Intended for healthcare professionals


The politics of risk: the case of BSE

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 04 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1091

If we want less paternalism we must first educate ourselves

  1. Rudolf Klein, professor
  1. King's Fund, London W1G 0AN

    News p 1097

    There are two ways of reading the Phillips report1 on how an epidemic affecting cattle became a major public health hazard, all the more threatening because of uncertainty about how many more lives may be claimed by it. The first is to see the policies adopted from 1988, when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first identified in cattle, to 1996, when the link with variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) in humans was officially acknowledged, as a qualified success story for British government. The second is to see the report as an indictment of the policy process: to interpret the evidence as demonstrating a failure by government to react with sufficient urgency to a tragedy in the making.

    The Phillips report provides sustenance for both views. On the one hand, it concludes, “Because the right policy decisions were taken, BSE is today within reach of eradication and millions have received a high degree of protection from the risk of ingestion of potentially infective products or by-products of the cow.” On the other hand, it documents failures …

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