."

As she left the inquiry, she said people were sick and should not have to go through the courts.

Thirty people are thought to have died from eating infected beef, although the link between BSE and the human condition - new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - has yet to be proved.

Mrs Currie, the first former Conservative minister to give evidence to the inquiry, made her plea for compensation at the end of a near two-hour session during which she followed up attacks she has already made on Ministry of Agriculture 'incompetence' on food safety in written evidence.

"The cast of mind at the Ministry of Agriculture was really quite hostile to a lot of what the Department of Health was doing [on food safety]. I think they thought we were alarmist. I think they thought we were trying to raise our own profile by so doing."

Department of Health officials had experienced frustrations in trying to set up meetings with the agriculture department. "We would encounter obstructions and they would brief against us."

Mrs Currie attacked the lack of urgency in trying to devise a test for BSE in cattle before they displayed the classic 'mad cow' signs. There is still no government-approved test, although one on carcasses is used commercially in Ireland and hopes of developing a test for live cattle through abnormalities in the heart rate have been raised in recent weeks.

The cost of BSE to the British and European Union taxpayer, including compensation to farmers, is likely to top 4 billion by early next century. The Treasury has said that liability for human victims of the disease is a matter for the courts.

The inquiry itself will not be making decisions on compensation, although it says its outcome could be relevant to claims in the courts.


24 Nov 98 - Destruction of cattle must continue

Michael Hornsby

Times ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


Cost of the beef ban keeps mounting

A huge mound of meat and bone meal , the ground-down remains of thousands of slaughtered cows , is piled in a disused aircraft hangar near Grantham in Lincolnshire, a mute memorial to the cost of the beef ban. A total of 340,000 tonnes of such material is being kept at 12 locations round Britain and 70,000 more tonnes are being added to the stockpile every year. It will continue even after the lifting of the beef export ban.

Fibrogen, a power generator, has been awarded a contract to burn 255,000 tonnes over three years to produce electricity but the company still needs planning and environmental consent.

The waste came from some 2.7 million cattle slaughtered after May 1996 simply because they were more than 30 months old and regarded as a greater BSE risk than younger animals. Destruction of the older cattle will continue indefinitely because the lifting of the export ban only applies to beef from cattle between the ages of 6 and 30 months.

Altogether, 4.45 million cattle have been destroyed since 1988 because of BSE. Of those, only 174,000 were actually confirmed to have been infected with the disease. The others were culled as a precaution.

Among those destroyed were 1.5 million animals for which no commercial market could be found. Normally they would mostly have been exported live for veal. Because the export of live cattle is still banned, their slaughter will continue at least until the spring, when it will be reviewed by the Government

As part of the deal on lifting the ban, the Government must also destroy a further 12,000 cattle that are the offspring of cows that died of BSE .

The National Audit Office estimated in July that the cost to the taxpayer of government measures to combat the BSE over the 24 months to the middle of this year at 2.5 billion. About 60 per cent of this was compensation to farmers forced to slaughter cattle. Most of the rest of the cost was accounted for by extra subsidies to farmers and assistance to the rendering and abattoir industries. By 2001 it is estimated that the extra public expenditure will have risen to more than 4 billion .

Britain faces a tough battle to recapture foreign markets, despite the decision to ease the 32-month-old export ban. The Meat and Livestock Commission, the government-appointed quango that promotes meat consumption, believes that Britain would be lucky if beef exports had returned to 10 per cent of their pre-ban level by the end of next year.

Thousands of pamphlets are to be sent to media organisations, consumer groups, wholesalers and retailers across Europe to explain the measures that have been taken to make British beef safe.

The first beef is not expected to leave Britain much before March next year because EU inspectors will have to satisfy themselves that abattoirs processing the meat are complying with all the conditions set for the lifting of the ban.

In 1995, the last full year before the ban was imposed, Britain exported 242,000 tonnes of beef worth 518 million and earned a further 79 million from the sale abroad of live cattle, mainly calves for veal. The great bulk of this trade was with the rest of the EU.

Some 80 per cent of beef previously sent to France, which took 43 per cent of all UK exports, came from old cows slaughtered at the end of their working lives, and was used mainly in processed and manufactured meat products.

"Our aim is to get exports back to something over 20,000 tonnes by the end of next year," Terry Lee, head of exports at the MLC, said. "That would be about 10 per cent of the former level.

