7 June 2002

Disease probe valid – Krebs

SIR John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, managed to pre-empt an expected attack over recent statements on a theoretical link between scrapie and BSE.

He admitted to delegates that some in the food industry were nervous about how the FSA exposed issues to the public gaze but, if they looked back, the opposite of openness did not work.

Transparency was essential to restore consumer confidence, he said. The agency had to be prepared to say that there was uncertainty, what was and was not known, what was being done to find answers, and what was the best advice in the meantime.

"There cannot be guaranteed absolute safety," admitted Sir John. "Like everything in life food carries risks. In the case of the theoretical link between BSE and sheep all the tests have been negative."

But the FSAs sheep stakeholder group felt it was necessary to recommend short, medium and long-term measures, including not using sheep intestine. Consumers were not being advised to stop eating lamb, he pointed out.

There was no evidence that imported foods were substantially less safe than those produced in the UK, he told the meeting. But he agreed that consumers had a right to demand labels showing country of origin and not where a product was processed or packed.

Brynle Williams, who led the fuel protests, accused Sir John and fellow scientists of scare mongering, and of trying to justify their jobs by searching for BSE in sheep.

Alan Gardner, chairman of the FUWs livestock committee, claimed that the total bill for making sheep intestines a specific risk material would be over £13m and this would be passed down to producers. It seemed that scientists were determined to keep searching for BSE in sheep until they found it, he added.

John Krebs defended recent statements on BSEand sheep.