Scientist hits out at Defra

October 26, 2001

A former member of the BSE Inquiry has questioned the competence of government departments to carry out research in the wake of the sheep and cattle brains muddle.

Malcolm Ferguson-Smith called on Margaret Beckett, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, to review how scientific matters of public concern were handled and to allow open competition for research contracts among scientists including those in universities. A six-year investigation into BSEin sheep collapsed when it emerged scientists at the Institute for Animal Health had analysed cows' brains by mistake.

Professor Ferguson-Smith, a veterinary scientist at Cambridge University, said the study was deeply flawed, a much faster technique was inexplicably ignored and the brain samples used were inappropriate.

He felt responsibility rested with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. "It raises the question of the competence of government departments and the Institute of Animal Health to carry out research to the required standard," he said.

"The present arrangements have been shown to be inadequate. It would be much better if projects were offered for open competition among all scientists, including external scientists."

Professor Ferguson-Smith said the BSE Inquiry had uncovered serious shortcomings in Maff research. The government had not adequately addressed the inquiry's recommendations on research, he said.

A Defra spokesperson said research projects were often carried out by outside bodies.

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