BSE bill to rise beyond pounds 4.2bn

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THE MINISTRY of Agriculture was attacked by MPs yesterday for failing to curb the cost of the BSE crisis, which will rise to pounds 4.2bn and is likely to go higher. Taxpayers face the "daunting prospect"of having to pay for dealing with mad cow disease for another 15 years, the all- party Public Accounts Select Committee warned.

The cattle slaughter has left a massive backlog in meat disposal, forcing the taxpayer to continue to bear most of the cost of storage. The European Union is contributing, but still had pounds 122m outstanding by the beginning of this year, the MPs said.

They acknowledged that Ministry of Agriculture officials, under the Tory government, had been under "extreme pressure" to take action quickly. But the high prices paid to abattoirs and renderers could have been reduced by more vigorous negotiation or the application of clawback arrangements, they said.

MRI brain scans could one day be used to identify people with the human form of mad cow disease, it was reported yesterday. At present a less than 100 per cent definite diagnosis can be made while a person is alive by examining a piece of surgically removed brain tissue.

t Britain faces a food poisoning epidemic of "cataclysmic" proportions unless farmers reduce the number of antibiotics in livestock, the Advisory Committee on Microbial Safety of Food warned yesterday.