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MAFF was over-confident on BSE health risk

14 July 1998
MAFF was ‘over-confident’ on BSE health risk

THE Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) was over-confident that BSE would not infect humans, former deputy chief medical officer, Jeremy Metters, told the inquiry into the disease, yesterday.

He claimed MAFF was planning to issue a “hyperbole of reassurances” in a leaflet on the “facts” of BSE just weeks before 20 March, 1996, when ministers told the public there was a link between the disease and human deaths through eating infected beef.

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MAFF was over-confident on BSE health risk

14 July 1998
MAFF was ‘over-confident’ on BSE health risk

THE Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) was over-confident that BSE would not infect humans, former deputy chief medical officer, Jeremy Metters, told the inquiry into the disease, yesterday.

He claimed MAFF was planning to issue a “hyperbole of reassurances” in a leaflet on the “facts” of BSE just weeks before 20 March, 1996, when ministers told the public there was a link between the disease and human deaths through eating infected beef.

In a written statement he said he was “very uneasy” about the relative lack of urgency and interest in research into BSE as early as 1990. He claimed MAFF officials had different perceptions of the possible risk to humans or the need to ask the question “what if we have got it wrong?”

He said the ministry had given no clue that precautions introduced from 1989 to protect the human food chain had not been effective.

The Daily Telegraph reports on evidence from former government scientist Harash Narang, a microbiologist who claimed he had been “mentally tortured” by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), where he worked.

He claimed civil servants had tried to protect the farming industry and officials and tried to stop him expounding theories about the origins and impact of BSE on animals and people. At one stage he was told that Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time, would “have his head on a plate” if she did not like what he said about his theories in a BBC radio interview.

The Independent reports Narang claimed his work was destroyed by government officials when he could have established a link between BSE and “new variant” Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans six years before the connection was confirmed. He has filed a High Court law suit against the PHLS.

The Guardians G2 supplement carries an article on the origins of BSE by Martin Brookes, science writer and author of a book on genetics.

  • The Guardian 14/07/98 page 4 (main paper), page 9 (G2)
  • The Daily Telegraph 14/07/98 page 10
  • The Independent 14/07/98 page 6

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