A lesson unlearnt

It is widely agreed that the bse scare (popularly known as the madcow disease) in the United Kingdom was badly handled by the ministers and officials responsible for food safety. Other governments might have noted and carefully learnt. Not so the government of neighbouring Belgium.

In January 1999, a chicken producer detected problems. His insurance company traced it to fat in the feedstuff which was supplied by the manufacturer, Verkest. The feedstuff was found contaminated with dioxin. The government was presented with a scientific report in March. The problem was identified in April. But it was not until May that rumours began to circulate and public warnings were issued.

There was the usual flurry of reassuring statements