Public administration, science, and risk assessment: a case study of the U.K. bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis

Matthias Beck, Darinka Asenova, Gordon Dickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in the United Kingdom is regarded as one of the worst public policy crises the British government has experienced during the postwar era. In material terms, it has led to the slaughter of 3.3 million cattle and estimated economic losses of £3.7 billion. In administrative terms, the crisis brought about the dissolution of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This article examines the istitutional context in which decisions about the scientific evidence on BSE were made. The authors argue that a centralized system in which government agencies control science for government is inherently vulnerable to alliances of experts and interest groups that undermine the credible assessment of public health and safety risks. Specific societal conditions may encourage risk-opportunistic behavior among policy makers that is conducive to delays and inaction until such time as the evidence of a health risk becomes overwhelming.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPublic Administration Review
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2005



  • BSE
  • public administration
  • risk assessment

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