For the most part the report shies away from apportioning individual blame, although a number of civil servants and politicians are named and criticised. Even so the report has highlighted the fact that where it was essential to err on the side of caution the government and others in Whitehall failed to do so.
The report only deals with the BSE crisis. But there are important lessons to be drawn from what has happened in respect of a number of other matters affecting public health and safety.
One of these is the issue of Genetically Modified (GM) foods, in which huge vested interests are pushing for permission to proceed on the one hand while there is clear disagreement among scientists about the short and long term effects on the other.
Other issues that demand less secrecy, more truthful public accountability and effective government action include those concerning the dangers posed by nuclear sites and nuclear waste disposal and the use of depleted uranium to "enrich" weapons and provide ballast for aircraft.
Even if the Phillip's Report did give the former Tory government a nasty suck rather than a good hard bite, we still need more investigations of this kind and public inquiries with full investigative powers. Public health must come first -- not corporate greed, transnational muscle or military secrecy.
Time for a change
DEPUTY Prime Minister, John Prescott, told the House of Commons last week that "there is growing evidence that weather patterns around the world are increasingly stormy and extreme". He said the storms that battered Britain in the past few days are a "wakeup call for everyone". Though Prescott didn't say so there are many experts who now believe these events are caused by global warming.
His call for measures to be taken to strengthen the infrastructure and prepare for future damage are of course to be welcomed and we hope this means the government will make funds available to do the necessary work.
But the implications are far more serious than this. If we are indeed entering a period of global climate change the effects on national economies will be enormous. Agriculture, fresh water supplies, the control of infectious disease and every aspect of economic life will be severely affected.
The prospect of climatic change makes the need for social change essential. The system of capitalism, which serves a minority of rich elites around the world and which is only concerned about profits and short-term interests, is incapable of enabling humanity as a whole to cope with the problems that may lie ahead.
We have already seen in Britain that repeated episodes of flooding have prompted the insurance companies to warn that flood cover might either be dropped from policies or the premium rates raised significantly. Obviously this will hit low income households hardest and if the problems continue it will create a crisis in housing.
We have seen too the chaos severe storms have caused for people getting to work, for maintaining electrical supplies, for business and commerce.
What is needed is strategic planning, public ownership and control over all public transport, electricity, gas and water supplies, house building and services. If shortages arise the supply of food and goods cannot be left tojust the market place where those who have can gobble up everything and those who have not get left with nothing.
We can't be doing any longer with a capitalist system in which climate change is seen as a good time to switch investments into the manufacture of umbrellas and sandbags. Socialism is the need now -- a system in which the majority rules, in which the levers of economic power are publicly owned, in which planning can be introduced to meet the needs of everyone and in which the problems of our time can be met and tackled.
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HEALTH Secretary Alan Milburn last Tuesday signed a long term agreement with a representative of the private health sector to establish the joint planning and exchange of patients -- another step along the road to NHS privatisation.
The agreement -- a concordat with he Independent Healthcare Association -- is expected to lead to some 100,000 National Health Service patients being treated in private sector hospitals and nursing homes. In many cases the doctors and nurses caring for them will be NHS employees.
It will cover renting spare operating theatres for hip operations and other non-emergency operations by NHS doctors and nurses working under their normal NHS contracts. Unions are worried this is a halfway house to privatising the jobs of thousands of healthcare workers, as is happening to healthcare ancillary workers under Private Finance Initiative Schemes.
The concordat will also provide for private or voluntary sector hospitals to be commissioned for non-emergency care using the private sector staff and allow critical care patients to be transferred between private and NHS hospitals -- presumably to free-up beds in NHS hospitals and reduce the incidence of operations being cancelled at the last minute or lack of special care beds by transferring patients to the private sector after they have had their operations once they no longer need full intensive care.
The concordat will involve joint work on intermediate care and rehabilitation services and sharing information on the supply of health care workers.
The move comes against a background of another impending winter crisis. Week after week this autumn different health service bodies and unions have warned that yet another winter flu crisis is likely, with patients waiting long hours, even days, for treatment in accident and emergency units while there are too few beds and too few nurses to care for them.
Under these circumstances, the public are being told the only way out is to accept patients being diverted into private hospitals.
This is an appalling confidence trick to give taxpayers' money to the shareholders of the private healthcare companies -- money that is desperately needed in NHS hospitals to buy more beds and employ more nurses.
Those patients treated in the private sector will not be charged directly so the Government is claiming that the principles of the NHS -- no direct payment for care -- will not be broken.
This is misleading -- what the private hospitals will gain in public funding, the NHS will lose. Every pill administered, every cup of tea will be a source of profit.
There are many in Labour's own ranks who are well aware of this. David Hinchcliffe who is the Labour chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Health warned that Alan Milburn should not have "got into bed" with the private sector.
