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EDITIONS
BSE Friday, 30 October, 1998, 08:22 GMT
Former medical boss was 'kept in the dark'
BSE incinerator
Thousands of beef carcasses were incinerated because of the BSE crisis
Britain's former Chief Medical Officer will tell the BSE inquiry next week how he was kept in the dark by the last government at the height of the crisis over Mad Cow Disease.

Sir Donald Acheson, who was Chief Medical Officer from 1983 until his retirement in 1991, also criticises several Conservative ministers for playing down the crisis.

John Gummer
John Gummer fed his daughter a burger in 1990 and said beef was "perfectly safe"
In a statement which was released on Thursday, Sir Donald says ministers made several statements which could not be backed up by hard evidence.

'Beef was not perfectly safe'

In 1990 then Agriculture Minister John Gummer appeared on television feeding his daughter a burger and pronounced beef "perfectly safe".

But Sir Donald said he was not consulted about Mr Gummer's statement and would not have approved the use of the phrase.

Sir Donald also says:

  • When the BSE crisis blew up the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) did not tell him about the health risks for six months.

  • He criticised the initial decision to limit the payment of compensation to farmers for animals with symptoms of BSE to 50% of their market value (later increased to 100%). He said this increased the likelihood of material from diseased cattle entering the food chain.

  • The export of potentially infected animal feed to other countries should have been stopped.

  • There was resistance to setting up a committee on animal feeding practices in intensive agriculture.

    Epidemic broke in 1988

    Sir Donald Acheson
    Sir Donald Acheson...claims the government played down danger from BSE
    Sir Donald says he first heard of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) epidemic on 3 March 1988, when he received a letter from the Permanent Secretary of the MAFF, Derek Andrews.

    Sir Donald, an expert in epidemiology, said that when he heard about BSE he realised high priority should be given to discovering whether there were risks of it spreading to humans.

    But he said the MAFF had a "different perception of the potential implications of BSE to health" than he did.

    He also accused the ministry of being "unnecessarily secretive" at times.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    BBC News
    BBC Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore: "This is pretty devastating stuff"
    BBC News
    Margaret Gilmore: Sir Donald felt ministers were too reassuring in their comments to the public
    See also:

    01 Feb 99 | Farming in Crisis
    Links to more BSE stories are at the foot of the page.


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