Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 17:15 GMT
Currie condemns Tories over BSE
The Ministry's approach 'prolonged the disease and increased the risk'
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
Former junior health minister Edwina Currie has made a scathing attack on the Conservatives' record on BSE, the so-called mad cow disease.
A Tory MP from 1983 until last year's election, Mrs Currie was under-secretary for health from September 1986 until her resignation a week before Christmas 1988.
She started a nationwide debate while in office with her warning that eggs were widely contaminated with salmonella.
She says the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) at the start of the BSE outbreak in 1987 was slow "and constituted in itself a policy which added to the scale of the subsequent disaster".
Examples she cites from the time when she was involved include:
Mrs Currie says farmers in her constituency told her that 50% compensation rate was "an active incentive to unscrupulous farmers to offload suspect stock to the abattoirs as quickly as possible".
Some of her most damning remarks are directed at her former fellow ministers.
She credits her successor as health minister, Roger Freeman, with "a degree of complacency with which I could not have agreed".
And she calls former agriculture minister John MacGregor "astonishingly short-sighted" in his policy towards other diseases of farm animals.
And in one passage, Mrs Currie widens her field of fire.
She writes: "Good governance appeared to be extracted from ministers after 1989 by a process akin to pulling teeth."
But it is MAFF which attracts her deepest anger. Officials there "appear to have accepted both BSE and salmonella as a fait accompli".
On scrapie, a sheep disease very similar to BSE, Mrs Currie says "the same attitude pervaded ... a big shrug".
She writes: "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 had long set itself up as the trade union for producers ... an astonishing position for a Conservative administration to maintain."