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FARM ministers and MAFFs most senior civil servant were not informed about the discovery and spread of BSE until seven months after the disease was first identified by government scientists.
At the BSE inquiry this week, Sir Michael Franklin, permanent secretary at MAFF in the 1980s, said he first learned of the disease when he saw a copy of the Chief Veterinary Officers minute to the Parliamentary Secretary on June 5, 1987. BSE was first identified at the Central Veterinary Laboratory in November 1986.
By the time of Sir Michaels discovery, CVL had already received 65 reports of BSE.
A meeting then took place on June 10, 1987 to discuss the implications of the "newly identified bovine neurological disorder, BSE, and agree a course of action to investigate any possible links with human disorders," he said. It took another year before MAFF made BSE notifiable.
Sir Michael said he had no criticism of the CVL at the time and thought it was highly professional in its handling of the disease. During his time at MAFF he said he could not point the finger at any weakness in the chain and was not unduly concerned. "There was no reason to raise an alarm," he told the inquiry, adding: "We left the scientific mystery up to the scientists."
MAFF refused to comment this week on why there was such a delay before Sir Michael and ministers were told of the unfolding BSE epidemic.