"We will be concentrating on the quality end of the market and part of our task will be to reassure other EU countries that we will not be flooding them with cheap beef, even if that were possible given the current strength of sterling.

"By next March we hope to be selling beef again to hotels and restaurants in Italy, which was always a good market. It will be harder to persuade retailers and supermarkets on the Continent. Outside the EU, South Africa, which imported 24 million of UK beef in 1995, is keen to resume imports but is hampered by the collapse of the rand."

The promotional leaflet produced by the MLC, British Beef Returns, details all the changes made by the UK beef industry to satisfy European preconditions for re-entry to the export market. The A4 leaflet, which is available in all major European languages, explains how the lifting of the ban will work and assures customers that no beef will be exported from Britain until full inspections are carried out by European officials.

The European Consumer Organisation, which represents consumer bodies across the EU, said that confidence in British beef was still low . "The general feeling among consumer groups on the Continent was against lifting the ban," Joanna Dober, a spokeswoman, said. " On the Continent it is still the belief that BSE is very prevalent in the UK ."

The number of new cases of BSE this year is not expected to exceed 2,100, compared with more than 36,000 six years ago. Scientists believe there will be no more than a few hundred a year by 2001.


24 Nov 98 - Inadequate ministers 'caused deaths'

Michael Hornsby

Times ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


Edwina Currie called for government compensation to relatives of BSE victims yesterday, saying that people had died because of inadequate action by ministers .

Appearing before the BSE inquiry, the Tory former Health Minister said: "I would hope that the inquiry might at some stage turn its mind to compensation for the individuals concerned. I feel that more people became ill, more people became infected and more people died because of inadequate action by government ministers over a long period of time.

"To me, that is a classic case of compensation and we have compensated people in similar circumstances or parallel circumstances before. I would very much like to see that recognised as a reflection of the responsibility that is carried by ministers."

Neither the previous Conservative administration nor the present Government has accepted any financial responsibility for victims of new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which most scientists accept is BSE in humans beings, probably caused by eating infected beef. Some 30 people have died from the new strain of CJD since 1995.

Mrs Currie, a junior minister from 1986 to 1988 who was forced to resign over the salmonella-in-eggs furore, absolved herself and the Department of Health from any direct responsibility for what went wrong in the handling of BSE, laying the blame at the door of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food , which she described in earlier evidence as "crass and incompetent ".

She contrasted MAFF's efforts to tackle the BSE crisis with what she claimed was the highly successful approach of the Department of Health in dealing with Aids in the 1980s. The Health Department had made it a top priority to develop a diagnostic test for the early detection of Aids, she said. It was a "disgrace" that there was still no comparable test for detecting cattle incubating BSE. "If you are going to make progress, you need to be able to test whether the disease is present, and preferably before it has killed its host," she said.

" In my view, if MAFF had said in 1986-87 'let's get research done to create a test', it would have been available a short time later and it would have been possible to identify sick animals and have taken action very much more quickly."

Mrs Currie was asked what she thought of the assurances by agriculture ministers in 1990, after she had left the Government, that British beef was safe to eat. She said: "I had a lot of sympathy for ministers trying to cope with a background of a dearth of information. They were required to say something."

But she added: "I think Sir Donald Acheson [former Chief Medical Officer] was right to say that they could have been more cautious." Her approach would have been to tell the public every scrap of information, adding: "If I had then been asked 'do you still eat beef?' I would have said yes. I am not sure I would have fed hamburger to one of my children, but there you go."

In May 1990 John Gummer, then Agriculture Minister, had his daughter eat a beefburger in public. Mr Gummer is among more than 20 former Tory ministers due to appear.


24 Nov 98 - Currie renews attack on Tory handling of mad cow crisis

By David Millward

Telegraph ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


Edwina Currie stepped up her attack on the Conservative Government's handling of the mad cow disease crisis yesterday, demanding compensation for those who suffered because of ministers' failure to act swiftly.

Giving evidence to the BSE inquiry, Mrs Currie, a junior Tory health minister who resigned in December 1988 at the height of the "salmonella in eggs" crisis, laid bare the Whitehall in-fighting that dogged her Government's handing of a series of food scares. After facing more than 90 minutes of questioning, Mrs Currie raised the issue of those who had developed new variant CJD, a human form of BSE linked to eating infected beef.

She said: "I hope this inquiry will turn its attention towards compensation for the human individuals concerned. I feel more people became ill, more people became infected and more people died because of inaction by Government ministers over a long period of time. To me that seems a classic case for compensation and we have compensated people in similar circumstances before."

