26 October 2001



Fiasco. There can be no other word to sum up the sorry saga of the governments botched BSE research. Back in August, FARMERS WEEKLY asked: What more muddles has the government in store for British farmers? (Opinion, Aug 10). Little did we expect a muddle of such monumental proportions.

Even allowing for governments accident-prone nature when it comes to farming, its difficult to grasp the enormity of the mistakes made by government scientists, ministers and officials. For four years the scientists tested the brains of cows for BSE in the belief they were examining the brains of sheep.

Or perhaps not. Even now there is no certainty which animals supplied the brain samples. Despite doubts, as far back as last August, the scientists blundered on, confident in the knowledge they knew how to tell the difference between cows and sheep.

The £217,000 frittered away on garbage science, although bad enough, is perhaps the least of the damage done. More costly blows have been dealt to the credibility of government scientists and the reputation of British testing procedures.

Late last week, the fate of Britains 40m sheep hung in the balance. If the botched research had linked BSE to sheep, the government had threatened to slaughter the national flock.

Meanwhile, it could be at least another two years before scientists can prove that there is no link between BSE in cows and sheep. Whatever funding is necessary should be devoted to validating tests, currently being developed, that can distinguish between BSE and scrapie. Also more money should be made available to stamp out scrapie. The move would quell any suggestion that the disease is masking BSE and promote resistance to scrapie and BSE.

Until that happens, the government scientists responsible and their political masters should hang their heads in shame every time they see a cow or a sheep – assuming, that is, they can recognise them.

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