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November 1986 :
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
– BSE – first identified.



April 1988:
Government sets up commitee to look into concerns that BSE is entering the human food chain.


16 May 1990 :
Chief Medical Officer Sir Donald Acheson issues first assurance that British beef is safe to eat

16 May 1990:
Agriculture Minister John Selwyn Gummer feeds his daughter Cordelia a beefburger in an attempt to calm rising panic over British beef


1992 :
BSE cases peak:
3 cows in every 1000 in Britain have the disease



11 March 1993:
Sir Kenneth Calman, chief medical officer, repeats the assurances that British beef is safe to eat.

21 May 1995 :
Stephen Churchill, 19, becomes the first known victim of a new version of Creutzfeld Jakobs disease (nvCJD). His was one of 3 nvCJD deaths in 1995

25 March 1996 :
European Union bans all exports of British beef


20th March 1996:
The government announces that there is a probable link established between BSE and nvCJD



16 December 1996:
Selective cull of cattle at most risk from BSE announced.


March 1997 :
The slaughter begins of another 100,000 cattle at increased risk of developing BSE

22 December 1997 :
BSE Inquiry is set up to "reveal the events and decisions which led to the spread of CJD and BSE". It is due to report by the end if 1998

December 1997 :
The sale of beef on the bone is banned in the UK

9 March 1998 :
Public hearings begin. Among the first to give evidence to the Inquiry are Roger Tomkins, whose vegitarian daughter Clare was diagnosed with nvCJD.

12 October 1998 :
Sir Kenneth Calman, former chief medical officer, openly criticises the chief veterinary officer Keith Meldrum. He says his reassurances to the public that beef was safe to eat did not mean there was no risk

26 and 27 October 1998 :
The Inquiry hears from families of nvCJD victims. They say the NHS treated victims with insensitivity, andtell how they had to accept the liming of their loved ones’ bodies before burial.

30 October 1998 :
Sir Donald Acheson, chief medical officer 1983-1991, tells the Inquiry he had disagreed with Agriculture Minister John Gummer’s 1990 statement that British beef was "perfectly safe".


23rd November 1998:
EU agriculture ministers agree to lift the ban on exports of British beef.


16 December 1998 :
Phase One of the BSE Inquiry ends.

16 April 1999 :
The number of cases of nvCJD now stands at 40. In the last quarter of 1998, 5 people died – the highest in any 3-month period since the new variant was identified.
Back to BSE Special Report