Another BSE-sized disaster may strike, scientist warns

Another BSE-sized disaster may strike, scientist warns

June 14, 2001 Daily Mail (London) by Sean Poulter

NEW food disasters on a similar scale to BSE could emerge because of government secrecy and ignorance, it has been claimed.

One of the country's most respected food experts says a smokescreen has been thrown up to convince the public they have no need to worry.

But Professor Hugh Pennington says the issue remains in the hands of secretive committees and scientists with links to industry.

Concern over government secrecy was fuelled yesterday when farmers caught up in the foot-and-mouth epidemic revealed they have been asked to sign the Official Secrets Act.

The clause, which would have gagged farmers from discussing the disaster, was included in contracts covering the cleaning of infected premises.

Professor Pennington, based at Aberdeen University, said the inadequate handling of foot-and-mouth had many echoes of the BSE crisis, which had revealed scientific ignorance among senior civil servants and ministers.

He said the Government's scientific and veterinary service had been run down so badly that it became impossible to predict, identify and police the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

And he warned of worse to come, saying: 'Nobody knows when the next food-borne bugs will arrive, but it is certain they are evolving right now. I fear that without fundamental reform in the way policy makers get and use scientific advice there will be big trouble ahead.

'My gut feeling is that at the end of the day nothing less than root and branch reform of the civil service will do.'

The Ministry of Agriculture last night claimed that the attempt to get farmers to sign the Official Secrets Act was a mistake. It said the clause was sent out in a standard contract which had not been properly checked.

But that did not satisfy the Conservative spokesman for environment, food and rural affairs, Tim Yeo. 'The more we find out about the Government's behaviour during this crisis, the more sinister it seems,' he said.

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