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BSE - Nearly 80 dead but officials get knighthoods

25th October 2000

Reckless car drivers can get prison sentences, but the drivers of government BSE policy throughout the 1980s and '90s got knighthoods.

Why have the key government officials - responsible for setting up advisory committees, providing ministerial advice, and protecting public health - received honours? asks consumer watchdog The Food Commission, today. Which of the following deserve decorations for their role in the deaths of increasing numbers of vCJD victims?

  • Sir Derek Andrews, MAFF Permanent Secretary 1987-1993
  • Sir Richard Packer, MAFF Permanent Secretary 1993-1998
  • Sir Christopher France, DoH Permanent Secretary 1987-91
  • Sir Graham Hart, DoH Permanent Secretary 1992-97
  • Sir Donald Acheson, DoH Chief Medical Officer 1983-91
  • Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, DoH Chief Medical Officer 1992-98
  • Sir William Stewart, Chief Scientific Adviser 1990-95

These are the men who refused to ban the use of bovine tissue in medicines, vaccines or cosmetics despite warnings in 1989. (The only regulations are EU ones, which came into effect just this year.) These are the men who, throughout the ten years 1986-1996, repeatedly refused to order tests on whether the beef we ate came from diseased cattle.

These are the men who were told that mechanically recovered meat (which is put into a wide range of meat products) might contain spinal cord material - but who did nothing for the five years 1990-1995. They were told that abattoirs were disobeying the regulations on specified offal - but they ignored the matter for four crucial years 1991-1995.

Even now, there is no law that prevents cattle blood or gelatine (from cattle bones and skin) or tallow (from cattle fat) being fed back to cattle.

There is no law that prevents the brains of cattle aged up to six months being put into meat products for babies, children or adults - even though the government acknowledges that cows can pass BSE to their calves.

The Food Commission believes that the interests of the meat industry, and the industries that use bovine products, are still being put before consumers' health. Uncertain science is still used to justify risk-taking. Government spokesmen still misinterpret 'no evidence of risk' as 'evidence of no risk'.

Time after time, commercial and political convenience has taken precedence over consumer protection. When it comes to food contamination - with any suspected contaminant - the precautionary principle must prevail. Human life matters more than decorations and honours.