10 September 1998
MAFF blocked cattle tracking scheme, BSE inquiry told

THE Ministry of Agriculture blocked the introduction of a computerised registry of British cattle seven years ago which could have shortened the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) epidemic.

Paul Bunyan, who was chief scientific adviser at the ministry, told the BSE inquiry in London that in February 1991 he supported plans for a National Cattle Data Centre. This could have recorded cattle ancestry, milk yields and any genetic evaluation.

The system would have made the task of tracking diseased cattle much easier. Computer records would also have helped to reduce fraudulent claims on milk subsidies, and possibly improved the cattle stock through genetic data.

The ministry rejected the idea despite the scheme also winning support from the Wilson committee – set up earlier in the year by the Milk Marketing Board and the National Cattle Breeders Association.

Mr Bunyan said the system was subsequently adopted in Northern Ireland. The Ulster system played a key part in winning the confidence of the European Union that the province was BSE-free earlier this year, because it showed that that the calves of BSE infected cattle had been culled.

The inquiry is expected to continue until next March.

The computerised cattle tracking scheme covering England, Scotland and Wales – the British Cattle Movement Service based at Workington, Cumbria – is due to start operations at the end of this month. In Northern Ireland, the beef export ban has already been lifted following the implementation of a certified-herd scheme.

  • The Times 10/09/98 page
  • The Independent 10/09/98 page 10
  • Financial Times 10/09/98 page 11 (News Digest)
  • The Guardian 10/09/98 page 12
  • The Daily Telegraph 10/09/98 page 11