Mrs Currie was appointed a health minister in September 1986. She left just over two years later after infuriating Tory backbenchers with farming constituencies by her warning over the risks of eating eggs.

Mrs Currie described how her attempts to persuade the country to eat more healthily led to teasing from her counterpart at Agriculture, Donald Thompson, a heavily-built and ebullient butcher. But while the two junior ministers got on well the same could not be said of officials responsible for dealing with the day-to-day running of their respective departments.

She said: "The cast of mind of the Ministry of Agriculture was really quite hostile towards a lot of what the Department of Health was doing. I think they thought we were alarmist. I think they thought we were trying to raise our own profile by so doing." As a result meetings became difficult to arrange. She said: "We would encounter obstruction , and they would brief against us."

Mrs Currie, a scientist by training, contrasted the swift action with which the Government dealt with Aids to its desultory response to the BSE crisis. More work should have been done to develop a test for BSE in cattle. She said: "In my view, if Maff had said in 1986/87 'let's get research done to create a test' it would have been available a short time later... and it would have been possible to identify sick animals... and have taken action very much more quickly. That's what we did with Aids. It was one of the key things we required."

Despite Mrs Currie's concerns, she said that had she been asked in the late 1980s whether she ate beef, she would have said yes. But recalling a photocall by John Gummer, then Agriculture Minister, to boost confidence in the meat industry she said: "I am not sure that I would have fed a hamburger to one of my children."


24 Nov 98 - Beef ban to be lifted in the spring

By Toby Helm in Brussels and David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


Europe voted to lift the global ban on British beef exports yesterday - 32 months after it was imposed at the height of the scare over mad cow disease - but farmers will have to wait until the spring for shipments to resume.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown gambled on an early deal

Tony Blair said he was "absolutely delighted" with the deal, although he also said: "Getting beef sales back to where they were will take time and further effort. The Government will now work to ensure we can implement the scheme as quickly as possible and rebuild confidence in British beef."

Minutes after the vote was taken in Brussels, Nick Brown, the agriculture minister who gambled that he could secure a deal before Christmas, called it "very good news for the United Kingdom and for the whole of Europe". About four million British cattle have been slaughtered as a precaution since the ban was imposed on March 27, 1996. This episode, coupled with other BSE controls, is estimated to have cost the taxpayer about 4.6 billion.

Mr Brown said he was confident that exports of British beef would resume after a further cull of cattle born to BSE-infected cows and a final round of hygiene checks by Brussels inspectors at approved abattoirs.

Germany was the only EU member to vote against lifting the ban at yesterday's meeting of European Union agriculture ministers in Brussels. Four countries - France, Austria, Luxembourg and Spain - abstained, while the other nine supported Britain's case that its beef is safe.

Mr Brown said that it would be difficult for farmers to win back an overseas market for beef and cattle that was worth more than 650 million in 1995. Farmers and the Government would have to fight to break down "residual prejudice" against British beef abroad. But he said the battle had to be joined: "If we do not start trying to win back those markets we will never do it... The message from today is that the beef is safe to eat."

Ben Gill, President of the National Farmers' Union, said the decision would give a "tremendous psychological boost" to British farmers who had suffered terribly through falling prices and slumps in demand, since the ban was imposed. He said: "We have jumped every hurdle and met every condition imposed upon us. This is a well-deserved victory for the nation's livestock farmers... Ahead of us we have the tough road of rebuilding our export markets. We will meet this challenge head on."

But Britain must satisfy two final conditions before the European Commission gives its final approval. First, it must implement a compulsory cull of an estimated 4,000 calves born after August 1 1996 to BSE-infected cows. So far 650 of these have been slaughtered voluntarily.

Second, EC inspectors must approve procedures at a list of dedicated British abattoirs, which will be the only ones allowed to handle beef for export. They must be satisfied that the correct methods are being used for taking beef off the bone and that cattle tracking systems are in place. Once satisfied, the Commission will lift the ban without having to put it to a vote of member states.

De-boned beef from animals aged six to 30 months at the time of slaughter, and that were born after Aug 1, 1996, will then be allowed for export. Full records of the animals must have been kept and their mothers must have lived for at least six months after their birth.

Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said it was now up to Britain to say when the inspections could be carried out. The next challenge would be to restore world confidence in British beef. He said: "I think a lot of advertisements and a lot of work in addition will be necessary so former export levels can be reached." Germany's agriculture minister, Karl-Heinz Funke, who is a farmer, said: "mad cow disease has not been eradicated entirely in Britain. German consumers should continue to stay informed about where their beef comes from." Mr Brown brushed off suggestions that he was angered by continuing German opposition. He said: "They are not against lifting the ban but against lifting it now."

The decision is the end of a long and tortuous road for the Government. Under both John Major and Tony Blair, ministers struggled to persuade their EU partners that British beef was safe. At the Florence EU summit in June 1996, after waging a war of "non co-operation", Mr Major claimed to have secured the framework for a step-by-step lifting of the ban. He predicted the embargo would be lifted around the end of 1996 - only to be frustrated at every turn.

The first breakthrough came last March when agriculture ministers approved resumed exports from "certified" BSE-free herds in Northern Ireland which has a long-established computerised cattle tracking system.

Before the ban, British beef was exported to more than a dozen countries. By far the largest buyers were EU states - with France leading the way. Tim Yeo, shadow agriculture minister, welcomed the EU decision, but said: "It is important that the final stages to lifting the ban are completed quickly."

While farmers welcomed the news many were bitter that the decision has taken so long and that so much damage has been done. Anthony Gibson, NFU south-west regional director, said: "It's rather like someone being released from jail after serving two and half years for a crime he did not commit. You are happy to be out, but you cannot wipe away the bitterness."

Ian MacNicol, president of the Country Landowners' Association, said: "This is a great vote of confidence in the Government's tactics to ensure the safety of beef."


24 Nov 98 - Farmers face a bumpy ride to market

By David Brown

Telegraph ... Tuesday 24 November 1998


Beef ban to be lifted in the spring

British farmers face a long, hard haul to recover the Continental and overseas markets that they lost when the EU imposed its global ban on beef exports on March 25, 1996.

Producers in Northern Ireland, where the ban was lifted by the EU earlier this year, have been able to export very little beef since.

Problems in establishing export-only abattoirs, difficulties in proving that mothers of cattle slaughtered for beef survived for at least six months after the calves were born, and limited supplies have all meant scarcity and high production costs.

After that, the strength of sterling made the Ulster beef expensive on Continental markets where the first buyers in the queue were those seeking cheap beef for catering outlets. To make a good profit, the meat had to be sold at premium prices to discerning buyers with outlets for beef of the highest quality.

In 1995, more than 75,000 tons of Ulster beef, roughly 1,440 tons a week worth about 200 million, were exported to Europe. Since June, shipments have risen from a mere trickle to no more than 50 tons a week. David Rutledge, chief executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission of Northern Ireland, said: "It is very good news that Brussels has lifted the beef export ban from Britain. It is a very significant step forward but farmers in Britain should be aware that rebuilding export sales will not be easy." Buyers for premium grade beef, which fetches the highest prices, were proving to be "very careful about what they buy".

The export ban, which was imposed five days after the Government announced a link between BSE and a new form of fatal brain disease in young people, cast a stigma not only on British meat but beef produced on the Continent as well. As a result, beef sales plunged in Europe and took longer to recover than in Britain. Even now, sales levels overall are substantially lower than they were before the crisis broke.

Nevertheless, the eating quality of prime British beef is still sought-after by many Continental buyers - particularly in Italy - which provides some hope to specialist farmers who are aiming to recapture a share of the highest-priced trade at the top end of the market instead of supplying ordinary day-to-day commodity beef of which there is a huge surplus in Europe. If they fail in this objective, the export trade will be uneconomic.

Britain's Meat and Livestock Commission has circulated tens of thousands of leaflets abroad as part of a campaign to put British beef back on Europe's dinner plates. It is also expected to launch a multi-million-pound marketing campaign when a firm date is fixed for re-starting shipments. Key targets are Italy, France, Spain and Scandinavia. Germany has never taken more than very small amounts of British beef and is seen as the hardest market to crack. Much of the French market - the biggest before the ban - has been lost because the French produce large amounts of cow meat.

This is no longer available from Britain because, under controls to protect consumers from BSE, no cattle more than 30 months old are allowed to be used for human consumption. Before March, 1996, Britain exported 246,000 tons of beef a year worth 520 million. Of this, 191,000 tons worth 465 million went to the EU and 55,000 tons worth 63 million were shipped to non-EU countries. Of the latter, South Africa was the biggest customer taking 27,100 tons worth 23.8 million in 1995. Mauritius was next with shipments of 2,500 tons worth 4 million.

