The year 2000 will be remembered for the economic and political consequences of a food-borne epidemic in cattle, later suspected and finally confirmed to possess zoonotic potential. Around Christmas, Germany announced that it would have beef products banned from shop shelves across the country because of the threat of BSE. The removal of German beef products is part of a general recall of such products across Europe.
The BSE crisis is an example of misommunication between scientists, the media, and politicians. A dozen books have already been published on the subject, and more will be written. Britain’s inquiry into the BSE crisis has revealed significant weaknesses in the way the government used scientific advice and established research priorities on a topic of urgent social concern. The long-awaited report from the public inquiry into the official handling of Britain’s BSE epidemic concluded that ministers and civil servants did not deliberately lie to the public – they genuinely believed that the risks were minimal. There were however serious short-comings in the way the crisis was handled. The BSE report suggests that turf fights between the research councils and government departments may have delayed vital research in the early 1990s in the UK.
An archive on BSE research can be found at: http://www.nature.com/nature/fow/001102b_papers.html