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No-one disciplined over UK BSE crisis

No-one disciplined over UK BSE crisis

LONDON, England -- No officials are to be disciplined over the way the mad cow crisis was handled in Britain, the country's Labour government has said.

The statement came in the government's first response to an inquiry last October which criticised officials for consistently playing down the risk to humans of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The British reaction contrasts sharply with Germany where two government ministers have resigned following the confirmation of the first BSE cases there last autumn.

The report, published on Friday, admits the public was kept in the dark and has promised greater openness in future.

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It says public confidence in food safety has plummeted since the BSE crisis and changes must be made in the way any similar situations are handled in future.

More than 80 people in Britain have died from new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human form of mad cow disease.

It is not known many more people may be infected. There is no treatment or cure for the brain-wasting illness.

British scientists, who first warned of the dangers of eating beef, have accused officials of a cover-up and claimed that lives could have been saved if someone had listened to them.

The BSE crisis has spread across Europe  

But Agriculture Minister Nick Brown defended the decision not to discipline anyone for the mistakes made.

"I don't think it will rebuild public trust by scapegoating people for what happened in the past," he told Sky television news.

The government, focused on "putting things right for the future," and had already sought to rebuild trust by setting up the Food Standards Agency, he said.

The BSE crisis broke under a previous Conservative government. But while the 1997 election brought in a new Labour administration, many civil servants are still in place.

The German ministers resigned last month after criticism of the way they handled the outbreak of mad cow disease.

Health Minister Andrea Fischer said she was stepping down because people had lost faith in her ministry.

Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke quit when a series of measures aimed at cracking down on the disease were announced and then withdrawn after he complained he had not been consulted.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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UK Food Standards Agency
Human BSE Foundation
World Health Organisation: BSE and vCJD factsheets

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