Inside the EU the breakdown of the main customers in 1995 was: France: 79,700 tons worth 179 million; Italy: 41,700 tons worth 126 million; Republic of Ireland: 32,000 tons worth 52 million; Netherlands: 17,400 tons worth 49.3 million; Spain: 6,800 tons worth 17.4 million.

The wide range of cash values of these shipments reflect a variety of exchange rates, differing cuts and fluctuations among the selling prices. In addition to beef, Britain had a thriving export trade in calves to be reared for veal.

More than 470,000 calves worth 61 million were exported to Continental veal farms in 1995. More than half went to France. The arrangements to resume the beef trade do not include a resumption of live cattle exports.

The supermarket chain Asda said last night that it would not lift its foreign beef ban and had instead cut the price of British beef in store. Asda reassured British farmers that it would keep its British-only beef policy in place after three years. It also cut the price of sirloin by 3 a kilogram and rump steak by 2.


23 Nov 98- Currie Demands Compensation For 'mad cow' Victims

Staff reporter

Evening Standard ... Monday 23 November 1998


Former Conservative health minister Edwina Currie has called for compensation to be paid to victims of the human form of "mad cow disease".

Launching a stinging criticism of her own Government's handling of the BSE outbreak in the late 1980s, Mrs Currie said the death toll from New Variant CJD - linked to eating infected beef - was higher than it need have been because of the failings of ministers .

Mrs Currie, who was a junior health minister from September 1986 until her resignation over the "salmonella in eggs" affair in December 1988, savaged civil servants at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) for their attitude towards the BSE crisis.


23 Nov 98 - Beef Ban Lifted

Staff Reporter

Guardian ... Monday 23 November 1998


The European Union this afternoon lifted its worldwide ban on exports of British beef, tainted by the epidemic of BSE, better known as "mad cow disease".

The outcome of the vote by EU farm ministers was better than the British Government had dared hope: 10 member states, including the United Kingdom, were in favour of lifting the ban and only Germany voted against.

There will still be months of health inspections before British beef is actually cleared for export, after losses estimated at up to 4 billion during the last four years.

And with Germany maintaining its opposition and four other countries (Luxembourg, France, Spain and Austria) abstaining, there is a long way to go before Britain's traditional export markets and international confidence can be won back.

In the 32 months since the ban was imposed, as the British beef industry today launched a campaign to remind the worldwide public, the financial losses have totalled an estimated 4 billion and thousands of workers have been thrown out of their jobs.

Less prominent in their publicity will be the fact that 29 people have died in Britain of BSE-linked CJD, the version of mad cow disease which affects humans. Four million head of cattle have been slaughtered to control the epidemic.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown declared: "It is a very good day for us, but it is actually a better day for the European Commission. It has played fair by Britain."

Britain's last-minute cajoling of its EU partners, and the weight of scientific evidence backing Britain's efforts to combat BSE, swung the vote.

Italy changed sides completely from the last attempt at a vote to lift the ban. France and Spain went halfway, moving from outright opposition to abstention, while Belgium moved from abstention to support. Luxembourg remained consistent by abstaining.

But Germany, where consumer resistance to British beef remains strongest, would not be budged.

The outcome must now be ratified by a meeting of the European Commission this week or next - but that is a formality.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Frans Fischler said: "I am really glad that this vote has happened, but there are some additional steps necessary.

"The next step will be for the British Government to tell us when they are ready for an inspection. Then we will send an inspection mission and after that we will fix the date when the regulation comes into force."

He said inspectors would be checking abattoirs for compliance with health and safety measures designed to combat the spread of mad cow disease.

They would also be checking the efficiency of the Government's tracing system for monitoring all cattle movements.

Asked why such additional checks were needed, Mr Fischler said: "I think it is necessary to show to the other European countries that everything works well."


22 Nov 98 - Hogg: Major ignored me on BSE

By Rachel Sylvester, Political Editor

Independent ... Sunday 22 November 1998


Douglas Hogg, the former agriculture minister, warned John Major that Britain was facing a "national calamity " when scientists established a link between "mad cow" disease and its human form, CJD.

The former Tory minister, who presided over the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) through the worst of the beef crisis, plans to tell the BSE inquiry that his warning that it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds was at first ignored by his Cabinet colleagues.

