Hogg plan to contain BSE was vetoed

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The Independent Online
FORMER AGRICULTURE minister Douglas Hogg claimed yesterday that the Cabinet rejected his efforts to tighten government policy to prevent BSE being passed to humans, even after a link between the diseases emerged.

Giving evidence to the BSE inquiry in London, Mr Hogg, who was in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) from July 1995 until the 1997 election, described a crisis Cabinet meeting chaired by John Major at No 10 on 19 March 1996, the day before the link between "mad cow disease" and "new variant" Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nv-CJD) was publicly announced.

During the meeting, Mr Hogg said, he suggested a ban on the sale of any meat or food products made from cattle over two-and-a-half years old. This should have raised safety levels because animals with the disease take up to five years to show symptoms, which is when their tissues are most infective.

But he said his Cabinet colleagues "did not endorse my recommendations" and the measures announced the next day "fell short of what I regarded as desirable". The Government announced restrictions - rather than a ban - on meat from animals more than 30 months old.

But Mr Hogg added: "Most of my recommendations subsequently became, and remain, the central plank of government policy." In April 1996, the Government revised its stance and banned any use of meat or other products from cattle more than 30 months old.

At the time of the BSE crisis, Mr Hogg was frequently portrayed as ineffectual and Maff as pandering to farmers' interests. Yesterday he sought to present himself as having championed the interests of the consumer and the farming industry, but having been overruled when he wanted to take firmer measures earlier.

Mr Hogg also revealed that soon after he took office he had realised that the Government's measures to prevent potentially BSE-infected material passing into human food were not being observed by slaughterhouses. After visiting abattoirs and talking to slaughtermen - who told him they could not guarantee that infected material would not get into the food chain - Mr Hogg took "the firm view that I could not rest the public's health on controls within the abattoirs".

At the time he took charge of Maff, he believed that the risk of humans catching BSE was similar to the risks involved in "flying or catching a train". His written evidence to the inquiry suggests he held tightly to that view almost up to March 1996.

In it, he described a meeting in November 1995 with Sir Kenneth Calman, the then Chief Medical Officer, who had expressed worry over slaughterhouses' continuing flouting of the rules. This was allied to the surprising emergence of "sporadic" CJD (unconnected to BSE).

At that meeting Sir Kenneth said he was "less confident than a year ago that things were heading in the right direction."