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Britain starts probe of mad cow disease
Inquiry announced
Full text of MAFF Minister Jack Cunningham's statement to Parliament
BSE Inquiry: profile of the Judge
Beef farmers urged to quit after 85m emergency deal
Hill farmer in front line of the beef crisis
France finds 31st mad cow case
Another CJD case misdiagnosed as Alzheime

Inquiry announced

London Times 23 Dec 97  12.22.97
MAFF Minister Dr Jack Cunningham has announced the public enquiry into BSE. He stated that Lord Justice Phillips had been asked to investigate the emergence and identification of BSE and the human equivalent, CJD.

The inquiry will go back over events during the Callaghan, Thatcher and Major governments, covering the period from when the disease was first identified to March 1996, when the former administration announced a link between eating infected beef and the new variant of CJD. It has been asked to report within a year on the adequacy of the response by previous governments "taking account of the state of knowledge at the time." It will look at who knew what when, and whether the public was given enough warning.

Dr Cunningham said the aim of the inquiry was to discover the facts and learn the necessary lessons for the future. He did not want scapegoats or to make party political capital out of the investigation.

"The scientific data we now have provides convincing evidence that the agent which causes BSE is the same as that which causes the new variant of CJD. This dreadful disease has already cost the lives of more than 20 people, most of them young adults. The families of those who had died wanted to know how their loved ones came to contract a fatal disease. BSE had also threatened the livelihood of thousands of people in the farming and food industries, cost the taxpayer huge sums and caused considerable difficulties in Britain's international relations. It has been, literally, a disaster," he told MPs.
Michael Jack, the Tory agriculture spokesman, claimed the announcement of the inquiry was a "smokescreen" to cover the Government's failure to provide enough help for agriculture.

Commentary (J R Blanchfield):

Pending the availability of the on-line Hansard report of yesterday in the House of Commons, the above is a relevant account taken from today's Electronic Telegraph. "When the disease was first identified" was April 1985. However, inclusion of reference to "the Callaghan government" would take the enquiry back to include the late 1970s. Even that is not early enough. The enquiry really should go back further to include the early 1960s, to cover the period when changes to rendering practices actually began

Britain starts probe of mad cow disease

December 22, 1997  The Associated Press
LONDON -- Taking steps to avoid any more farming disasters, Britain said Monday it will begin a yearlong investigation of the mad cow disease and set up a $140 million aid package for farmers. The announcement was a victory for victims' relatives who have been campaigning for an inquiry since an ailment believed to be the human form of the disease killed at least 20 people in Britain.

Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham, announcing the investigation to the House of Commons, said the probe will look at the "history and emergence" of bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- the scientific name for mad cow disease -- and the new strain considered its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.

"We need to be sure that we have learned the lessons so a disaster of this nature never befalls us again. This has been a disaster, a disaster for families who have lost loved ones, a disaster for farmers and the beef industry and a disaster for Britain financially," Cunningham said.
Cunningham said the $140 million in aid for farmers hit by the crisis was a one-time package and that radical restructuring of the beef industry was essential.

BSE Inquiry: Lord Justice Phillips: likeable and witty

December 23 1997 BY FRANCES GIBB, legal correspondent  London Times
Whatever the outcome of the inquiry into BSE announced yesterday by the Government, Lord Justice Phillips is likely to handle it with the same deftness of touch that won him plaudits for his handling of the Maxwell trial.

Mr Justice Phillips, as he was then, was promoted mid-way through the trial to the Court of Appeal. Likeable and witty, Nicholas Phillips is a moderniser. He introduced a series of innovations to make proceedings in the Maxwell trial as manageable and comprehensible to jurors as possible.

Despite the furore over the acquittals of the brothers, the judge was widely held to have created a blueprint for the way to run such trials in future. Richard Lissack, QC, one of the leading prosecuting counsel, said at the time: "He has been the single greatest influence on the trial. His conduct has been faultless." Mr Lissack singled out the judge's "temperament, his patience and attention to detail" coupled with his "fairness to everyone: counsel, defendants, witnesses, the jury, the press".