His claim that he knew there would be a "public reaction of a colossal kind " is in sharp contrast to ministers' soothing words at the time.

Members of the last Government start giving evidence to the inquiry tomorrow, on the day that Europe is expected to vote to lift the ban on exports of British beef. The testimony from members of the Tory government is certain to turn into a vicious blame game .

Edwina Currie, the former minister sacked over the salmonella-in-eggs scare, has already attacked her government's "crass, incompetent " handling of the affair and accused Maff of "compounding problems ".

Mr Hogg, who took most of the flak, will give evidence to the inquiry on 16 December. He plans to tell the inquiry that he wrote to the then Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet in an attempt to highlight the impending crisis when he was told of the link between BSE and CJD in March 1996. However, his appeal for the former government to set up a judicial inquiry was ignored.

"I knew we were facing a national calamity ," he told The Independent on Sunday. "I said in my letter to the Prime Minister that it would cost many hundreds of millions of pounds. The public was very sensitive about BSE. Once there was evidence, it was quite plain to me and to the officials in the department that there would be a public reaction of a colossal kind. We were facing the destruction of the beef industry."

In his evidence, the former minister will admit that "errors " were made in the handling of the BSE epidemic but insist that nobody should be blamed for them. "You should not judge people by standards of hindsight," he said. "They may have been wrong but culpability is different from error."

He now also admits that ministers are no longer trusted to tell the truth on food issues. "The public has lost confidence in ministers and Maff," he said.


19 Nov 98 - Who will give evidence next

Staff Reporter

Times ... Thursday 19 November 1998


JOHN MacGREGOR Minister of Agriculture, 1987-89

Scheduled to appear before inquiry on December 2. In office during crucial early period when first BSE cases emerged. Shown initially to have opposed any government funding for BSE cattle slaughter, delaying action against the disease. Credited, however, with pushing through the cattle offal ban in 1989, allegedly against resistance from his own officials.

JOHN GUMMER Minister of Agriculture 1989-93

Scheduled to appear before the inquiry on December 8. Criticised for saying in 1990 that beef was "perfectly safe" to eat and for allegedly putting pressure on Chief Medical Officer to back such statements. Expected to put up vigorous defence of his role, arguing that such criticisms are based on hindsight and not on the reality at the time.

DOUGLAS HOGG Minister of Agriculture 1995-97 (May)

Scheduled to appear on December 16. Had bad luck to be in office when likely link between BSE and CJD discovered. To some extent carried the can for inaction of predecessors. Took steps to tighten crucial abattoir controls. Also wanted the Government to hold judicial inquiry into BSE but was turned down by rest of the Cabinet.

STEPHEN DORRELL Health Secretary 1995-97 (May)

Scheduled to appear on November 30. Made fateful disclosure to Parliament on March 20, 1996, that BSE was probable cause of new- variant CJD. Has been criticised for implying that the risk ended in 1989, even though he knew that infected material could have been entering food chain long after that because of failures of abattoir controls.


19 Nov 98 - History of mistakes and delays

Staff Reporter

Times ... Thursday 19 November 1998


Among the main facts to emerge so far:

First case of BSE was diagnosed in December 1985. Finding dismissed as inconclusive by Gerald Wells, head of neuropathology at the Central Veterinary Laboratory, who realised his mistake 21 months later.

Ministry vets and scientists knew for sure of the existence of BSE from November 1986, but the Government's Chief Medical Officer was not told until 16 months later, in March 1988.

The ministry banned the use of meat and bone meal (the suspected source of BSE) in cattle feed in July 1988, but did not recall unused stocks from farms or those already ordered from feed merchants. That probably allowed up to 32,000 more cattle to be infected with BSE.

Professor Richard Southwood , in his report in February 1989, said that BSE posed a "remote" risk to human beings, but failed to recommend an immediate ban on consumption of all potentially dangerous cattle parts. This was not done until nine months later.

As early as 1990 the ministry was aware of concern that abattoirs were not enforcing controls to keep infected material out of the food chain, but did nothing serious about it until 1995.


19 Nov 98 - Currie condemns Tory 'incompetence' on BSE

Michael Hornsby

Times ... Thursday 19 November 1998


Former minister tells inquiry that 'crass' attitudes made the problem worse.

