20 March 1996

Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health today made the following statement to the House of Commons:

"With permission, Madam Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the latest advice which the Government has received from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committed The House will be awake that this Committee which is chaired by Professor John Pattison was established in 1990 to bring together leading experts in neurology, epidemiology and microbiology to provide scientifically based advice on the implications for animal and human health of different forms of spongiform encephalopathy.

The Committee provides independent advice to government. Its members are not Government scientists; they are leading practitioners in their field and the purpose of the Committee is to provide advice not simply to Government, but to the whole community on the scientific questions which arise in its field. The Government has always made it clear that is our policy to base our decisions on the scientific advice provided by the advisory committee The Committee has today agreed new advice about the implications for animal and human health of the latest scientific evidence. Copies of the Committee's advice, together with a statement front the Chief Medical Officer which is based on that advice, have been placed in the Vote Office.

The Committee has considered the work being done by the Government Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh which specialises in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This work, which relates to the 10 cases of CJD which have been identified in people aged under 42, has led the Committee to conclude that the unit has identified a previously unrecognised and consistent disease pattern. A review of patients' medical histories, genetic analysis, ant consideration of other possible causes have failed to explain these cases adequately. There remains no scientific proof that BSE can be transmitted to man by beef, but the Committee have concluded that the most likely explanation at present is that these cases are linked to exposure to BSE before the introduction of the specified bovine offal ban in 1989. Against the background of this new finding the Committee has today agreed the series of recommendations which the Government is making public this afternoon.

The Committee's recommendations fall into two parts.

Firstly, they recommend a series of measures to further reduce the risk to human and animal health associated with BSE. My Rt Hon Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be making a statement about those measures which fall within his Department's responsibilities immediately after questions on this Statement have been concluded.

In addition the Committee recommended that there should be urgent consideration of what further research is needed in this area and that the Health and Safety Executive and the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens should urgently review their advice. The Government intends to accept all the recommendations of the Advisory Committee in full; they will be put into effect as soon as possible.

The second group of recommendations from the Committee offers advice about food safety on the assumption that the further measures recommended by the Committee are implemented.. On that basis the Committee has concluded that the risk from eating beef . now likely to be extremely small and there is no need for it to revise its advice on the safety of milk.

The Chief Medical Officer will be writing today to all doctors to ensure that the latest scientific evidence is drawn to their attention. In the statement by the Chief Medical Officer which we have placed in the Vote Office, Sir Kenneth Calman poses to himself the question whether he will continue to eat beef. I quote his answer. "I will do so as part of a varied and balanced diet. The new measures and effective enforcement of existing measures will continue to ensure that the likely risk of developing CID is extremely small."

A particular question has arisen about the possibility that children are more at risk of contracting CJD. There is at present no evidence for age sensitivity and the scientific evidence for the risks of developing CJD in those eating meat in childhood has not changed as a result of these new findings. However, parents will be concerned about implications for their children and I have asked the Advisory Committee to provide specific advice on this issue following its next meeting.

Any further measures that the Committee recommend will be give the most urgent considerations As the Government has repeatedly made clear, new scientific evidence will be communicated to the public as soon as it becomes available."

Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell MP

Party: Conservative
Constituency: Charnwood
Majority: 5,900

Career outside Parliament

Uppingham School
Brasenose College, Oxford

Personal Assistant to Peter Walker MP in Worcester at Feb 1974 General Election
Director of Family Industrial Clothing Firm 1975-87

Chair of the Millenium Commission 1994-95

Parliamentary Career

Contested Hull East Oct 1974
MP for Loughborough 1979-97
MP for Charnwood 1997-

PPS to Sec of State for Energy 1983-87
Assistant Govt Whip 1987-88
Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury (ie Govt Whip) 1988-90
Parl U-Sec of State for Health 1990-92
Financial Secretary to Treasury 1992-94
Sec of State for National Heritage 1994-95
Sec of State for Health 1995-97

Privy Counsellor 1994

Shadow Sec of State, Health 1997

Contested the Conservative Party Leadership 1997

Shadow Sec of State, Education and Employment 1997-

Political Interests

Economics; Trade and Industry; Third World Development; East/West Relations

Private Interests And Activities

Reading; Theatre