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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
BSE Report: Ask Alex Kirby

The long-awaited report by the BSE inquiry has finally been made public.

Speaking in the House of Commons Agriculture Minister Nick Brown described BSE as a "national tragedy".

But although the then Conservative government gave incorrect advice to the public on BSE, ministers did not lie to the public, Mr Brown said.

Mr Brown has announced that a new national fund will be established for the care of victims of vCJD.

But should ministers and civil servants have done more at the time? Why did scientists fail to identify the potential problems earlier? How can we be sure this won't happen again? Have we learnt any lessons from BSE.

BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby answered a selection of your questions arising from the publication of the BSE report.

Due do technical difficulties we are unable to bring you video of this webcast. Please find a transcription of the highlights below.

Steve Johnson, UK: Fewer than 100 people out of a population of 50 million have so far died of CJD. Is there a crisis, or is it just a good story?

Alex Kirby: This is NOT a good story, it is an horrific story, an immensely tragic story for those unfortunate people who have been struck down with CJD, and their families.

As to the numbers of people who will contract new variant CJD we do not know for sure, but the estimate of the maximum number of possible cases is 136,000 people. CJD has a long incubation period and there may be many more cases still to come through - but there may be genetic reasons why some people succumb to the disease.

Gordon Welch: Is it known for definite that infected feed caused BSE?

Alex Kirby: It is now known beyond reasonable doubt that infected feed did lead to BSE. There are other theories but these have been to a greater or lesser degree discounted. So yes, infected feed is the most likely cause.

Lawrence, England:Do you think that for instance in France and Italy, an emphasis on high quality food produce has prevented a similar tragedy in those countries?

Alex Kirby: It is not true to say that other European countries have been unaffected by BSE. There is mounting evidence in France, for instance, that animal products were used in animal feeds, and there is growing alarm among French scientists at the number of BSE cases among cattle herds there. The fact that the Belgians were discovered puting dioxins in chicken feed, and the French were putting animal blood and used motor oil in animal feed rather demolishes Lawrence's case.

Eric McQuade, England: Having looked at the CJD statistics which quote the first case being in 1995, What consideration would the government give to my family when my own father died of this horrible disease in 1974!!?

Alex Kirby: A death from CJD in 1974 sounds likely to have been a case of classic CJD which for many years has claimed about one person in a million in the UK annually. But in the light of what the report says about the origins of BSE it is possible that cases of variant CJD were occurring before the first officially documented case in 1995.

Graham Lerant, UK: Will everyone who lives in the UK be offered compensation for being exposed to this protein? The government clearly failed in its 'duty of care' and has breached everyone's right to live without fear.

Alex Kirby: The government is not offering compensation in the UK for being exposed to the fear of dying from variant CJD - even if the largest projected number, 136,000, falls victim to the disease, most of the British population will still emerge unscathed. We face other threats and fears including war and asteroid strike - for which we receive no compensation.

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