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1997: BSE inquiry to be 'far-reaching'
An independent inquiry into the BSE "disaster" and the devastation it wreaked on British farming has been announced by the government.

Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham said the BSE inquiry would be led by Judge Lord Justice Phillips who has a year to complete the investigation.

Describing the BSE crisis, he said: "It has been, literally, a disaster."

The inquiry would be far-ranging covering the BSE crisis' origins and the way in which authorities responded to it and the development of its human equivalent Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, CJD.

It would also look at the first disclosure by the government in March of the link between BSE and humans.

More than 20 people have died from the wasting disease.

Dr Cunningham described it as a fact-finding inquiry to help the country "learn the necessary lessons".

Members of the former Conservative Government have been asked to help the inquiry and Ministers would answer to the Commons after the inquiry.


Dr Cunningham also told the Commons he was giving 85m "exceptional, one-off help" to beef farmers in the next 12 months.

He outlined long term plans to "reduce the scale of subsidy" and restructure the industry because of the over-supply of beef across Europe and a long-term drop in consumption.

The government would begin consultations with the industry on reducing herds, including an early retirement scheme for farmers.

Leading Tories jeered at the announcement claiming the restructuring process was aimed at merely running down the industry.

The Conservative agriculture spokesman Michael Jack said the inquiry was an invitation to other European countries to delay even further lifting the ban on British beef.

But farmers have pledged their full co-operation. NFU boss Sir David Naish said: "The lessons learned will be worthwhile but it should not stoop to political point-scoring."

The compensation would bring "much needed relief" to crisis-hit farmers, he said.

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More than 180,000 cows were infected

In Context
The results of the inquiry were not published until October 2000 and the investigation cost an estimated 26m.

Among many points it concluded the Conservative government at the time played down the links between BSE-infected beef and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) and misled the public about the risks posed by so-called mad cow disease.

It said there was poor enforcement of the 1989 ban on specified bovine offal (brain, spinal cord and other tissue) entering the human food chain.

The issues raised by the BSE crisis continue to plague the farming industry and decrease confidence in British beef.

By 2002 more than 100 people had died from CJD.

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