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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 15:27 GMT
UK condemns BSE secrecy
Inspections of meat
The response is being released for public discussion
Major steps are being taken to improve the handling of health scares, the government has said after admitting a lack of openness over the possible risks of BSE.

In its first formal response to Lord Phillips' report into the crisis, it said public confidence in food safety had plummeted in the wake of the scandal and only drastic steps could restore it.

The 102-page response sets out plans to change the "culture of secrecy in Whitehall" and rebuild faith in food safety.

Lord Phillips
Lord Phillips: Ministers failed to gauge the BSE threat
It also confirms that no serving officials are to face disciplinary action over their handling of the crisis.

Lord Phillips' 17-volume report, published last October, criticised ministers and civil servants for failing to be open about the possibility of BSE spreading to humans.

The government says major moves are being made to ensure lessons are learnt from the scandal, but accepts that further training is needed and that changes in behaviour among civil servants are still required.

"The whole approach and behaviour of departments and individuals will need to change to ensure that the lessons identified by the inquiry are properly absorbed and implemented," the reports says.

Lessons learned

"A balance needs to be struck between intervening too much, forgoing benefits and stifling people's freedom of action, and failing to help protect them sufficiently from actual or potential hazards."

It says the new Food Standards Agency (FSA) is now giving the public independent and straight forward advice about BSE.

Commenting on the response, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the BBC that public health advice will be given to the public in a different way in the future.

"Firstly, we must trust the public," he said.

"If there is scientific advice available to the government on which decisions are to be made, that scientific advice must be put into the public domain.

'Culture of openness'

"We are going to set out to explain risk better, but keeping secrets is not the way to do it. We need to have a culture of openness and the advice that comes to government has to be assessed independently.

"That is the purpose of the independent scientific advice committees and the FSA, which not only meets in public but gives its advice to the government in public."

The official response focuses on a number of key areas for improvement, including science and governments, and examines the way ministers obtain scientific advice and how it is used in taking policy decisions.

Animal incinerator
More than 170,000 UK cattle have been diagnosed with BSE
It also looks at openness and what the government is doing "to generate greater public trust in its handling of food safety and related issues".

It is not the government's final word on the lessons learned - it is an interim response being released for public discussion, ahead of a Commons debate on BSE next week.

More than 94 families have been affected by vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease, and the government has agreed interim compensation for them.

In the UK, more than 170,000 cattle have been diagnosed with BSE, compared with about 1,400 in other European countries such as France, Ireland, Portugal and Germany.

Concern is now growing across Europe and the European Commission has been urged to launch an investigation into the discovery of German beef containing spinal cord in Northern Ireland.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Lord Philips said that the public had been mislead over the dangers of BSE
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"The Ministry of Agriculture supported Lord Philips's call for more openness"
The BBC's Tom Heap
"It's now accounted for the death of over 100,000 cows"




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09 Feb 01 | N Ireland
30 Jan 01 | N Ireland
05 Jan 01 | Europe
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