He said: "Giving comfort at a time when it is known that the private sector is struggling is not something I would expect a Labour government to do."
Public sector union Unison also condemned the move and said the agreement could only be acceptable as a stop-gap measure until the NHS had enough capacity of its own to cope. But the agreement signed is long-term.
And, in spite of the grand ten year blueprint for the NHS announced by the Government last summer, with thousands more doctors, nurses and beds, PFI deals are still leading to a steady decline in the number of NHS hospital beds.
Under these schemes, private sector finance builds and maintains new hospitals, employs cleaning and catering staff and rents the buildings to the NHS. Thus health workers' jobs are privatised, taxpayers pay through the nose for buildings which will never actually belong to the NHS and are controlled by the private sector and it is financiers, not doctors, who decide how many beds each hospital must have -- on the basis of potential profit.
There are few profits to be made from spare beds kept empty for most of the year for epidemics and emergencies so the total numbers of beds are invariably cut by PFI schemes and so the NHS dependence on private sector beds will be made permanent.
The private sector beds to be hire by the NHS under this concordat will be very expensive. Ursula Pearce, who chaired the South Birmingham Community Council, in a letter to the Guardian. said that the cost of buying 10 intermediate care beds in private nursing homes will be £156,000 compared with £47,000 or 11 extra intermediate beds in two local NHS community hospitals.
The Government last summer promised a massive rise in NHS spending. Now the have agreed that a large part of this will go straight into private sector profits and patients will get much less benefit from it than if it was spent directly by the NHS.
And as PFI schemes continue to cut NHS beds, so the winter flu crisis is set to be a feature of every year and dependence on the private sector will increase.
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by Caroline Colebrook
THE TRANSPORT and General Workers' Union, which represents tens of thousands of agricultural and food processing workers, last week called on the Foods Standards Agency to make public health its top priority, following the publication of the Phillips Report into the BSE crisis.
This call came as the FSA raised doubts over the safety of British lamb and other meats after the practice of feeding them on processed animal waste has continued.
The Phillips inquiry found that BSE (mad cow disease) arose originally after cattle has been fed on the processed remains of sheep which had died from the fatal brain disease scrapie. Now it is feared the new form of the disease may have been passed back to sheep but is being mistaken for scrapie. Either way, allowing the remains of diseased animals into the human food chain could still put consumers at risk of contracting the human form of the disease -- new variant CJD. And both BSE and scrapie have long incubation periods so the disease is often not noticed.
The Co-op retail chain condemned all feeding of the remains of animals to farm animals being raised for meat, which are natural herbivores and called on the FSA to outlaw such practices.
The FSA is now recommending increased monitoring of all farm animals raised for meat in Britain and research into whether animals such as pigs and poultry can carry diseases fatal to humans like BSE and also the development of tests which can show quickly if an animal is infected.
It wants the use of recycled carcasses and blood for feed to be outlawed and fish farming practices to be examined.
The Phillips report, published last week, was a damning indictment of Government complacency and inaction. It blamed successive administrations for contributing to the catastrophe but said nothing could have prevented the BSE epidemic nor the infection of human consumers.
The long incubation period of the disease meant it had taken firm hold and diseased meat was in the food chain long before the disease became apparent and before the first cattle were identified as suffering from a new killer.
But once scientists did start to raise the alarm, during the mid 1980s, former Government ministers and civil servants did their best to suppress the evidence. They did not want to start a food scare. They repeatedly assured the public the disease could not jump from one species to another and that people were safe -- although they had no evidence on this one way or the other.
So there was no ban on possibly infected mechanically recovered meat getting into the food chain -- into hamburgers, pies and sausages, between 1989 and 1995 when the first evidence that the disease could infect humans emerged.
Since then at least 80 people have died from the new variant CJD and because of the long incubation period of the illness tens of thousands of people could still fail victim.
There is no way of knowing the numbers that will be involved but the Government is now revising its estimates upwards. Professor Peter Smith, head of an official advisory group on BSE1 said last week: "My own personal belief would be that we are more likely looking in the region of a few hundred to several thousand more than the tens or hundreds or thousands, but it must be said, we can't rule out tens of thousands at the moment."
So it is all the more worrying that -- in spite of the massive but belated slaughter of all cattle that might have bee infected the disease, or other simlar diseases, may have passed to almost any other farm animal and may still be in the human food chain.
Barry Leathwood, the TGWU national secretary for agricultural workers stressed that the government must keep the Food Standards Agency independent from the vested interests of farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
He said: "We must never again find ourselves in a position where fears over contaminated food are swept under the carpet and consumers are treated with utter disregard. This report documents one of the worst failures of Government this country has even seen.
