Prion Disease: Early Detection
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Pressure for earlier detection grows over fear of explosion in CJD cases
'Cannibal' feed still given to UK calves
Husband helpless as wife died in agony
EU calls for compulsory mad cow testing
Herd of 112 destroyed after new mad cow case in France
French farmers sue feed praoducers over mad cow disease
France to hold tender next week for mad cow test
Huamn infant nvCJD: the hospital's story
Vaccine raised as issue for early onset
Farmers want 200 million for maintenance of British countryside.

Pressure for earlier detection method grows over fear of explosion in CJD cases

Wed, Mar 29, 2000 The Scotsman DAVID MONTGOMERY 
Thw human death toll from the BSE crisis is a matter of heated debate among medical experts, with estimates ranging from a few thousand to several million across Britain. The findings of the two-year BSE inquiry, chaired by Lord Philips and which will be published later this year, are expected to shed more light on the extent of infection. Predictions that many more will die from the disease are based on an assumption that it has a long incubation period and has proved impossible to detect in healthy individuals.

Until this month, there was no means even of confirming whether someone suspected of having new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (nvCJD), the human form of mad cow disease, was infected until after they died and a brain biopsy could be carried out. Doctors now claim to have sufficient techniques to be able to say a person is "probably" suffering from nvCJD, which should allow a more accurate prediction of future rates. The new criterion means that patients should be able to be identified as probable nvCJD sufferers within six months of the first signs. However, there is still no test available to detect those who may be infected with nvCJD in the pre-clinical stage, before they become ill.

Professor James Ironside, of the National CJD Surveillance Unit at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, said they were involved in the development of a blood test to screen for the disease. He said: "We have a number of means of telling if someone is likely to have the disease when they become clinically ill, but there is no reliable way of doing that at present on an apparently healthy individual to see if they are carrying the disease. The development of a blood test would be the best way to do that."

Such a test remains one of the Department of Healthıs research priorities and is also being pursued by pharmaceutical companies. Other studies are also being conducted by the government, including a retrospective programme of screening tonsils and appendix tissue from 3,000 patients in Scotland and 15,000 in the south-west of England. If successful, it is hoped this will help to identify how widespread the disease is in the general population.

Traces of a protein implicated in nvCJD were found in appendix tissue removed three years ago from Tony Barrett, 45, a coastguard, as part of a routine operation at Torbay Hospital in Devon. The operation took place eight months before he showed any symptoms of nvCJD and almost three years before his death.

If it is possible to detect infection on a wide scale, a screening programme could be set up, but this would pose the dilemma of whether it was best to tell victims they were incubating the disease. The figures released by the government indicate that some people, notably those in their twenties, appear to be more at risk than others.

The slaughtering of millions of cattle at risk of being infected with BSE, and only allowing young cattle into the food chain, have ensured meat should now be free of the disease. Other measures, such as the ban on beef-on-the-bone and the issuing of ID cards or passports to cattle, were intended to reduce the risk of the disease being transferred to humans.

But scientists believe that if people are going to get the disease they will, in nearly all cases, already be incubating it. The issue is fraught because there is no treatment for nvCJD and there is no guarantee that a person carrying the infective agent will develop the disease. Government figures have revealed that nearly half of the victims of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of mad-cow disease, were in their twenties. Of the 52 people who have died from the illness in Britain since 1985, 23 were aged between 20 and 29, raising fears that young people could be most at risk from an nvCJD epidemic predicted by scientists.

Experts at the National CJD Surveillance Unit at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital believe it may be possible that young people were exposed to more of the BSE agent than older age groups. A study of past and present cases of nvCJD is now exploring the likelihood that variations in diet and the body's efficiency in absorbing the protein-corrupting agents believed to cause the disease could increase the risk of becoming infected. Previous work by the Edinburgh unit has shown that diet is the most likely factor in becoming infected with nvCJD.

Beef itself, which is mostly skeletal muscle, was unlikely to have high levels of infection, but meat products containing infected nerve tissue, such as sausages, burgers and pat*, were more likely to be contaminated. However, researchers at the hospital have also warned that the figures must be treated with caution because of the relatively low number of deaths and difficulties in pinpointing the cause of the disease.