Lord Justice Phillips, who drew praise also for his handling of the Barlow Clowes trial in 1991, is a "hands-on" judge who takes a grip of the proceedings - a role judges will be expected to adopt when the civil justice reforms proposed by Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls, are implemented. In the Maxwell trial, he broke new ground by introducing a new court day of 9.30am to 1.30pm, with afternoons reserved for legal argument. Jurors did not have to concentrate all day and were saved from having to keep going in and out of court while counsel discussed legal points in their absence.

He also provided the jury with a summary of his summing-up, and - as a new technology buff - ensured full use of the computer system in court. The defendants sat, American-style, alongside their lawyers.

He attended Bryanston School and King's College, Cambridge, before national service in the Royal Navy. Once called to the Bar, in 1962, he built up a shipping and admiralty practice, taking silk in 1978. He became a judge in 1987. In a survey by Legal Business, he was one of the three most popular judges with lawyers.

Hill farmer in front line of the beef crisis

December 23 1997 Michael Hornsby  London Times
A whole British way of life is under threat as new subsidy cuts and the strong pound spell the end of the hill men. Hill farmers are on the front line of the crisis in the beef industry and large tracts of the most beautiful upland regions of Britain would cease to be farmed if they were exposed to the full rigours of the marketplace.

Some 71,000 farmers in the hills, almost entirely reliant on the rearing of cattle and sheep, depend largely for their survival on subsidies provided by the Government and the European Union, which Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, said yesterday must eventually be scaled down.

Richard Barter, who keeps 116 Hereford-cross beef cows and 300 ewes on 297 acres near Bovey Tracey on the edge of Dartmoor, is a fairly typical victim. In his early forties, he runs the farm with his wife, Jane, who also has to look after their three young boys, aged 5, 8 and 10. When their last farm hand left in October, 1996, they decided not to replace him. Mr Barter said:

"The one-off aid Dr Cunningham has announced will bring welcome short-term relief. We reckon it will mean an extra payment of 47 per cow, which will certainly ease the cash flow. But our long-term problems remain."
He said the farm generated an income of about 15,000 last year, but this year that could fall to between 7,000 and 8,000, in line with a national decline in farm incomes of up to 47 per cent forecast by the Ministry of Agriculture.
"My accountant has already told us that we will not have to pay any income tax this year because our earnings will be too low," he said. "There are lots worse off than me. At least I do not have an overdraft."
He and his wife specialise in rearing steers to the age of about 20 months and then selling them on to other farmers. They sold their latest batch of ten steers four weeks ago, accepting 200 a head less than similar animals fetched a year ago. Mr Barter's problem, like many farming in what the bureaucrats call "less favoured areas", is that up to half his income, even in a good year, comes from subsidy, rather than the price his produce fetches.
"If the subsidy went, there is no way we could survive, at least as full-time farmers. At best I might be able to hang on by taking a job outside farming and running the farm part-time."
He and others like him are kept afloat by a whole range of payments. There are suckler cow premiums (paid per cow), beef special premiums (paid on male calves), sheep annual premiums (paid per ewe) and hill livestock compensatory amounts, a top-up available only to those in the hills. The strong pound not only makes imported beef and lamb cheaper and more competitive, forcing down local prices, it also, crucially, reduces the sterling value of EU subsidies, which are fixed in ecus, and have to be converted into national currencies.

Over the past two years, because of the strong pound, Mr Barter has seen the value of the suckler cow premium drop from 124 to about 114, although this will now be increased by the special one-off aid to about 160. The beef special premium has come down from 93 to about 84, and the sheep annual premium has nearly halved, from just over 21 in 1995 to 11.50.

Beef farmers urged to quit after 85m emergency deal

December 23 1997 BY ANDREW PIERCE AND MICHAEL HORNSBY London Times
THE Government paved the way yesterday for many beef farmers to leave the land in a radical restructuring of the industry as it announced a one-off 85 million emergency package. Dr Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, who confirmed that there would be a year-long inquiry into the BSE crisis, emphasised that a drastic reduction in the size of the business was essential and said farmers should prepare for root and branch restructuring.

