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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Consumer groups are sceptical about whether enough has been done"
 real 56k

Lord Phillipps
"Politicians should make it plain to the public that they aren't certain"
 real 28k

Former health minister, Stephen Dorrell
"The broader scientific advice coming to the government at that time was advice made in good faith"
 real 28k

Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Ministers 'misled' public on BSE

The inquiry was chaired by Lord Phillips
Former health secretary, Stephen Dorrell, has expressed regret over statements he made relating to the safety of British beef during the BSE crisis.

Mr Dorrell - who was one of the ministers criticised in the BSE inquiry report - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he has made a mistake when he said there was "no conceivable risk from beef".

Conservative ministers and their officials repeatedly misled the public about the threat to human health posed by mad cow disease, according to the official BSE inquiry report.

The long-awaited report said the crisis had been made worse by an over-riding desire to avoid a health scare, poor communication between government departments, and bureaucratic delays in responding to scientific warnings about the risks.


The public were never told that scientists' appraisal of that risk had changed

BSE report

The government confirmed there would be financial compensation for victims of vCJD - the human form of BSE - starting with an immediate 1m to kick-start help for victims' families, who welcomed what they described as the "long overdue" aid package.

And publication of the report prompted a succession of Tory former ministers including ex-premier John Major, who was at Number 10 during the height of the crisis, to apologise for their part in it.

No deliberate deceit

BSE Inquiry statistics
Total cost about 27m
Lasted two years
Involved more than 3000 files of information
More than 630 witnesses gave written evidence
333 witnesses gave oral evidence

Mr Major told the House of Commons: "All of us must accept our responsibilities for shortcomings."

The report emphasised, however, that there had been no deliberate intention by ministers or Whitehall to deceive or protect farming interests at the expense of consumers.

Some individual politicians who were expected to come in for sharp attack from the report, such as the former agriculture minister John Gummer, instead escaped severe censure.

But successive Conservative ministers, including Mr Gummer, former agriculture minister Douglas Hogg and Mr Dorrell, were criticised for playing down the risk of BSE-infected beef contaminating humans.

According to latest figures, 77 people have died from vCJD. Another seven are still suffering from the fatal disease, which causes progressive dementia, lack of co-ordination and other symptoms.

'Bombshell'

BSE was first identified as a new cattle disease in 1986 and a ban on brain, spinal and other high-risk beef offal being used in human food was introduced in 1989.

Donnamarie McGivern with her aunt
Human victim: Teenager Donnamarie McGivern died of vCJD last year
The report pinpoints a "bombshell" that occurred in May 1990 when scientists at Bristol University found a BSE-like disease in a cat.

The discovery raised concerns that BSE was transmissible and could potentially infect humans.

But in the same year Mr Gummer insisted beef was safe to eat. In a now infamous incident, he publicly fed his four-year-old daughter Cordelia a beefburger in a bid to calm public alarm.

It was not until March 1996 that Mr Dorrell told the Commons a new strain of CJD had emerged, probably linked to consumption of infected beef.

The report said that the cat discovery led scientists to take the threat posed to humans much more seriously, but this was not adequately communicated to the public.

The report said: "The public were never told that scientists' appraisal of that risk had changed.

"On each occasion that public concerns were raised about BSE, they met with the same refrains - 'there is no evidence that BSE is transmissible to humans - it is safe to eat beef'.

"Risk communication in relation to BSE was flawed," the inquiry said.

Responding to the report, Food Standards Agency chairman Professor Sir John Krebs said: "The agency pledges that never again will vital information on food safety risks be withheld from the public."

'Dreadful disease'

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the Commons that the key conclusion from the report was that the intensive farming practice of recycling animal protein in ruminant feed had "proved a recipe for disaster".

He confirmed that a new national fund for the care of vCJD victims and an enhanced care package would be developed by Health Secretary Alan Milburn in consultation with representatives of victims and their families.

Mr Brown said that the care and compensation package would cover any number of future casualties of the disease: "The fact is that they are our fellow citizens and they will have to be cared for."

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See also:

25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Blair sees CJD victim's suffering
02 Oct 00 | Scotland
BSE crisis sparks father's anger
26 Oct 00 | Health
1m care package for vCJD victims
26 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Phillips report packs a punch
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