Professor James Ironside, of the CJD unit, said yesterday that it was unclear why more young people were being infected with the disease, but he said one possibility was that younger people could be more at risk because they absorbed protein more efficiently through the gut than older generations. The efficiency of the lymphoid tissue in the tonsils and the spleen may allow the disease to be transferred more easily. "That's a possibility being looked at in terms of dietary differences," he said.

"There may be distinct dietary, physical and physiological differences in how the gut works in different age groups. All of these could be important factors, or just one, or even a combination of all three." However, he said no clear-cut findings had yet emerged for these or other possible factors, such as the likelihood that lower-income groups may be exposed to more processed meat products containing BSE-infected matter.

He said: "That does not seem to be emerging. The reason why young people are being affected more by this illness is not clear. We are still dealing with relatively small numbers, and these make it difficult to get any statistical power from them."

The figures on nvCJD deaths were disclosed on Monday night in a written reply from the junior health minister, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. They showed that 23 people had died aged 20 to 29, 14 had been in their thirties, eight aged ten to 19, four were in their fifties, and three in their forties. There were no recorded cases of nvCJD deaths of people aged over 59 or under ten, the minister added. Lord Hunt also published a list showing, in each case, the month the symptoms began, the month of death and the month nvCJD was confirmed. The list shows that three deaths occurred in 1995, ten in 1996, ten in 1997, 17 in 1998, 11 last year, and one so far this year.

Prof Ironside said the true extent of the spread of nvCJD would be unclear for some time, since its incubation period could be upwards of 15 years. "That means we don't know whether these cases are just the beginning of a larger number, and the disease will increase in frequency as the years go on, or they will just remain at a low rate," he said.

Part of the research being carried out at the Edinburgh unit to establish the cause of nvCJD in humans, and whether there are any particular risk factors for developing it, involves visiting each patient suspected of having nvCJD and comparing their circumstances with someone of the same background, age and sex.

Professor Robert Will, the scientist in charge of the project, said the reliability of information gathered was variable, because the patients' health meant they were often unable to provide details themselves, and the long incubation period of the disease meant memories were sometimes sketchy.

"We have great difficulty in knowing what exposure [to infection matter] was in the food chain, and we don't know whether there was more than one relevant exposure," said Prof Will.

Huamn infant nvCJD: hospital's story

Tue, 21 Mar 2000 ProMED-mail post
Rod Griffiths
Director of Public Health for North Warwickshire, UK
"A mother gave birth by caesarian section on 26 Oct 1999 at George Elliot Hospital which is in North Warwickshire. At the time she had been noticed to have some depression and mood swings but was otherwise normal. On 29 Jan 2000 she was admitted to another hospital in the region with a deteriorating neurological condition which was suspicious of Variant CJD (nvCJD). George Elliot hospital were notified and they immediately began an investigation.

George Elliot hospital has a bar coding system on all their theatre instruments and so were able to identify the actual kit used on this patient and immediately take it out of use. National experts from the CJD surveillance unit were contacted for advice. George Elliot hospital were also able to ascertain 7 other women had had caesarian sections using this theatre kit in the intervening period between 26 Oct 1999 and 29 Jan 2000.

The child of this mother was also admitted to the second hospital because it was failing to thrive and appeared to have neurological signs. This obviously led to speculation as to whether it could be CJD. Various experts are still thinking about this but at the moment most appear to agree that the illness does not resemble CJD. Obviously there is a problem here in that we have never seen a case of vertical transmission so have no absolute pattern to compare with. [It is also possible that abnormal prion disease in the mother affected neurological development in the infant by a mechanism other than, or in addition to, transmission of nvCJD. -- webmaster]

Shortly after this the family obtained a court injunction which prohibited anyone from publishing the name of mother or child or the name of any hospital at which they were treated in newspapers on cable TV or on what was called a public computer network.

There was considerable debate at the hospital as to whether the 7 patients should be traced and informed. Expert views were sought from a number of sources and were still being trawled when the Sunday Times decided to run a feature on CJD and speculated that this was a case of vertical transmission. As they could not name the hospital because of the injunction taken out by the family they created a worry for every woman in the region who had recently given birth.

