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British beef may now be exported again but the inquiry into BSE/CJD continues. Former ministers have been giving evidence and also the former Chief Medical Officer Sir Donald Acheson. In her evidence, Edwina Currie who was junior health minister ten years ago attacked ministry of agriculture officials for their attitude towards food safety, describing them as 'crass, incompetent, hostile and dangerous'. Sir Donald was confronted with a TV recording in which he had said there was 'no risk' in eating British beef.

He admitted to the inquiry that he should not have said this, as the expert advice he had received suggested there was a remote risk. He said staff cuts since his period as CMO (1983-91) had reduced the independence of his successors and limited their ability to address emergencies.

Meanwhile, the families of five people who died of CJD following treatment they received for growth hormone deficiency have failed again to win compensation from the government. Growth hormone extracted from the pituitary glands of dead humans was used to treat poor growth in some 2000 children between 1959 and 1985, when the practice ended. Two years ago, a judge ruled that compensation was only payable for treatment which took place after 1977, as before that date there was no indication that the procedure carried any risks. The five families hoped, nevertheless, to win compensation on compassionate grounds. Answering a parliamentary question, Health minister Tessa Jowell said government policy remained that compensation was only payable where negligence had been proved.

There is still no effective treatment for CJD but there have been calls for tests to be conducted with the drug Pentostan, which is used for the treatment of cystitis. In animals, it has been shown to reduce the effects of the disease scrapie, caused by a similar agent to that responsible for BSE.

Sources: Times 3rd November, BMJ 14 November, Guardian 19 November

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