The recommendations made last October by Lord Phillip’s two-year inquiry on the BSE epidemic were overlooked by the task force charged with handling the foot and mouth crisis, admitted a senior scientist yesterday.

Professor Malcolm Ferguson-Smith, emeritus professor of pathology at Cambridge University and one of the three members of the BSE inquiry committee that authored the report, told the British Association‘s Festival of Science in Glasgow that the 16-volume, 3,200-page BSE report was in danger of becoming a “£26m [US$38m] doorstop”.

“The evidence is that it is too much to read and no one pays much attention to it […] That very large sum of money will have been wasted if people don’t read the report and take the lessons from it,” he said.

Through its spread of vCJD, the BSE epidemic has now claimed more than 100 lives in Britain, and Prof. Ferguson-Smith warned: “There is some evidence that one or two of the lessons [of the BSE crisis] have certainly not been learned.”

Importantly, Prof. Ferguson-Smith highlights the decision of the government to hold three inquiries into foot-and-mouth in private: “I was rather devastated when I heard that the inquiries into foot-and-mouth disease were going to be held in private. I think that is a mistake.”

This decision, he says, suggests that ministers are still more concerned with avoiding criticism than promoting openness. He said that secrecy in the handling of BSE led to public mistrust of the government: “The public really don’t believe what Government are doing unless they are open and trust the public.”

He also revealed that there is a need to hold open discussions with independent scientists. Some of the BSE report’s recommendations, “such as the mechanisms for the appointment of expert scientific advisers, do not appear to have been implemented sufficiently promptly in the recent foot and mouth epidemic.”