At this point I as the Director of Public Health for the region became involved. We had a choice, we could find the 7 women and tell them their exposure and put out an announcement saying no one else need worry because the 7 women had been told. In effect we inflict the problem on these 7 in order to save everyone else.

Advice that we were able to obtain in the short period before we had to respond to the media suggested we could cause these women significant harm, both through the anxiety and possible other harm, like reaction of family members, loss of insurability etc. We had some bad experiences with the early days of HIV where sufferers whose status was accidently discovered and communicated to them without warning were done real harm and some committed suicide. The possibility of one of these women killing themselves because we had forced this information about possible exposure to nvCJD on them seemed worth avoiding if we could.

I referred to the ethical principle, 'first do no harm'. We therefore went for a different option, aiming to make the information available to anyone who wished to know but giving patients the choice of knowing their particular status. We set up a phone line with the following advice algorithm. If caller not from George Elliot tell not to worry. If from George Elliot and not in the relevant period, tell them not to worry. If in this period and hospital then issue special number for George Elliot which connects to counsellors and a team who will visit to discuss risk .

We also discussed the terms of the injunction with the judge and other legal advisors. Later in the week the injunction was modified to permit naming George Elliot Hospital, hence I can name it here but not name the second hospital which made the nvCJD diagnosis. During the week there have been over 500 calls to the 2 lines and 6 out of the 7 women have eventually decided that they want to know their status. There was an enormous amount of press coverage, much of it rubbish but we were able to get some sensible debate on the TV and radio in which our handling of the issues was accepted. Feedback from samples of women who came forward for advice was they appreciated the method we had used and supported the approach.

I think the case raises a number of difficult issues, which were made more complex by the family taking out their injunction. The terms of the injunction prevented me from e-mailing the name of the hospital to all our General Practitioners because in the British system GPs contract independently with the NHS and are therefore technically members of the public. Although the words 'public computer network' were intended to catch the internet they actually got in the way of normal public health work. If this has been a case in which a rapidly transmissible disease was the issue I would have ignored the injunction and told the GPs anyway, but in doing so I would have been in contempt of court and could in theory have been jailed.

I would be happy to discuss the various technical and ethical issues with anyone interested . I hope that this sets out enough of what we faced and how we determined our action to make constructive debate possible. I appreciate that some of the first report to your journal was so garbled that it was difficult to see what was happening and it did not bear much relation to things I actually and what we did.

Finally I find it unfortunate that Charles Calisher should immediately resort to wild flaming of me and those who had to handle this. It is insulting to assume that we had sought to cover this up through legal mechanisms nor do I agree that it is appropriate to drag unsuspecting women into a potentially life threatening nightmare order to somehow show up insurance companies or the British Government."

Comment (webmaster): The 21 Mar 2000 ProMED thread can be picked up by looking for the topic 'new variant CJD, human infant?' (04) 20000314205622.

EU calls for compulsory mad cow testing

Wed, Mar 29, 2000  Reuters North America
The European Commission Wednesday announced compulsory tests on thousands of cattle for mad cow disease amid concerns the illness may be more widespread than officially recognized. "It is of utmost importance to learn as much as possible about the scale of the disease in Europe. I encourage all member states to introduce these tests," Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne said.

The random post-mortem tests, to start in 2001, would focus on cattle which have died on the farm, as well as sick animals slaughtered in emergencies and those displaying signs of a neurological disease. Under the Commission's plan some 65,000 cattle out of a total herd of 41 million aged over two years will have to be tested in all EU countries. The scope and size of the program could be extended in the future, Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder said.

Recent research in Switzerland has highlighted that cases of mad cow disease, also known as BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) may be going unreported and potentially infecting meat still entering the food chain. Scientists there found three BSE cases amid 7,000 supposedly safe cattle heading for the slaughterhouse. The Commission, clearly concerned by the findings, said it wanted to use the Swiss experience as a model for its program.

Scientists say it is still too early to say how many people will die from a new form of the brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), believed to be caused by eating BSE-infected meat. The nvCJD death toll in Britain has risen above 50, and may eventually reach thousands, experts say. The Commission's proposal will be voted on by the EU's powerful Standing Veterinary Committee on April 5.

