British Government Handed
Official Report On
Mad Cow Crisis
LONDON (AFP) - A commission of enquiry on Monday handed the government a 16-volume report on the causes and responsibilities for the outbreak of Britain's mad cow disease, which has led to the death of 75 people and the destruction of 4.3 million cows.
The report was not expected be released to the public before the end of the month, but it will likely name names and single out those who failed to react properly to the outbreak.
The BBC said Sunday the document would heavily criticise former Conservative ministers and civil servants for their lack of action in failing to prevent the spread of the disease.
The board, whose two and a half year enquiry cost some 27 million pounds (40 million dollars, 45.2 million euros), heard over 600 witnesses and reviewed thousands of pages of government files.
Headed by Lord Phillips, a leading judge, the commission was set up to look into the history of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, and the way it was handled by authorities.
The board of enquiry paid particular attention to the 10 years from 1986, when research first pointed to the problem, to 1996, when the government finally acknowledged the link between BSE and a new variant of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), which is deadly to humans.
Most crucially, the board has looked at when and how much government officials were aware of, and if there was a potentially fatal delay between realising the link between the two illnesses and informing the public.
At one stage, then agriculture minister John Gummer allowed the press to take photographs of his four-year-old daughter eating a hamburger in a bid to convince public opinion there was no link between BSE and vCJD.
Britain is the country worst hit by BSE and vCJD.
To date, at least 75 people have died of the illness and seven more have been diagnosed with it. People with vCJD suffer jerky movements, forgetfulness, dementia and finally death.
Scientists disagree as to the likely number of future victims, but a team from Oxford University suggested "between 63,000 and 136,000 cases" could be diagnosed over the next 40 years.
"There is no magic wand in the report," a spokeswoman for the board of enquiry said.
"But we hope there are things people will think about and act on for years to come. There are lessons to be learned," she added.
The report was handed over to Agriculture Minister Nick Brown and Health Secretary Alan Milburn.
Meanwhile, the families of some victims have called for ministers and high-ranking officials to be stripped of their pensions for failing to prevent the crisis.
David Churchill, whose 19-year-old son Stephen died from variant CJD in May 1995, said: "Incompetence should be punished."
The press has recently suggested that ministers have been briefed to avoid admitting any government blame for the BSE crisis in order not to open the floodgates to compensation claims potentially running into billions of pounds.
Fears of links between the diseases prompted the European Union to impose a worldwide embargo on British beef exports in 1996.
It was only lifted in early August last year after the European Commission declared itself satisfied with measures to eradicate BSE from the human food chain. France, however, has kept a ban on imports in place.
The number of BSE cases is on the decline in Britain but cases of vCJD are on the increase, according to a recent government report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
It said an average 30 cases of BSE had been detected per month in herds in 1999, against 1,000 each month in 1993.

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