Private Eye 28 june 2002

ANY bizarre statements have emanated from the Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs in recent months — but none odder than last September’s announcement by Elliot Morley that if BSE were ever discovered in sheep, the government would immediately kill all the 40 million sheep in Britain.

Of course BSE has never actually been found to occur naturally in sheep. However, this has not prevented scientists receiving millions of pounds of public money for trying to find the link. Until recently the star of this show was Professor John Collinge of St Mary’s, Paddington. Regular as clockwork he would produce yet another paper, usually published in some obscure American scientific journal, claiming the link between sheep and BSE was now but a step away. This would then be featured as top news by the gullible hacks in the BBC’s scaremongering department.

But now the tale has a curious twist Prof Collinge, it seems, has been written out of this lucrative script. And who should have replaced him but the Eye’s old friend Prof Roy Anderson, formerly of the Oxford University zoological department.

In May 2000, it will be recalled, Prof Anderson was removed from his Oxford chair and also from the board of the Wellcome Trust after it was discovered that the trust had awarded 4m in research funding to a unit studying the epidemiology of infectious diseases of which he was the director. Prof Anderson and his team moved to Imperial College, and in March 2001, on the urging of his old friend and former Oxford colleague Prof Sir John Krebs, now chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Anderson was appointed the government’s chief scientific adviser on the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Here, his main contribution was to promote the infamous contiguous cull policy, which resulted in the deaths of more than nine million healthy animals and was recently savaged by a whole array of leading scientific witnesses to the European parliament’s FMD inquiry.

Last January Prof Anderson and his team made a new bid for fame and fortune. In a letter to Nature they urged that, just in case that elusive link between sheep and BSE should ever be established, the government should as a precautionary measure ban the traditional use of lamb intestines to maker sausage skins, for which in making good quality sausages there is no substitute.

This was not a scientific paper. It was not reviewed. But the "research" on which it was based, a footnote revealed, was paid for by Krebs’s Standards Agency and the Wellcome Trust, from which Anderson was sacked in May 2000. Now solely on the basis of this "opinion", the FSA has approved a recommendation by its own "core stakeholder committee" calling for an EU-wide ban on natural sausage skins.

Chairman of this committee was Sir John Krebs (despite the recent Rubery report by a former civil servant strongly recommending that he not be allowed to chair the committee). Chairing the FSA board meeting which approved recommendation of the Krebs committee that the FSA should accept the opinion of Krebs’s friend Anderson was none other than, er, Krebs himself.

Not considered to be a "stakeholder" in this issue, and therefore not consulted, was the natural sausage skins industry, worth 30m a year and employing 2,000 people, all of whom will be put out of work if the Krebs-Anderson recommendation is put into effect