Husband helpless as wife died in agony

Wed, Mar 29, 2000 The Scotsman MARK DALY MALCOLM
Tibbert could only watch helplessly as his wife Margaret succumbed to nvCJD. She was one of the first people to contract the human form of spongiform encephalopathy and she died four years ago, aged 29, leaving behind her husband and their eight-year-old son.

Understandably, Mr Tibbert has had trouble coming to terms with his wife's death. She ate beef, yes, but no more than anyone else. She was fit and healthy and had her whole life ahead of her. Yet suddenly she was struck down by a debilitating disease which the medical profession had yet to name, let alone treat. There is still no real treatment for those who suffer from the human form of so-called "mad cow disease".

"Margaret was suffering from severe bronchial pneumonia, dementia and was unable to swallow so had to have a food peg inserted into her stomach in order to feed her," said Mr Tibbert, 33, from Eaglesham, near Glasgow. His wife's condition deteriorated rapidly and, after spending three months in the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow, Mrs Tibbert died in 1996, almost two years after she fell ill.

Mr Tibbert, an administration officer with Glasgow City Council, has been forced to try to put his life back together and explain to the couple's son, Daniel, what happened to the boy's mother.

"I haven't hid anything from him, but it is still difficult for him to fully comprehend what went on," Mr Tibbert said. "How do you explain something like this to an eight-year-old child? But he does understand and agrees with me that we don't eat meat anymore."

Mr Tibbert, who helped to set up the support group Human BSE Foundation, feels betrayed by the government, which he claims knew there were risks from red meat but did not warn the public. He is suing both the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture for negligence. "There is no monetary value in this. We don't care about that. This is about making the government take responsibility for its actions.

"But we don't expect that it will be an easy fight because the government knows that if we win this case then the floodgates will crash open for the other 55 families whose loved ones have died from nvCJD."

Half CJD victims in twenties

Wed, 29 Mar 2000 London Times by NIGEL HAWKES, science editor
NEARLY half of the victims of new variant CJD, the human equivalent of BSE, were in their twenties, according to official figures.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a junior health minister, said in a written reply to Parliament that of the 52 people who had died, 23 were between 20 and 29, 14 in their 30s, eight between 10 and 19, three in their 40s, and four in their 50s. There were no recorded cases of nvCJD deaths of people aged over 59 or under 10.

The most plausible explanation is simply that the developing brain is more susceptible to infection than the mature one.

A less likely explanation is that some form of exposure unique to children - vaccination, for example - could be the route of infection. Sir Richard Southwood, who chaired an inquiry in 1989 to assess the risks to humans of BSE, judged that vaccines containing infected material were a greater risk than eating beef.

But the warnings were not made public because the Committee on Safety of Medicines judged that it had a duty not to cause a panic.

Opinion (webmaster): The Times might have mentioned that Inquiry testimony established that contaminated vaccines continued to be used for years until stocks were exhausted in the early 90's. This is very similar to AIDS and hepatitis as well as blood products from CJD donors -- recalls are deemed too expensive. Evidently the Committee was principaly worried about a shareholder 'panic'.

Health Minister Yvette Cooper told the Commons [Express 30.3.00] that in spite of the risk, some drug manufacturers continued to make and supply vaccines made from UK-based bovine sources after 1988. For instnce, Wellcome continued to issue Diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccine made from UK sourced bovine material until 1991. DofH argued that the risk from BSE was lower than risk from lack of vaccine.

Farmers leaders to meet Blair at food summit

Tue, Mar 28, 2000 By PA News Reporters
Farmers' leaders and food industry representatives are to meet the Prime Minister Tony Blair tomorrow for a food summit to look for a way forward for Britain's troubled agriculture sector, Downing Street confirmed today. The National Farmers' Union is expected to arrive at the summit with a plea for 200 million in aid in return for a contract between farmers and society for the maintenance of the British countryside.

Mr Blair is understood to be interested in thrashing out long-term plans to revitalise farming, which has been hit by the BSE crisis, the strong pound and the costs of humane animal-rearing methods.

NFU president Ben Gill is expected to tell Mr Blair that unless help is forthcoming in the very near future, large portions of the British agricultural industry -- particularly struggling hill-farmers -- will go to the wall. He will call for legislation on labelling to ensure that any food marked British was in fact produced in Britain. At present, foreign-reared meat can be labelled British simply by virtue of having been processed here.