Edwina Currie, the former Health Minister, has attacked other Tory ex-ministers for their handling of "mad cow" disease and other public health risks. In written evidence to the BSE inquiry, she condemns their performance at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as "crass and incompetent" and says their officials were "blockheadedly ignorant ".

Mrs Currie, who was forced to resign from her ministerial position in 1988 after the salmonella-in-eggs furore, will open a new phase in the inquiry next Monday, as the first of more than 20 former Tory ministers giving evidence over the next three weeks.

Five presided over the Ministry of Agriculture during the last Government - John MacGregor, John Gummer, Gillian Shephard, William Waldegrave and Douglas Hogg. Also scheduled to appear are Kenneth Clarke, Virginia Bottomley and Stephen Dorrell, all former Health Secretaries. The former Prime Ministers Baroness Thatcher and John Major have been invited to submit statements and may be called to give oral evidence.

In her statement, Mrs Currie says: "I consider that the entire approach of MAFF from the 1980s onward to issues of public health linked to infection in the food chain was wrong .

"It was crass, incompetent, hostile, dangerous and compounded problems instead of eradicating them. The ministry that should have been responsible for clean food instead supported and connived at the worst operations in farming and animal husbandry, derided accurate warnings and were blockheadly ignorant of good practice elsewhere. The ministry made fierce and intimidating attempts to put down criticism instead of considering it carefully and objectively."

She also criticises the "poor contacts " at ministerial level between the ministry and the Department of Health, and accuses the ministry of setting itself up as a "trade union" for farmers . "This was an astonishing position for a Conservative administration to maintain, which elsewhere was keen to promote competition and put the needs of consumers first."

The ministry "worked on the assumption that the public was stupid " and incapable of grasping the difference between different levels of risk. This led to "bland assertions " by ministers that "there was no risk to human health [from BSE], when what was meant was that there was only a tiny risk, unquantifiable but known to be remote".

Mrs Currie left office in December 1988, after provoking a dramatic collapse in egg sales by claiming that most egg production in Britain was infected with salmonella. Mrs Currie says that the ministry responded to her claim by refusing "to believe that a foodstuff as widespread and innocuous as eggs could be the cause of a food-poisoning epidemic".

When she wrote an account of her time in Government, ministry officials tried to get sections of the manuscript deleted, she claims. She says that she resigned after being told that egg producers were threatening the Government with writs, but this had turned out to be untrue.

Mrs Currie told The Times yesterday: "I am not singling out any one minister for criticism. The whole approach of MAFF was wrong . It was only concerned with the economic state of its industry . It had no interest whatever in the public health aspects of the production of food."

Mrs Currie said that she believed the ministry had not devoted the effort it should have done to some crucial BSE research because it was afraid of what the results might be . "There is still no diagnostic test for BSE in living animals. This is outrageous. I mean, we have slaughtered millions and millions of them. My suggestion, my deep, dark hint, is that MAFF did not want a test because they did not want to know how serious the problem was. As long as MAFF could keep saying, 'It is not a problem,' or, 'It is under control,' then they could satisfy their ministers and attempt to satisfy the public. But, of course, there was a problem and it was not under control ."

Mrs Currie will be the 288th witness to give oral and written evidence to the inquiry since it opened on March 9 in Lambeth, South London. Distrust and lack of co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Health has been a persistent theme . While ministry officials have insisted that public health was a top priority and that they concealed nothing, their counterparts in the Department of Health have spoken of a suspicion that they were being kept in the dark.


19 Nov 98 - Currie attacks 'incompetent' Tory handling of BSE crisis

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 19 November 1998


Edwina Currie, the former Conservative minister, launched a scathing attack yesterday on her government's handling of mad cow disease and other food safety issues.

She said the Agriculture Ministry was "crass, incompetent, hostile, dangerous and compounded problems instead of eradicating them ". Officials were "blockheadedly ignorant of good practice elsewhere".

She also accused the ministry of acting as "a trade union for producers " and wanting her removed from office for the trouble she caused after issuing public warnings about salmonella in eggs. She said: "Maff and producers took a dim view of my actions; they regarded me as the problem and that if I were removed the issue would go away."

Mrs Currie, who resigned as a junior health minister in December 1988, was giving written evidence to the BSE Inquiry in London. She said she quit after being misled into believing that writs had been served on her by figures in the farming industry following her public statements about the risks of eating eggs. She found out later that there were no writs. She insisted that she had done nothing wrong and had acted in the public interest because salmonella cases had been rising and she feared that there would be a major epidemic.

