Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Vet warned BSE would be 'problem'
Beef was never considered as a problem for humans
A former government Chief Veterinary Officer has told the public inquiry into BSE that he feared the disease could become a "major problem" for the cattle industry.
Howard Rees was in charge of the service when the first BSE cases were discovered, but did not consider it a problem for humans and did not stop eating beef himself.
He was giving evidence as one of the most outspoken critics of the handling of the crisis warned the government that their policy was still wrong.
Professor Richard Lacey was launching a book on the subject at a scientific conference in Cardiff.
Vet had no enthusiasm
In his evidence to the inquiry Mr Rees said he first became aware of BSE in late November 1986.
By May 1987 he knew of five confirmed cases but told the inquiry: "I didn't share with scientists their enthusiasm for the discovery of a new disease.
"I thought if this wasn't an isolated case we might have a major problem. I was concerned about the effect on the industry."
He decided that discovering how the disease was passed on was the key to tackling it, and on 5 June, 1987 first informed ministers after deciding it was a "national problem".
The then Agriculture Secretary, John MacGregor, later decided a compulsory ban was needed.
The vet said at that stage it was believed it would be far harder for the disease to transfer to humans than it had been for it to cross from sheep.
But Mr Rees told the inquiry that earlier in 1988 it had been decided to recommend to ministers that a slaughter and compensation policy should be introduced for cattle with BSE, and it should be made a "notifiable" disease.
He added that he had been worried a lack of funding would hamper efforts to control BSE.
The next sitting of the public inquiry will be on 17 September, but its report is not due until June 1999.
Lacey dismisses sheep link
As the inquiry continued hearing evidence in Lambeth, south London, the government was being told that the danger was far from over.
He believes that recent scare stories about the possibilities of BSE in sheep are an attempt to divert attention from the more important issues.
He can find no evidence of a link with sheep and says talk of one damages the government committee's credibility.
Professor Lacey is adamant that there are still massive risks from eating beef and claims there has been a "systematic cover-up" by the government and scientists about the dangers in the food Britons eat.
His lecture at the annual Festival of Science in Cardiff was attended by farmers, some of whom accused him of contributing to the decline of their business.