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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any plans to add to his previous statement on bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the light of recent events.

The wide-ranging measures adopted by the Government have been based on the best scientific expertise available. These experts concluded that the risk to humans is remote but action has been taken:

  • 1. To slaughter and destroy all affected cattle so that no part can enter the human food chain;
  • 2. Specified offals, including the brain and spinal chord, must be removed from healthy cattle slaughtered for human consumption.
  • 3. Banning of the use of these offals as food or in food products.
  • The removal and banning for food of these offals is a precautionary measure which goes beyond the scientific advice. These actions fully protect the public from what is a remote and theoretical risk.The situation is, however, being kept under constant review and hence the committee under Dr. Tyrrell has been constituted as a permanent committee to examine new information and concerns and to ensure that the advice on which the Government act is kept fully up to date.A major research programme has been in progress since the disease was first identified in 1986. More than £2 million has already been spent. A further £12 million has been allocated to projects, devised on the basis of advice from the Tyrrell committee, for the next three years. All the results of this research will be made publicly available.The source of the disease has been cut off with the ban, from July 1988, on the feeding of ruminant material to ruminants. Because of the long incubation period, cases will continue to occur for some years. We intend to eradicate this disease in cows but this will obviously take time. In the meantime the action taken demonstrates the Government's absolute commitment to protecting and reassuring the public.Local education authorities can therefore continue to provide beef in school meals with complete confidence. As the Minister responsible for food safety for the whole nation, I reiterate that British beef is perfectly safe to eat. This is the view not only of our top scientists but also of European Community experts.

    The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is committed to making public all the information that we have about these matters. That is why we gave out the information about the one cat (out of Britain's 7 million) diagnosed as having an encephalopathy. There is nothing to link that encephalopathy with BSE or scrapie, or to suggest that it is transmissible. However, we were determined that all this should be in the public domain and we shall continue our investigations, the results of which will also be announced.