Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health, accused Ms Harman, his Labour shadow, of "ferreting around for party political advantage", while backbencher Tony Marlow was ordered by the Speaker to withdraw a shout of "stupid cow".
Ms Harman said the Government had dragged its feet throughout the BSE affair, delaying before taking action to make the disease notifiable, in banning animal protein, in requiring compulsory slaughter and compensation, and in banning bovine offal. "The roots of this crisis lie in the Government's repeated failures to take prompt and effective action to protect our food," she said in response to Mr Dorrell's latest statement on BSE.
"Instead, deregulation dogma fuelled by complacency has caused a nightmare scenario for consumers and farmers alike."
In less of an atmosphere of suppressed panic than last week, Mr Dorrell said that according to the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, children were "not likely to be more susceptible" to infection than adults. There was therefore no reason to advise schools to withdraw beef.
But Ms Harman said the Government should err on the side of caution on school meals. "Shouldn't Mr Dorrell say `better safe than sorry' - at least for the next nine months when we see whether there are any further cases."
Tory backbenchers charged Labour with "scaremongering" and said the party would be to blame if the British beef industry was destroyed.
Sir Anthony Grant, MP for Cambridgeshire SW, recommended publication of a list, based on statistical evidence, which, he said, would probably show that people had as much chance of winning the National Lottery - and a greater chance of being murdered - as getting CJD, the human equivalent of mad cow disease.
Mr Dorrell made repeated use of Seac's observation that "no human activity is without some risk". As a parent of a seven year-old and a three year- old himself, he understood that the risks associated with parenting were "many and various".He said. "I see absolutely no reason for any responsible citizen not to buy British beef or beef products of any kind in the shops today."
In a separate statement, Douglas Hogg, Minister for Agriculture, said that in the light of Seac's advice, McDonald's decision to ban British beef, was "not justified". He agreed with Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman, who said it was "absurd" for the burger giants to import beef which was not regulated and inspected to the same high standards as in Britain. MPs were told two cases of BSE had been reported in France.
Pressed on the possibility of slaughtering cattle and paying compensation to farmers, Mr Hogg said the important thing first of all was to try to restore confidence in the market. If that did not happen he anticipated he would have to come to the House with further proposals. "But that is not the position at the moment," he told MPs.Reuse content