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Former health minister Stephen Dorrell
"I regret having made that statement"
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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Dorrell regrets BSE statement
Stephen Dorrell MP
Stephen Dorrell says he made his statement in good faith
Stephen Dorrell is the latest former Conservative minister to apologise for his government's handling of the BSE crisis.

The ex-Tory health minister has told the BBC he regrets saying there was "no conceivable risk" from beef.

Lord Phillips' report of the BSE inquiry criticised successive Tory ministers, including former agriculture ministers John Gummer and Douglas Hogg and Mr Dorrell, for repeatedly misleading the public about the threat to human health posed by mad cow disease.

Mr Dorrell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday: "It is never the right phrase to say, in particular as scientific knowledge is developing, that there is no conceivable risk."

But he said his statement was made in good faith on the basis of scientific advice.

"It is never the right phrase to say, in particular as scientific knowledge is developing, that there is no conceivable risk

Stephen Dorrell
"What we have to try to do is ensure that next time, if such circumstances arise, the quality of that advice is as good as we can get it," he said.

The long-awaited report published on Thursday emphasised that there had been no deliberate intention by ministers or Whitehall to deceive or protect farming interests at the expense of consumers.

But 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 government has confirmed there will be financial compensation for victims of vCJD, the human form of the BSE, starting with an immediate 1m to help victims' families.

A review is to begin into whether any of the officials criticised in the report should be disciplined.

Donnamarie McGivern with her aunt
Teenager Donnamarie McGivern died of vCJD last year

Nick Palmer, MP for Broxtowe and part of Labour's backbench committee on agriculture, believes that farmers should share blame with politicians.

"Farmers who for year after year were feeding sheep and cattle bone meal back to cows, a vegetarian species, should have realised that there was a significant risk," he told the Today programme.

But National Farmers' Union president Ben Gill said sheep and cattle bone meal is still being fed to cows globally without causing BSE.

"We acted in good faith," he told the BBC.

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.

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.

Lord Phillips' report pinpoints a "bombshell" that occurred in May 1990 when Bristol University scientists found a BSE-like disease in a cat.

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

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

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.

Mr Dorrell told the Commons in March 1996 that 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: "Risk communication in relation to BSE was flawed".

Are you reassured by the BSE report or does this raise fears? Are there other areas of food that concern you such as GM foods or labelling?

The chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Professor John Krebs, will be 'live' on Radio 4's PM programme, answering your emails on whose advice do you trust on what we should eat?

Send your e-mails to:

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See also:

25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Blair sees CJD victim's suffering
26 Oct 00 | Health
1m care package for vCJD victims
02 Oct 00 | Scotland
BSE crisis sparks father's anger
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