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2000: Ministers 'misled' public on BSE

The long awaited report into the spread of BSE or "mad cow disease" and its fatal human equivalent, vCJD, has criticised officials, scientists and government ministers.

The report, focusing on Britain and carried out by Lord Phillips, says the danger to the public was not identified quickly enough, which created a false impression that there was no risk to human health.

"At times bureaucratic processes resulted in unacceptable delay in giving effect to policy," the report said.

Lord Phillips clarified that for the first six months after government scientists had identified the disease they did not inform the public for fear it would cause panic and damage trade.

The recycling of animal protein in ruminant feed has been singled out as the main cause of the spread of the disease.

John Gummer and Stephen Dorrell were among many ministers criticised in the report.

Mr Gummer, agriculture minister between 1989 and 1993, was censured for his decision to publicly feed his four-year-old daughter a beef burger.

"It may seem with hindsight that, caught in a no-win situation, he chose the wrong option," the report said.

During his time as Health Secretary, from 1995 to 1997, the report said of Mr Dorrell: "It was regrettable that he gave a public assurance in terms more extreme than he could justify."

The report has been welcomed by the families of the victims.

Thomas Kerr, whose ex-wife died from vCJD in 1996, said: "It can help you tidy things up, rather than for ever wondering what was the cause, who was to blame, was there a cover up?"

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was identified in 1986. A probable link with the human form of the disease - Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) - was established in 1996.

In Context
After the BSE report was published former Prime Minister John Major told the House of Commons: "All of us... must accept our own responsibilities for shortcomings that were made and the problems that arose from them."

On the same day the report came out the government announced plans to compensate the victims of the disease and their families.

The inquiry into the BSE crisis began in 1998. By this point there had been 3,253 cases of "mad cow disease'" and 18 human deaths from vCJD.

Experts say occurrences of the diseases peaked in 1992.


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