Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-82)|
WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2002
80. You are from a department that has some
responsibility on food imports. Do you think the present arrangements
(Dr Nash) I do not think our responsibilities relate
to the public health aspects of imports. They relate to the animal
health aspects of imports. In that respect, we would not have
concerns on animal health grounds in relation to imports of pa®te«,
Paddy Tipping: You do not want me to pursue
this, do you?
81. Finally, we have established that we do
not know where BSE came from but we are pretty confident we know
how it was spread. Does it matter if we never find out where it
(Dr Bailey) That is an interesting question. I think
it only matters if, in finding out where it came from, it would
affect our thinking on any future controls or the maintenance
of controls when the epidemic is down to hopefully zero levels.
It would only matter in those circumstances. I do not think it
matters in terms of the existing decline in the epidemic and so
on. It matters only if it would affect our thinking for the future.
82. Do you think that the public are becoming
more accustomed to this expression, "Of course, we could
never say so 100 per cent, but it represents a minuscule or very
small or almost imperceptible risk"? We seem to be in a society
which wishes to deal in absolutes as far as risks are concerned.
As scientists, whenever you decline to give an absolute, the public
concludes that there is some lurking risk that you do not want
them to know about. Do you think we are getting to the stage where,
perhaps through sheer experience or war weariness, the public
is beginning to accept the notion that you cannot have an absolute
in this sort of area because, by definition, you do not know?
(Dr Bailey) They are. That is helped by the fact that
we are learning too how better to express that there is uncertainty
and that there is an element of risk. The public has probably
stopped thinking that scientists can give them absolute answers,
yes or no, in many areas. I am not sure we are there yet, but
I think we are getting better.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming today.
We want to keep a watch on this area. If we were to get new evidence
about incidence in sheep, that would become a major public policy
issue as well as a health issue. We are very grateful to you for
coming today and setting the record as straight as it can be set
in the present state of the knowledge. We will be conducting an
inquiry into DEFRA itself and what it is there for. Once we have
worked that out, is it equipped to do what it is there for and
no doubt one of the areas we will want to investigate is to what
extent its scientific expertise etc., is adequate to the tasks
it sets itself. You never know; you might find yourselves engaged
with us again before too long. It has been a pleasure to see you
today. Thank you very much.