22 October 2001
Beckett pressed on botched BSE tests

By Adrienne Francis

RURAL Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett is under pressure to make an emergency statement over the BSE-in-sheep testing fiasco.

Conservative MPs have accused Mrs Beckett of trying to hide the truth about tests in which cows brains were mistakenly tested instead of sheep.

Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Peter Ainsworth said Mrs Beckett should apologise and issue a statement about the safety of lamb products.

Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman Colin Breed said Mrs Beckett should make an emergency statement to the House of Commons.

She should outline what the government intends to do to allay consumer fears about potential BSE in sheep, he said.

The mix-up was revealed on the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs website at about 10.30pm last Wednesday (17 October)

Mrs Beckett told the Radio 4s Today programme on Saturday (20 October) that it was “perhaps in error” that she ordered its publication.

But the government had put the findings into the public domain as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the next day to hold a press briefing.

“I feel strongly confident that if we had we would have been accused of trying to bury the information altogether,” she said.

The Independent says the mistake threatens to set back the prospect of an authoritative opinion on whether lamb can harbour BSE.

The Daily Telegraph says Government Chief Scientist David King has been asked to review all the research on BSE and sheep.

According to the Daily Mail, Mrs Beckett ordered the late night publication of the news because she was nervous about the story leaking.

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