Britain 'conspired with Europe' on BSE crisis

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The Independent Online
The Minister of Agriculture, Douglas Hogg, yesterday rejected charges by the European Parliament that Britain failed to enforce a ban on feeding suspect offal to cattle and "blackmailed" the EU during its non-cooperation campaign.

The Parliament also enraged the European Commission with the report of its BSE inquiry in which Britain and the Commission were attacked for conspiring to fuel the beef crisis.

Reimer Boege, the German head of the parliamentary committee of inquiry, said Britain should be taken to court for failing to assist with his committee's investigation.

Mr Hogg had refused to give evidence, Mr Boege complained, and should face charges before the European Court of Justice for failing in its obligation to co-operate. But Mr Hogg yesterday accused some members of the committee of overreaching their powers by claiming the right to summon ministers from national governments.

"It is a misreading of the treaty. If they bring legal action of that kind they will lose it," he said. He rejected the report's criticism as "nonsense," but acknowledged that with hindsight more could have been done to stop the spread of BSE.

The Commission is accused of spreading "disinformation" in order to protect the single market in beef by preventing the covering up the seriousness of the BSE crisis. Senior Commission officials replied that the report was was "amateurish" and "batty".

"This is pure theatre. The Parliament's criticisms are unsubstantiated. The committee just wants publicity," said a senior aide to Commission President Jacques Santer. "What did the Parliament itself do to avert the crisis? The answer is 'very little'."

The parliamentary committee's report details the ways in which Britain was negligent in dealing with the spread of BSE and its inadequate attempts to prevent the spread into humans of the associated Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.

Although the Government banned the feeding of meat and bone meal to cows and sheep, it failed to prevent the meal getting into the feed due to inadequate control measures, and failed to punish firms for storing the meal, says the report.

Britain is accused of putting pressure on the Commission not inspect abbatoirs, and of packing EU veterinary committees with British officials in order to push the British case.

In series of sweeping statements, the report questions the "impartiality" of British officials, and accuses the Government of a "biased" reading of the advice and warnings of scientists. And in a move that will surprise many British observers, the report then accuses the European Commission of being in cahoots with Britain over mad cow disease. It says the Commission "tried to follow a policy of down-playing the problem which can, at certain moments, be interpreted as amounting to a policy of disinformation".

t At least 36 million burgers, sausages, pies and lasagnes are to be buried underground in landfill sites as a result of the BSE crisis, it was revealed last night. More than 150,000 cattle will also be disposed of in the same way, according to the board which is dealing with the problem.

Officials say there is no risk to the public in getting rid of the unwanted food in this way, but last night a member of the House of Commons' Environment Select Committee said the only really safe method was incineration.