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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
BSE report 'whitewash' denied

The judge who headed the inquiry into BSE today denied that his report was a "whitewash".

At a news conference to launch the report's publication, Lord Phillips said the inquiry had identified "shortcomings" by individuals and in administrative and legislative structures.

He said the principle reason for the report was "fact finding not fault finding" and what lessons could be learned for the future.

"I don't think we have pulled our punches and I don't believe this report is a whitewash," he said.

"Most of those who have been criticised in the report have been criticised notwithstanding the fact that they were doing a good job.

"BSE imposed demands on officials who already were working at full stretch. "

A false impression was conveyed that BSE was no risk to humans

Lord Phillips

He said it was those who were working hardest to tackle BSE who were the most likely to make a mistake.

"It is not our job to decide whether heads should roll,", he said

Lord Phillips said the workings of government had been subjected to a public scrutiny "without precedent".

He said that for the first six months after Government scientists had identified the disease, they did not inform the public for fear that it would cause anxiety and damage British trade.

"After this there was no concealment of information", he added.

Sound policy decisions

He said the system of public administration had "emerged with credit" from the report.

"Sound policy decisions were taken both with a view to eradicating the animal disease and with a with view to protecting humans," he said.

"Feeding animal offal to cattle was banned, any animal with BSE was slaughtered and destroyed and guidance was given on occupational risks.

BSE report
Lord Phillips denied the BSE report was a "whitewash"

"These precautions were taken at a time when most scientists thought it very unlikely the disease could be transmitted to humans."

However, Lord Phillips stressed the government had failed to give the public a "balanced picture about risk".

"A false impression was conveyed that BSE was no risk to humans," he added.

He said relations between the Departments of Health and Agriculture were not adequate at the beginning of the crisis and there was a failure to appreciate that it only needed tiny particles of material to transmit the disease.

Inadequate precautions were taken to prevent contamination of animal feed at the renderers and in feed mills and there was a lack of urgency at the beginning of the crisis.

He said that he did not believe that earlier action by the Government could have prevented the epidemic.

Chain letter

Thousands of cattle had already been infected by the disease by the time it had been identified by scientists, he stressed.

"Unknown to anybody, the disease was spreading very widely like a chain letter, before it was identified," he said.

"By this time there were already thousands and thousands of cattle infected and nobody realised this - and at the same time people were eating cattle."

He said that if the information had been made available from the outset, it could have led to precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease being implemented at an earlier stage.

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26 Oct 00 | UK
Public 'misled' on BSE
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