The minister served notice on beef farmers that the days of heavy government subsidies were over. The new priority was to reduce the size of the industry by luring farmers off the land through measures such as retirement schemes partly funded by the European Union.

He said that last year 2 billion had been paid to the beef industry and a further 1.4 billion was being spent in the current financial year before the 85 million was taken into account. [Next to nothing was spent on research, diagnosis, or therapy-- webmaster]

"These are very large sums indeed. They cannot be maintained indefinitely," he said. Referring to the 85 million, he said: "I must emphasise that these payments are exceptional and one-off."
Dr Cunningham said the long-awaited inquiry would be chaired by Lord Justice Phillips and take a year. It will encompass Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of BSE, which has cost the lives of more than 20 people. The Tories, who promised to co-operate with the investigation, said it was a gift to other EU states, who did not want the ban on British beef lifted.

While the National Farmers' Union welcomed the 85 million as a "lifeline" for hard-pressed beef farmers, Dr Cunningham said they had to face a new reality: there was an oversupply of beef throughout Europe and a long-term decline in consumption. Substantial restructuring was required. It had to begin immediately.

"In the interests of consumers, taxpayers, the environment, and not least the farmers, we must reform the beef industry so that it becomes economically and environmentally sustainable."
Ministers were planning early consultations with the farming industry to achieve the reduction. They would explore whether the EU's early retirement scheme and other structural measures could play a part. Dr Cunningham said that the 85 million, which the Tories dismissed as "Scrooge-like", included 60 million from the EU to offset the effects of sterling revaluations and poor sales. Most of the benefit would go to some 90,000 hill farmers who have been hardest hit. The remaining 25 million, 25 per cent funded by the EU, would come in the form of increased hill livestock compensatory allowances for 1998. Farmers estimate the package is worth an average of 800 to an average lowland suckler cow producer and 1,400 to a hill farmer with 38 cows.

Dr Cunningham said that the inquiry into the "national human tragedy" of BSE was essential. BSE had "literally been a disaster". He said the Government was not interested in using the inquiry as a political point-scoring exercise at the expense of the last administration.

Lord Justice Phillips and his team, the make-up of which will be announced in the next few days, will be asked to report on the effectiveness of the Government's response and to report by the end of December next year.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, the former Labour Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher and John Major may be called to give evidence. Tony Blair has written to William Hague, Lord Callaghan, Lady Thatcher and Mr Major to ask them to release any necessary papers. Ministers would answer to the House after the inquiry's report. The Tories attacked the announcements, which Michael Jack, the Shadow agriculture spokesman, said was a victory for the Treasury. "You have failed British agriculture," he told Dr Cunningham.

Farmers last night promised their full support for the BSE inquiry, despite misgivings about the wisdom of holding it now. They said the 85 million package would bring "much-needed relief".

But they said the assistance fell far short of what was needed, and are to hold a rally in London in mid-January. They will press the Government for the full 980 million to which they say they are entitled as compensation for the strong pound. Sir David Naish, the president of the National Farmers' Union, said the inquiry would have his full co-operation but voiced concern that it might offer the European Union a further excuse to postpone lifting the ban on British beef. "The progress already made in the European arena must not be delayed," he said.

He said the NFU would welcome the opportunity to discuss a restructuring of the beef industry, and an early retirement scheme for farmers, but warned Dr Cunningham that current EU schemes were insufficiently funded. Farmers in the South West, one of the regions worst hit by the beef crisis, dismissed the aid package as inadequate and predicted more farmers' protests in the New Year.

France finds 31st mad cow case

December 22, 1997 Reuters
France on Monday reported a new case of mad cow disease, the 31st occurrence of the bovine brain-wasting illness in the country since 1990. The disease-stricken cow, found in a herd in the Brittany town of Plonevez du Faou, was born in 1992, after a 1990 ban was imposed on cattle feed containing ground-up animal parts, an Agriculture Ministry official said. Most of the cases of mad cow disease in France have been found in the west of the country. The 30th case was declared on Saturday in the Sarthe department.

The 306 cows in the herd were slaughtered on Sunday and their carcasses would be incinerated , the official said.

