A safe pair of hands? Edwina Currie launches egg safety code


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Indy Politics

Edwina Currie, the former Health minister who once nearly bankrupted Britain’s egg producers, has been chosen to promote the new version of the red British Lion, which tells you that an egg is safe to eat.

Twenty-five years ago, her name was enough to render any poultry farmer splenetic when, by campaigning about the dangers of salmonella, she caused the biggest dip in UK egg consumption since the Second World War.

However, her new role as a promoter of the British Lion makes sense since no one has ever made more waves campaigning about safety standards in the egg industry.

Anxiety over salmonella came to a head on 3 December 1988 when junior Health minister Ms Currie told ITN News: “Most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now infected with salmonella.”

Consumers interpreted this as “most eggs” rather than “most egg production”. Consumption dropped 50 per cent almost overnight, 400 million eggs were dumped and four million birds culled. Ms Currie became so well known that many people, wrongly, assumed she must be a Cabinet minister. Her comments prompted a furious backlash, with the British Egg Industry Council threatening to sue, and Tory MPs from farming constituencies demanding her resignation.

She quit on 16 December, and never returned to government. She was offered a middle ranking post by John Major in 1991, but rejected it. A decade later, she revealed that she and Mr Major were former lovers and she felt betrayed that she was not offered a Cabinet job.

After losing her Commons seat in 1997, she carved out a career in radio and as an author of political pot-boilers. She has always defended her role in the salmonella furore. Recently, she said: “I was worried that by the following summer, 1989, we would have our hospitals full of seriously ill people, so I went public ... 

“I never said ‘Don’t eat eggs’. The scientific advice was that they were all right if you cooked them. The following week, six million people did not buy eggs and all hell broke loose. Do I have any regrets? No I don’t, because I was more worried about the health of people than of chickens.”