BSE: Chief vet didnt consider risks

26 October 2000

BSE: Chief vet didnt consider risks

By Alistair Driver

The governments former chief veterinary officer failed to give proper consideration to the risk to human health from BSE, says the report into the crisis.

The 16-volume report is heavily critical of Keith Meldrum, who served as the Ministry of Agricultures Chief Veterinary Officer from 1988 to1997.

It says Mr Meldrum did not give proper consideration to the risk of cross-contamination in feed mills after bovine protein was banned from feed in 1988.

Mr Meldrum should have given more rigorous thought about the implementation of the feed ban at the time it was imposed.

The spread of BSE is widely blamed on bovine protein which continued to get into animal feed, and hence the human food chain, after it was banned.

Mr Meldrum is also criticised for telling former agriculture minister John Gummer in 1990 that a cat with feline BSE was unlikely to be connected to BSE.

Contrary to expectations, Mr Gummer and other Conservative ministers who presided over the BSE crisis largely escaped individual criticisms in the report.

John MacGregor, agriculture minister between 1987 and 1989, was commended by the report for introducing the ban on “specified bovine offal”.

But the report criticises him for presenting the ban in a way which played down its importance as a protection for human health.

There were no harsh words in the report for Richard Packer, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture from 1993 to February 2000.

Mr Packer, who some commentators expected would be criticised, retired earlier this year after serving six agriculture ministers since 1993.

However the report does criticised the Southward Working Party, set up in 1988, for failing to point out the full risks to human health of BSE.

The working party should have pointed out the possible risk to the human food chain from cattle incubating BSE, says the report.

Lord Phillips, who chaired the BSE Inquiry, pointed out that the criticisms of those mentioned in a special annex to the report must be set in context.

He wrote: “Those who were most active in addressing the challenges of BSE are those most likely to have made mistakes”.

BSE report coverage, 26 October, 2000:

See more