Britain Hasn't Learned 'Mad
Cow' Lesson, Says Scientist
By Patricia Reaney

GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Just as Britain confirmed its 2,000th case of foot and mouth disease, a leading scientist said Tuesday the government had not learned the lessons of an earlier farming crisis -- mad cow disease.
Professor Malcolm Ferguson-Smith of Cambridge University told journalists that despite a two-year, $38 million inquiry into mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), important findings were not being followed.
``There is some evidence that one or two of the lessons have certainly not been learned,'' Ferguson-Smith said at a science conference.
Chief among them was a need for openness and consultations with independent scientists, he said.
``Lack of openness leads to public mistrust of government,'' he told the British Association science conference.
Ferguson-Smith, a veterinary pathologist, was one of the three members of the BSE inquiry committee, which produced a 3,200-page, 16-volume report.
He admitted it was formidable reading but said it contained important findings that should be looked at carefully.
The report, released last year, concluded that no institution or individual was to blame for the BSE crisis but it criticized poor coordination between government departments and secrecy based on a fear of causing public alarm.
Foot and mouth disease has led to the slaughter of more than 3.7 million animals and badly damaged Britain's tourism industry, but Ferguson-Smith said the government did not want another expensive inquiry and politicians do not want to arouse undue public anxiety.
Instead of a public inquiry along the lines of the BSE probe, three government committees looking into foot and mouth disease will be sitting in private.
Ferguson-Smith suggested government scientists should seek outside help and expertise if they need it. Many independent scientists who said they had tried to warn the government about BSE said they had been ignored.
``Government scientists can't be expected to be experts in everything and they should enlist help if they need it,'' he said.
``Experts should be recruited wherever they are found in the world,'' he added.
Up to 300 scientists are presenting research at the week-long science conference, which started Monday.


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