Reconstructing BSE: Government Policy and Public Health across Humans and Animals

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of PRHS


The realisation that variant Creuztfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD) is an untreatable human manifestation of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE) greatly increased the perceived significance of the bovine disease.
This project will focus on the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Phillips) Inquiry, announced in Parliament on 22
December 1997, to establish and review the history of the emergence and identification of BSE and vCJD in the United
Kingdom. Led by Lord Phillips, the inquiry gathered huge swathes of evidence, including historical publications, oral
testimony, written witness statements, and legislation, with contributions from across government, scientific organisations
and others. The Inquiry shone a light into the deepest recesses of government operations, demonstrating the extent to
which, as The Guardian reported in October 2000, the government was 'accused of failing the public' in its management of
and communication surround the disease and the risk which it posed to humans. As well as records of the Chief Veterinary
Office and other papers related to the Phillips Inquiry and its published evidence - recently transferred to the National
Archives - the project will draw on press coverage and new oral histories to reconstruct for the first time the key events,
decisions, and impacts of the BSE crisis.
The research question will be precisely formulated through initial literature reviews and interrogation of primary source
materials. The following are indicative questions which may be addressed by and shape approaches to the research:
-How were the identities of BSE and vCJD constructed by scientists and how did this influence the establishment of the
Phillips Inquiry?
-How did lay expertise (livestock farmers) interact with scientific knowledge and practice, and were disease control
methods contested?
-What interactions between stakeholders (scientists, farmers, policy officials, food industry, consumer groups) can we
recover from the activities of the Phillips Inquiry?
-How did the findings of the Phillips Inquiry influence the formulation of policy?
-How did the public perceive and respond to the emergence of a new disease and the human-animal interactions involved?
In particular, I will investigate and analyse the recently released files of the Chief Veterinary Office and related documents
now held at The National Archives. I plan to develop a strand of oral history interviews with relevant individuals, both within
and without government, represented in the archival materials. Depending on the precise formulation of the research
questions, the methodology may also include analysis of news reporting of the crisis and the Inquiry; and or fieldwork
entailing interviews with livestock farmers involved in the crisis in a selected area.


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