More openness in food safety is the promise

3 November 2000

More openness in food safety is the promise

A NEW era of transparency and openness in food safety has been promised to consumers in the wake of the BSE inquiry report.

Lord Phillips report, published last week (Oct 26), criticised the culture of secrecy and misinformation that underpinned the crisis between 1986 and 1996.

It said MAFF officials concealed information in the six months after they knew about BSE and often appeared unwilling to risk jeopardising beef sales.

There was inadequate liaison between MAFF and the Department of Health, while officials and ministers failed to give a balanced picture of the risks of BSE, the report says. The public felt "betrayed" when a probable link between BSE and vCJD was revealed in 1996.

The Food Standards Agency, set up this year to provide an objective assessment of food risk, responded with a promise of greater transparency and openness.

FSA chairman, Sir John Krebs, pledged that "never again will vital information on food safety risks be withheld from the public".

The agency announced it has awarded a three-year £350,000 research contract to Manchester and Leeds Business Schools to help it communicate with the public about food safety.

The inquiry report also criticised the Meat and Livestock Commission for potentially misleading comments it made on the safety of beef in the 1990s.

An MLC spokesman said moves are already under way to improve the way that it communicates with the public.

"We put proposals into MAFF during the inquiry outlining a number of ways we can strengthen consumer transparency," he said.

The MLC was accused in the inquiry report of making statements in 1990 exaggerating the safety of British beef that "were capable of misleading". It was also criticised for allowing hyperbole to displace accuracy in a 1995 advertising campaign.

Colin Maclean, who had been MLC technical director in 1990 and director general from 1992 to 1999, was singled out for criticism in both cases.

Commission chairman, Don Curry, defended Mr Maclean, who "was in the frontline for the MLC in dealing with the crisis". He said the commission has always based its actions on the best scientific advice available. &#42

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