Medical chief forced to say beef was safe

30 October 1998

Medical chief ‘forced to say beef was safe’

THE Governments most senior medical officer at the height of the BSE epidemic claimed yesterday (Thursday) that he was forced to make statements about the safety of British beef.

Sir Donald Acheson, chief medical officer at the Department of Health between 1983 and 1991, said he was pressured into saying that beef could be eaten safely by everyone.

He accused the Ministry of Agriculture of secrecy in failing to inform him about the BSE outbreak and the crucial scientific research that could have a bearing on its potential transmission to humans.

Sir Donald, in written evidence to the inquiry, explained how he came under pressure in May 1990 to say that British beef was safe following the announcement that a cat had been diagnosed with a BSE-like condition.

He wanted to wait a day for a meeting of the Governments spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee but was told that a statement had to be made immediately saying British beef was safe.

Sir Donald said he regretted using the word safe without qualification because it implied for the public “zero risk”.

He detailed several areas of tension with the Ministry of Agriculture over BSE, such as the delay in telling him about the cattle epidemic for six months. He also criticised the Ministry in delaying the publication of evidence which linked BSE with infected cattle feed and the practice of continuing to export the feed despite it being banned at home.

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