The European Union’s Standing Veterinary Committee planned a deliberate disinformation campaign about BSE in order to protect the beef market. That has for the first time been proved by secret documents obtained by the news agency.

As early as in 1990, there was a silent agreement in the then EC Standing Veterinary Committee to protect the market. In those days, many EC officials believed that the media spoke too much about BSE, and that it created problems for the meat industry. Unnecessary problems, the veterinary committee felt because evidence at the time from the scientific committees claimed that there was no risk that BSE could contaminate humans.

The UK pressed on to stop measures against the disease. The mood was sometimes fierce. For instance, three Commission officials who in 1990 suggested to the Council that British beef should only be allowed for exports with all bones removed. The reaction to this was uproar and the officials were thrown out of the meeting.

The EC yielded to the industry interests and did more or less nothing against BSE. Instead, it spent its time planning a campaign of lies. In October 1990, the Standing Veterinary Committee held a meeting where the member states’ representatives decided to bring both the Top Secret stamp and the lying machine. The agreements on what information would be given out was secret, but Gilbert Castille, a Commission official, took notes on behalf of his superiors.

In the notes, it is clearly stated that the members of the Standing Veterinary Committee most of all wanted to sweep the BSE problem under the carpet. The market’s interests were to be given priority. But has obtained the document in a Swedish translation provided for a European Parliamentary inquiry, and here are a few quotes:

From the representative of the Commission: “One must keep cool not to trigger reactions which are unfavourable to the market. Stop talking about BSE. The item should not be on the agenda.”
Unnamed participants: “We will make an official demand to the United Kingdom that they no longer should announce the results of their research into this matter”.
One of the conclusions at the meeting: “Generally speaking, the BSE affair must be played down through disinformation. One could rather say that the press tends to exaggerate.”
Among the recipients of this document was the Danish director-general of the Commission’s department for consumer policy Kaj Barlebo-Larsen.

Today, the Commission denies the existence of any disinformation policy. That was the present Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler’s stance before the EU Parliament in 1997. But several other traces of the campaign have also have emerged. For example:

* In September 1990, the Irish Agriculture Commissioner Ray MacSharry gave a clear order to his subordinate Mr Legras, director-general: “BSE: Stop all meetings”.

* EU vets did not perform one single BSE test during their 37 inspection visits to the UK during 1990-1994.

Roger Falk, Brussels