Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-82)



  80. You are from a department that has some responsibility on food imports. Do you think the present arrangements are satisfactory?
  (Dr Nash) I do not think our responsibilities relate to the public health aspects of imports. They relate to the animal health aspects of imports. In that respect, we would not have concerns on animal health grounds in relation to imports of pa®te«, for example.

  Paddy Tipping: You do not want me to pursue this, do you?


  81. Finally, we have established that we do not know where BSE came from but we are pretty confident we know how it was spread. Does it matter if we never find out where it came from?
  (Dr Bailey) That is an interesting question. I think it only matters if, in finding out where it came from, it would affect our thinking on any future controls or the maintenance of controls when the epidemic is down to hopefully zero levels. It would only matter in those circumstances. I do not think it matters in terms of the existing decline in the epidemic and so on. It matters only if it would affect our thinking for the future.

  82. Do you think that the public are becoming more accustomed to this expression, "Of course, we could never say so 100 per cent, but it represents a minuscule or very small or almost imperceptible risk"? We seem to be in a society which wishes to deal in absolutes as far as risks are concerned. As scientists, whenever you decline to give an absolute, the public concludes that there is some lurking risk that you do not want them to know about. Do you think we are getting to the stage where, perhaps through sheer experience or war weariness, the public is beginning to accept the notion that you cannot have an absolute in this sort of area because, by definition, you do not know?
  (Dr Bailey) They are. That is helped by the fact that we are learning too how better to express that there is uncertainty and that there is an element of risk. The public has probably stopped thinking that scientists can give them absolute answers, yes or no, in many areas. I am not sure we are there yet, but I think we are getting better.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming today. We want to keep a watch on this area. If we were to get new evidence about incidence in sheep, that would become a major public policy issue as well as a health issue. We are very grateful to you for coming today and setting the record as straight as it can be set in the present state of the knowledge. We will be conducting an inquiry into DEFRA itself and what it is there for. Once we have worked that out, is it equipped to do what it is there for and no doubt one of the areas we will want to investigate is to what extent its scientific expertise etc., is adequate to the tasks it sets itself. You never know; you might find yourselves engaged with us again before too long. It has been a pleasure to see you today. Thank you very much.

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