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Government powerless against food scare stories, says Cunningham

26 March 1998
Government ‘powerless’ against food scare stories, says Cunningham

THE Government is powerless to stop people making unfounded comments about farming practices or the food industry, agriculture minister Dr Jack Cunningham said today (Thursday).

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Government powerless against food scare stories, says Cunningham

26 March 1998
Government ‘powerless’ against food scare stories, says Cunningham

By Boyd Champness

THE Government is powerless to stop people making unfounded comments about farming practices or the food industry, agriculture minister Dr Jack Cunningham said today (Thursday).

Speaking to the House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee, Dr Cunningham said it was “difficult for Government to deal with people” who intentionally or unintentionally caused public scares with their comments about bad farming or food-handling practices.

Dr Cunningham was referring to Prof Richard Laceys comments at the BSE inquiry that thousands of BSE-infected cattle had been buried on farms — hiding the true extent of the crisis.

“Our [MAFFs] vets and inspectors are on farms day in and day out and they dont have any evidence of this. And whats more, people making these allegations also have no evidence to back them up,” said Dr Cunningham.

He said that if people had evidence of farmers burying BSE-infected cows on their farms, it was their duty to report it to MAFF but, at this stage, no one had come forward.

Quizzed about the future role of the Food Standards Agency, Dr Cunningham disputed the Committees concerns that the consumer lobby was not taking enough interest in the setting-up of the agency

Dr Cunningham said the FSA White Paper had attracted over 1000 responses — many of them from the consumer lobby, not just from industry.

MP Mark Todd said the public was very sceptical about the FSAs independence, considering the bulk of its staff will be made up of civil servants from the departments of agriculture and health.

He continually asked Dr Cunningham if he would rule out giving the FSAs leadership role to a civil servant, and make sure the successful applicant had past dealings with consumer groups, in a bid to restore confidence in the food industry.

But Dr Cunningham repeatedly said the job description for the FSAs chief executive position had not been finalised yet, and it would be wrong for him to exclude anyone at this stage.

He said if he only considered people who had past dealing with consumer groups, it would narrow the field immensely.

Sound business acumen, exceptional management skills and the ability of the chief executive to gain the respect and confidence of his staff were more important attributes, he said.

  • Farmers are burying BSE-infected cattle — Lacey, FWi, 18 March – Click here

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