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EDITIONS
BSE Wednesday, 2 December, 1998, 17:44 GMT
Minister ignored officials
John Macgregor: Not just taking the producers' line
The BSE inquiry has heard that a former Tory agriculture minister ignored scientific advice and announced a ban on the use of beef offal in human food.

John MacGregor and his deputy Sir Donald Thompson took the decision despite concern that it could result in the type of headlines which followed the recent ban on beef on the bone.

The inquiry 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.

In April 1988 he set up a working party of science experts under Sir Richard Southwood of Oxford University.

Its final report in February 1989 included a recommendation that offal should not be included in manufacturing baby food.

Mr MacGregor said that he grew increasingly concerned about this recommendation and decided to take a "belt and braces approach" by banning all beef offal, such as the spinal cord, brains, spleen and tonsils, from all human foods.

'Flurry of concern'

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 men 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, told the inquiry they had expected an outcry.

"We expected to get the same press as the ban on beef on the bone got just recently," he said.

"At the end of the day it was an ultra-safe measure."

See also:

27 Nov 98 | BSE
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