The Guardian September 13, 2000


Britain: New warnings on BSE

Scientists have raised new alarms that BSE  bovine spongiform 
encephalitis or mad cow disease  could still be in the food chain. Just 
as the Government and farmers were hoping the BSE crisis was abating, the 
scientists drew attention to new evidence that the disease can jump the 
species, divide more readily than expected and that it can take a latent 
form  with no obvious symptoms in the carrier.

In a paper published Tuesday last week, expert Professor John Collinge 
warned these findings had "important public health implications".

It also means that many kinds of meat  sheep, pigs and poultry  could 
be affected as well as beef.

The disease arose in the first place after the carcasses of dead diseased 
sheep, suffering from the brain disease scrapie, were processed into animal 
food and fed to cattle and found its way into many different kinds of other 
animal food.

Professor Collinge says a "subclinical" form of the disease may have 
developed which could remain hidden. Animals thought to be healthy and 
incapable of acquiring BSE could theoretically pass the disease on to 
humans.

So far only 70 people have died of the human form of this fatal disease  
the new variant CJD. Another nine are infected.

Professor Collinge found the rogue protein or "prion" can jump species much 
more easily than thought after his team of scientists at St Mary's 
Hospital, London, were able to infect mice with a form of scrapie that was 
thought to be indigenous to hamsters.

The mice showed no symptoms, even though tests showed they had high levels 
of potentially lethal prions in their brains. The fear is that what was 
possible in mice and hamsters may be possible among other animals.

Present cleaning and sterilisation techniques are failing to kill the 
disease and the Government must now ponder whether new measures are needed 
to prevent the illness getting into the human food chain.

This could imply mass spot testing of apparently healthy animals.  But the 
Department of Health says: "Current measures to protect public health from 
farm to healthcare were introduced on the basis that infection in animals 
and in people may be present in the absence of clinical diseases."

And the Ministry of Agriculture said: "We believe the safeguards in place 
at the moment are adequate to deal with the issues Professor Collinge 
raises, but of course we will listen to what he has to say." The history of 
BSE surely indicates that complacency can lead to disaster.

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New Worker, paper of New Communist Party of Britain

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