Tory ministers named in critical BSE report

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A list of Tory ministers and their advisers who have been criticised by the BSE inquiry was given to the Government yesterday, along with the rest of the 16-volume report into the scandal of "mad cow" disease.

A list of Tory ministers and their advisers who have been criticised by the BSE inquiry was given to the Government yesterday, along with the rest of the 16-volume report into the scandal of "mad cow" disease.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the inquiry's chairman, handed the report to the Government after an exhaustive 30-month investigation into the events surrounding bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (v-CJD).

All those reproached in the report have been warned about potential criticisms, but none of them has been told specifically that their name will be included in the official list of people whose actions are deemed to have been erroneous, inappropriate or inadequate.

An inquiry spokeswoman said the criticisms would not be for trivial matters but would focus on decisions that had an important impact on the way the BSE story unfolded.

The inquiry was allowed to base its criticisms only on knowledge that was available at the time a decision was made, and it has been allowed the benefit of hindsight to explain the circumstances of BSE's emergence as a reality and a threat to human health.

Former Conservative agriculture ministers are expected to be in the main line of fire in the report, which coversthe period from the mid-Eighties - when BSE was first identified - to 20 March 1996, when the Tory government admitted for the first time that therewas a link between BSE and v-CJD.

John MacGregor, the Minister of Agriculture between 1987 and 1989, was ultimately responsible for the decision not to pay farmers full compensation for BSE-infected cattle - a decision that is thought to have led to infected animals being sold for human consumption until full compensation was offered in 1990.

Mr MacGregor's successor, John Gummer, an enthusiastic promoter of beef, is also expected to be criticised for not accepting the possible health risks of BSE. Mr Gummer notoriously fed a beefburger to his daughter, Cordelia, to demonstrate that beef was safe even for children's consumption.

Officials responsible for enforcing measures to protect the human food chain from BSE are also likely to be criticised. Five years after bovine offal was banned, it was being found on dressed carcasses destined for butchers' shops.

During 138 days of hearing evidence, the inquiry interviewed 630 witnesses and took more than 1,200 written statements, including some from senior officials such as Sir Donald Acheson, Chief Medical Officer between 1983 and 1991, who said in May 1990 that it was safe for people to eat beef.

Tensions that arose between the Department of Health (DoH) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) are likely to come under critical scrutiny in the report. Health officials claimed that Maff often kept them in the dark about BSE and played down the importance of ensuring that slaughterhouses followed rules on keeping bovine offal out of the human food chain.

The inquiry was also told that officials from the DoH were wary of a ban on specified bovine offal (SBO) in case it sparked a health scare about pharmaceutical products and vaccines made from bovine serum. It was told that the ban on SBO was eventually prompted by the pet food industry, which wanted to protect cats and dogs from BSE.

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