Her evidence, released by the inquiry yesterday, said: "Despite a slaughter policy and some compensation, paid to poultry farmers, not to the victims, the level of infection is much the same now as it was then, at around 30,000 cases from [salmonella] phage-type 4 per annum, and around 60 people a year die from salmonellosis. Thus, more than 500 people have died of this condition since I left the Department of Health." Mrs Currie, who lost her South Derbyshire seat in the 1997 election, will give evidence in person at the inquiry next Monday. She will be the first of more than 20 former ministers called. Lady Thatcher and John Major may also be called. It was disclosed yesterday that the inquiry team has written to them to request statements about their role in the events surrounding the BSE affair.

Mrs Currie said she complained to Mr Major that "the poor contacts at ministerial level between Maff and the Health Department, and the lack of respect for the overriding public health interest, led to a catastrophic outcome ".

She said: "The ministry had long set itself up as the trade union for producers . This was an astonishing position for a Conservative administration to maintain, which elsewhere was keen to promote competition and put the needs of consumers first, a view I communicated to the Prime Minister on the day of my resignation.

"The entire approach of Maff from the Eighties onward to issues of public health linked to infection in the food chain was wrong... The ministry which should have been responsible for clean food instead supported and connived at the worst operations in farming and animal husbandry."

She criticised Maff specifically for:

Taking almost a year to publish in October 1987 the fact that BSE had been identified as a new disease.

Taking eight months to inform the Department of Health after alerting Maff ministers in June 1987 about the arrival of BSE.

Taking until July 1988 to announce a slaughter policy.

Taking too long after BSE was recognised to remove potentially dangerous animal food of the kind believed to have spread BSE, from cattle food stores.

She said: "The slow response of Maff at the outset was typical, indeed classic, and constituted in itself a policy which added to the scale of the subsequent disaster."


19 Nov 98 - Currie attack on 'crass' food safety

By James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday 19 November 1998


Former minister Edwina Currie yesterday savagely exposed divisions within successive Tory governments over food safety issues, saying the approach had been "crass, incompetent, hostile and dangerous ".

Ten years after she resigned during the salmonella-in-eggs affair, Mrs Currie accused the Ministry of Agriculture of being "blockheadly ignorant conniving in the worst farming practices, and intimidating critics .

Poor contacts between senior ministers and lack of respect for the overriding interest of public health led to "catastrophic outcomes ", she said in a devastating statement to the BSE inquiry.

Mrs Currie, now a novelist and radio presenter, will next week be the first of about 25 former cabinet members and ministers to appear. She resigned as a junior health minister in December 1988, shortly after telling an interviewer "most of the egg production in this country is sadly infected with salmonella."

She had little to do with BSE, but the salmonella affair was then regarded as a higher priority than the cattle disease that was later found to have spread to humans.

Mrs Currie's statement said the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) had "worked on the assumption the public were stupid" and "good governance appeared to be extracted from ministers after 1989 by a process akin to drawing teeth. "

Its approach to issues linked to infection in the food chain "was crass, incompetent, hostile, dangerous and compounded problems instead of eradicating them. It... derided accurate warnings and was blockheadedly ignorant of good practice elsewhere ...

"The ministry had long ago set itself up as a trade union for producers ... This was an astonishing position for a Conservative administration to maintain, which elsewhere was keen to promote competition and put the needs of consumers first."

Mrs Currie told The Guardian she was "still very sad about the whole thing". "The whole handling of the BSE crisis was informed by this absolute determination they were not going to have some blithering idiot in DoH scaring people."

She had resigned "because it appeared I did not have the confidence of colleagues."

Her statement said that "although my remarks were misinterpreted (I never said 'don't eat eggs'), I am satisfied I did no wrong and acted in the public interest."

She added: "Both MAFF and the producers took a dim view of my actions, they regarded me as the problem, and that if I were removed the issue would go away."

There were still about 30,000 cases a year caused by the type of salmonella that caused the 1988 crisis and about 60 people a year still died from the infection. "Thus more than 500 people have died of the condition since I left the DoH."

Several other ex-ministers have given written statements only to the inquiry. Mrs Thatcher and John Major have been invited to provide them, although no decisions have been made over whether to call them.

Those appearing include Kenneth Clarke, William Waldegrave, John MacGregor, John Gummer, Virginia Bottomley, Gillian Shephard, Douglas Hogg and Stephen Dorrell.