ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  1 November 2000


Having betrayed its own citizens over BSE, the UK Government then betrayed the Third World (item 1 below).

When a deregulated, freebooting industrialised country is finally forced to protect its citizens, it seems it seeks recompense for its agribiz by exporting harm.

Quote from item 1:

‘A senior veterinary officer thought that there was nothing “morally indefensible” in exporting what was effectively  poison.’

As regards the new betrayal over GM crops - BSE mark II, the parallel is clear.  As Vandana Shiva and others have protested, US grain exports, unacceptable to European and other consumers becaus of GM contamination, are being purchaesd with public money and then offloaded on the world’s poor through designating tham as ‘aid’.
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Two BSE items:

1.    U.K. uses Third World to dump infected feed
2.    Gnawing at Phillips’ bones - Tim Lang

1.    U.K. uses Third World to dump infected feed -  The Hindu - 31 October 2000

“Not good enough for us? Give it to the Third World, they would love it.”

That seems to have been the line which dictated the British Government’s decision to dump vast quantities of cattle feed, suspected to be infected with mad cow (BSE) germs, on Third World countries after banning it for domestic use and export to European nations.

It was found to be too dangerous to feed the cattle in the U.K. and of course Europe was the First World - so it couldn’t be sent there. The only parts that could do with it were Asia, Africa and West Asia, and thus for eight years - from 1988 to 1996 - Britain continued to export the infected feed overriding expert opinion.

Quoting a BSE inquiry report, The Observer today reported that “tens of thousands of tonnes of potentially BSE-infected” cattle feed in the form of “meal and bonemeal” was offloaded on nearly a dozen countries, including Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Lebanon and Turkey.

During this period while exports to E.U. countries dropped to zero, there was a sharp increase in sales to the Third World. “No one knows how many cattle fed on the meal in those countries may now be incubating BSE,” the paper said. The decision to continue to sell the potentially lethal feed was taken despite the then Chief Medical Officer, Sir Donald Acheson, warning in 1991 that “we should take steps to prevent these U.K. products being fed to ruminants in other countries...  Unless such action is taken, the difficult problems we have faced with the BSE may well occur in other countries.

Britain, he cautioned, ran the risk of being seen as responsible for the introduction of the BSE to the food chain in other countries. According to the paper, there were differences even within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over whether it was morally right to export to countries what Britain regarded as dangerous for itself.

One of the two Ministers, Mr. John Gummer, said the Government had a moral obligation to ensure that the importing countries knew what they were being sold, while the other, Mr. John MacGregor apparently “disagreed”.

A senior veterinary officer thought that there was nothing “morally indefensible” in exporting what was effectively poison.  The possibility that BSE cases may have already occurred in these countries is not ruled out, and it is stated that just because no case has been officially reported, it does not mean all is well. [Entered October 31, 2000]
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2.    Gnawing at Phillips’ bones by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, Thames Valley University

Lord Phillips’ Report is a landmark, on a par with the Royal Commission set up to investigate food supply in time of war back in 1904. The Government is already reviewing the lessons. MAFF, I learn, is creating a StrategyUnit. Here is where it should start.

Firstly, MAFF needs to be either abolished or become a Ministry of Food.  Rural Affairs can stay in or go to Environment (DETR).

The Civil Service must change. The culture of watering down bad news must end. Ministers need to get the truth not what they want to hear. This should be in open and subject to dissenting voices.

Phillips is scathing about the system of expert scientific committees yet it’s the backbone on which Whitehall hangs.  Serve time; get a gong.  The national scientific base needs to be rebuilt. Food Standards Agency research budget needs another 0 added. BSE has already cost £6bn. That’s a lot of lost science.

Public health voices are weak. The Chief Medical Officer and Department of Health were already so marginal by the early 1980s that a token reform like the Consumer Panel set up in 1990 looked good but had marginal impact. It was a bolt-on extra, made lively only by Suzi Leather (now Deputy Chair at the FSA) and we knew so at the time. The CMO’s role and DoH need complete overhauls. If DoH is mostly concerned with healthcare, we need a new Public Health Agency to intervene for health.

Finally, a national debate must tussle over what Phillips called “philosophy”. We can either continue with intensive food and farming or, as the Swedes and others are doing, invest in better systems which are built on public and environmental health.  Currently, we judge food by its cheapness. Cheap food is actually expensive.

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