IT WAS the Swinging Sixties and the Solipsistic Seventies and the Nationalistic Eighties. The word for the Nineties is Hysterical. In the way of epochs being actually non synchronous with their eponymous decades, the 1990s actually began in about 1987, when governments announced that the AIDS epidemic was trembling on the edge of becoming a pandemic and that we were all at risk.

We weren't, but it wasn't fashionable to say so. Hysteria was fashionable and hysteria became politically correct. To say that we were all at risk was seen as solidarity with people who really were at risk promiscuous homosexuals, drug abusers and haemophiliacs. Government ministers here assured us that, by the mid Nineties, the disease would be sweeping through Europe and that, in Ireland, scores of thousands would be affected. All untrue.

It was about this time that Edwina Currie single handedly destroyed the British egg industry with an off hand remark that most British eggs were infected with salmonella. The reassurances of the Archangel Gabriel probably would not have calmed the British public, who embarked upon a heroic egg eating boycott, thus wrecking the national poultry business.

Mendicant Mobs

The hysteria repeatedly sweeping Europe seems to be millennial. Something similar happened in the 10th century, too mendicant mobs roamed the countryside, convinced the world was at an end, flogging themselves and waiting for The Four Horsemen. So it has been for the past few years the Green movement's flagellati view the world as a sinful place which can only be rectified by public displays of piety. Thus we had the quite pathetic and contemptible Brent Spar affair, in which the various governments of Europe, and independent as well as associated experts, agreed that the best way of disposing of the bloody thing was to sink it a couple of miles deep in the North Sea.

We all know what happened next a consumer boycott, scandalous falsehoods perpetuated by Green activists about how much pollutant was in the old rig and a European wide hysterical predisposition to believe the worst caused Shell to reverse its policy. Brent Spar was turned round and brought back to mainland Europe where I believe it loiters in a Norwegian fjord, undismantled yet.

Similar hysteria was associated with the French nuclear tests in the Pacific though nobody in their night mind could maintain that a nuclear test is itself A Good Thing, in terms of energy expenditure it was much less than a medium sized local storm, though utterly confined. The weather systems which daily arrive from the Atlantic dispose of far greater energy than the bombs which the French were testing and one day in 20 years' time, when Azerbaijan or Iran or Byelorussia or Russia is targeting western Europe, we might be glad the French have their weapons to hand.

Hysterical Nineties

By that time we will be out of the hysterical Nineties. We certainly aren't now, as the latest affair over Mad Cow Disease proves. It is not necessary to exonerate the British agricultural industry for making pellets out of brains and spinal tissue to feed to cattle. It was an appalling, reckless thing to have done and it was equally reckless and thoroughly contemptible for the British political establishment to have permitted that adulteration of foods, then to have covered up for it, then been so slow to deal with the problem, and, even then, being reluctant still to ban this dangerous filth from other animal feeds.

The result was not unpredictable some 200,000 cattle infected with BSE. That this should happen was disgusting and needless. However, the question remains is there a real connection between BSE and, CJD? Or is it a fear which has been fuelled by Nineties Hysteria and by British government guilt over its legal toleration of adulterated animal protein in beef feed? Furthermore, some thing about the cow seems to pluck at British heart strings after all, nobody protests out side abortion clinics the way they do at ports conveying those scrumptious young calves towards their appointment with vealery. Throw in a mood of anglophobic sanctimoniousness from all those countries whom Britain has either colonised or had a war with, viz, everyone bar Ecuador, and you have the current lynch mob attitude towards British beef.


Yet no causal connection has been adduced between BSE and CJD. I'm not saying there isn't any but before I leap on any bandwagons I want to be a little bit more sure on my feet. We read of some 10 cases of CJD in England. Very serious. But, there are as many cases or so we read of CJD in France, which has had about 200 cases of BSE, one thousand with the British rate.

Just because the British government doesn't stay calm doesn't mean we shouldn't. After all, these are the bright boys who permitted spinal junk to be fed to cows. No doubt they are panicky. If I'd lied over adulterated animal feed, I'd be panicky, too. But panic, as we saw with the Brent Spar affair, is a poor basis for policy.

And in this mood of hysteria we hear that the British are contemplating massacring their entire beef population. No doubt it is a question of all or nothing we in Ireland know all too well from our fabulously successful TB eradication programme how certificates of TB free health can be conjured out of thin air for entire herds of bullocks who are tucked up in bed and on respirators. We also know how trustworthy and honest the beef industry can be why, we even paid out tens of millions of pounds to barristers to see how deep ran probity within the beef industry. Fetlock deep, at its deepest.

And, if it is a question of all, what will be done with the carcasses? Maybe the British should consult the Germans. They tend to be rather good at that kind of thing.

I don't think it will come to that. Before that day arrives we will have a new hysteria on our hands. Mad rice pudding disease, probably.