The European Union imposed a worldwide ban on British beef imports in March 1996 after the government there acknowledged the possibility that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name for mad cow disease, could be transmitted to humans, in the form of a new variant of the deadly Creutzfeldt Jacob disease.

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Another CJD case misdiagnosed as Alzheimer

Correspondence 24 Dec 97
"Test results came back from NIH 9 days after Grandpa died.

Delay due to fact that they misplaced spinal taps fluid. Anyway, diagnosis positive for CJD.

Now the death certificate is inaccurate. It classified death 1) due to severe Alzheimers and 2) due to severe dementia.

How do I correctly report this now to the proper agencies?"

Full text of MAFF Minister Jack Cunningham's statement to Parliament

22 December 1997 Listserve
"I turn now to even more serious matters. As the House knows all too well, BSE has had the gravest human consequences. The scientific data we now have provide convincing evidence that the agent that causes BSE is the same as that which causes the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. That dreadful disease has already cost the lives of more than 20 people, most of them young adults. The Government feel the deepest sympathy with their families. Naturally they want to know how their loved ones came to contract a fatal disease. BSE has also threatened the livelihood of thousands of people throughout the farming and food industries; it has cost the taxpayer huge sums; and it has caused considerable difficulties in our international relations. It has been, literally, a disaster.

"The Government agree with those who have been arguing that a national human tragedy of this importance, taken together with the economic and other disruption that has ensued, requires a full, independent assessment. We have a responsibility to the country to take a reasoned look at how circumstances developed in this disastrous manner.

"Events since the parliamentary statements on 20 March 1996 have been, and continue to be, the subject of extensive political and media attention, and have to some extent obscured the initial chain of developments through which BSE emerged. For all those reasons, the Government has decided to institute an inquiry into the emergence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and new-variant Creutzfeldt- Jacob disease. The Government have accordingly asked Lord Justice Phillips to carry out a non-statutory inquiry into the emergence and identification of BSE and new-variant CJD and the action taken in response to it up to 20 March 1996, and to report within a year. Its terms of reference are:

'To establish and review the history of the emergence and identification of BSE and new-variant CJD in the United Kingdom and of the action taken in response to it up to 20 March 1996; to reach conclusions on the adequacy of that response, taking account of the state of knowledge at the time; and to report on these matters by 31 December 1998 to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.'

"I am setting out fuller details of the inquiry in a separate written answer today. Let me emphasise again that the aim is not to reopen old wounds. [Laughter.] One would hardly have thought that laughter was appropriate to such a serious matter. Nor is the aim to make party political capital. As I have said, it is to discover the facts, to take a reasoned look at how matters came to pass and to learn the necessary lessons for the future.

"My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to the Leader of the Opposition inviting his support for the inquiry, and to Lord Callaghan, Baroness Thatcher and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) about the release of papers of their Administrations to the inquiry.

"Following long-standing conventions on access to papers of a previous Administration, present Ministers will play no part in the presentation of evidence by their officials to the inquiry. The Government would, in any case, not expect to comment on the course of the inquiry until we have received Lord Justice Phillips's report. The Government will answer to the House in the normal way for any action following that report.

"The Government intend to work closely with the beef industry to resolve its difficulties. The Government also seek the co-operation of all those involved in the circumstances surrounding the emergence of BSE and new-variant CJD to ensure that we learn all the lessons we can from the disaster. We owe it to the families involved, to the public at large and to our future generations. I commend this statement to the House. "

End of Dr Cunningham's statement. In answer to a question as to whether witnesses would be subpoenaed he replied:
"The answer to my hon. Friend's question on the subpoenaing of witnesses is no. This will be a non-statutory inquiry, rather similar to the Scott inquiry in that regard. As then, the Government will watch the proceedings carefully. We will take advice from Lord Justice Phillips and if he believes that some extra powers are needed, we will be ready to consider them."
Replying to a further question about witnesses he said:
"Of course, it will be for Lord Justice Phillips to decide who should give evidence and the way in which it should be taken. That procedure is entirely a matter for him, and neither I nor any of my ministerial colleagues will intervene in that in any way, as I made clear in my statement and I am happy to make clear again to the right hon. Gentleman and the House."

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