Scottish food bug strikes in England

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The Independent Online
The Government's handling of food safety was described as "appalling" yesterday as six more cases of E. coli poisoning were recorded in Scotland and a fresh - but unconnected - outbreak hit Lancashire.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, condemned the Tories' handling of food crises, particularly BSE, and called for the introduction of an American-style Food and Drugs Administration.

There were no more deaths yesterday in Lanarkshire, central Scotland, where E. coli food poisoning has claimed 10 lives, but the numbers of those thought to have been affected rose to 394.

Lanarkshire health officials said last night that a second butcher's shop has closed after a confirmed case of E.coli was linked to it. Butchers John Mulvaney, of New Stevenston, closed yesterday.

In Pendle, Lancashire, four children and two adults were confirmed as being infected with the E. coli 0157 bacterium, according to the East Lancashire Health Authority. An investigation was under way to discover the source. All those infected, including two girls under four years of age, were said to be improving in hospital.

As calls continued for a judicial public inquiry into the outbreak in Scotland, instead of the more formal and potentially limited fatal accident inquiry, Mr Ashdown launched a bitter attack on the Government.

The Liberal Democrat leader told the National Consumers' Council, in London, that problems with food would continue as long as responsibility for food safety and quality rested in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture, which also represented the interests of food producers. Labour, too, continued to call for a public inquiry, while Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, defended the fatal accident inquiries given the task of examining the infection in Lanarkshire.

The fatal accident inquiry, an independent judicial hearing, will take place in public but it cannot sit while criminal proceedings are being considered, or are underway. The second inquiry is to "examine the circumstances which led to the outbreak . . . and to advise on the implications for food safety."