"The new Food Standards Agency must be completely independent of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods. Only then will the precautionary principle be established as the guiding rule when dealing with new food processes.
"The TGWU represents members from plough to plate and is keen to act as a source of information about the abuses in the agricultural and food industries."
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by Steve Lawton
SINN FEIN ministers Martin McGuiness and Bairbre de Bruin called for an emergency session of the northern Ireland Assembly Executive last Monday.
Following the Ulster Unionist Party's Council meeting last Saturday, a motion was passed barring Sinn Fein representation at north-south ministerial council meetings, unless IRA decommissioning begins according to their dictates.
It further threatens to undermine the Good Friday Agreement if there are any moves by the Irish or British government's to impede the Ulster Unionist Party council decision.
Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of the SDLP said political leaders were once again on the brink. He said it was unacceptable that "one party to this political process is dictating to an Irish government, or to ourselves, or to Sinn Fein, or to any body else as to who will be present where and when." He too was seeking a special meeting ofthe Executive as we went to press.
So what crime have the IRA committed this time? According to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams MP, the IRA has -- he deduced from the latest IRA statement -- enabled "inspection and re-inspection of arms dumps" and the issue of "putting IRA weapons verifiably beyond use" is given a "context outlined by the Army Leadership in which this could be accomplished."
He said this was a matter between the IRA and British government, but that Sinn Fein has influenced this peace process. The UUP's action, Gerry Adams said, is an "ungracious rejection ofthe IRA initiative."
While northern Ireland minister Peter Mandelson acts out the role of an impartial referee, he warned that if the Good Friday Agreement is wrecked he said "you just have to look at the Middle East to see the alternative."
Yet if he took himself at his own word then he would recognise how destabilising are the critical changes the British government itself has made to the Policing Bill for the republican and nationalist communities.
Education minister Martin McGuiness said: "Sinn Fein are deeply concerned at the path David Trimble has chosen to pursue." He pointed out that the UUP leader and First Minister "is in clear breach of the spirit and letter of the Agreement."
He went on: "Sinn Fein's right to representation on the institutions and the executive comes from our significant electoral mandate." No one can "set limits on the rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans. There can no Unionist veto."
As we go to press the Irish government's health minister Micheal Martin agreed to meet Bairbre de Bruin, his opposite number in the north, but separately from the formal ministerial meeting, which today was expected to see the launch ofa new north-south body to improve food health and safety.
Fine Gael meanwhile called for an all-Party conference ofthose responsible for creating the Good Friday Agreement.
While maintaining that decommissioning is an issue, they nevertheless agreed with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams that "Sinn Fein does not hold Executive positions by dint of patronage from the UUP."
Speaking after a meeting of Party activists in Castlebellingham last week, Gerry Adams MP may have struck where it mattered: "Could it be that Mr Trimble's move [to exclude Sinn Fein from ministerial meetings] is tacit acknowledgement that Unionism isn't up to the challenge of working alongside other citizens or of developing and sustaining a peaceful future based on equality?"
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by Ray Davies
CARDIFF Reds Choir and Palestine Solidarity Campaign Wales joined supporters from all over Britain last Friday on a picket outside the Appeal Court in London to protest at the wrongful conviction of Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1994.
The two young Palestinians were activists who wanted to see peace and freedom with justice for their land.
The legitimate campaign left them easy scapegoats. Samar and Jawad were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for conspiracy -- not the actual bombing.
The judge accepted they were not part of any terrorist group and no forensic evidence connected them with the incident at Balfour House.
Yet the two each received 20 year sentences for their alleged role in the bombing.
Who bombed the embassy? Many questions have never been answered, including the loss of security video footage and log book and the identity of the group who wrote a letter claiming responsibility.
Defence counsel Michael Mansfield last week told the court that a hitherto undisclosed MI5 report revealed that Botmeh and Alami had no connections with this organisation.
The Crown Prosecution Service used public interest immunity certificates several times to deny relevant evidence to the defence and, it now appears, to the judge.
Former MI5 officer David Shayler has revealed that some of Lhe evidence being withheld includes intelligence that a large, well-organised group was casing the embassy some months prior to the bombing, while the jury was told there was an intelligence vacumn.
For the judge to have had this report would have been crucial and it could have radically altered the outcome of the trial.
The case has been adjourned to seek advice about evidence which was withheld.
Campaigners for justice for Alami and Botmeh are calling on supporters to write to their MPs at the House of Commons, to Home Secretary Jack Straw at the Home Office, to the Director of Public Prosecutions at the CPS headquarters, 50 Ludgate Hill London EC4M 7EY and the Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn to ask them to drop the charges.
They say: "Raise the issue in your union branch, join the campaign to free Samar and Jawad". The campaign can be contacted at 020 8863 2294 -- phone or fax.
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