Mr Gill said: "British farmers contribute much to society and want to do more. We want to continue to play a full part in an efficient and competitive UK food chain, to continue to provide a basis for a thriving rural economy and to help maintain the countryside. But in order for us to be able to fulfil these long-term commitments, we need government help now to fight our way out of recession."

The effect of the 1996 'beef crisis' on depression and anxiety in farmers and non-farming controls.

Br J Gen Pract 1999 May;49(442):385-6
Eisner CS, Neal RD, Scaife B
This paper looks at the effect of the 1996 'BSE crisis' on the mental health of farmers from one semi-ural practice in North Yorkshire. In 1996, Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scales were sent to farmers and controls who had participated in a previous study in 1994. Comparative data for the two groups for the two years were obtained and analysed. The data showed that, despite fears raised as a result of the 'BSE crisis', the overall rates of depression and anxiety fell in both groups between 1994 and 1996, with the rates falling significantly more in the control group.

However, the farmers were still more depressed and anxious than the controls, and those farmers that had been depressed or anxious in 1994 were more likely to be depressed or anxious in 1996. A longer period of time may be needed to determine the effect of the beef crisis on the mental health of farmers.

'Cannibal' feed still given to UK calves

 April 2 2000 Sunday London Times, Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
THE agricultural cannibalism that caused the BSE epidemic, nearly wiping out British beef farming, is still being permitted, despite scientific warnings. Officials from the agriculture ministry admitted this weekend that tons of feed containing blood products, tallow and gelatin from cows is being fed back to cows - and other livestock - every year. A substantial proportion is fed to newborn calves, which are given the cheap feed to replace their mothers' milk, which is sold.

The amount is small compared with the millions of tons of wheat, barley and other feeds given to cows, but experts in prion diseases - of which BSE and CJD are examples - believe the practice is risky for cattle and humans.

John Collinge, the Medical Research Council's professor of prion research at Imperial College, London, said he was shocked.

"Any form of cannibalistic recycling is potentially dangerous and is a bad idea. I have said that repeatedly to the agriculture ministry."

The revelations coincide with confirmation of the first case of BSE in a cow born in 1996. A number of other cases in animals born the same year are suspected. Four years ago, agriculture officials predicted the disease would not appear in any animals born after August that year, after the introduction of tougher regulations. Yesterday officials were "unable to divulge" the exact age of the sick beasts.

The admission that cows are still being fed cattle products followed persistent questioning from Lord Lucas of Crudwell, a junior agriculture minister in the last Tory government, whose interest in the subject has prompted a debate in the House of Lords, scheduled for tomorrow night.

Baroness Hayman, a junior agriculture minister, confirmed in a letter that gelatin and blood products were exempted from the feed ban in European and British legislation.

She said: "Tallow, being fat rather than protein, is also a permitted ingredient in cattle feed. Tallow and gelatin for inclusion in animal feed, however, must be produced to standards laid down in community law." [The prion protein is notoriously soluble in fat. -- webmaster]

In her letter, she added: "Such materials are not widely used in animal feed in the UK." But this weekend a ministry spokesman confirmed that 23,000 tonnes of feed containing the products were sold each year in Britain, predominantly for cattle.

The spokesman said there was no evidence that such materials could transmit any disease. [To repeat for the thousandth time, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. -- webmaster]

This approach, however, was roundly criticised by Collinge: "Just because there is no evidence that infection is happening does not mean it isn't," he said. "After our experiences with BSE, we should be taking a more cautious approach."

Research by independent scientists has shown that BSE and other prion diseases can be transmitted by blood products, and the latest tests for prion disease rely on the presence of the infective particles in blood.

The BSE epidemic began when the first cows fell sick in 1986. In 1996 the first cases of human BSE, now called variant CJD, were reported. Since then 52 people have died and over a dozen are ill with the disease.

Opinion (webmaster): It would have been difficult to ban blood, tallow, and gelatin for bovine feed because after all they were listed as 'safe' for human consumption. A ban would have been interpreted by the media as implying all beef products were a potential risk to humans.

Comment (Roland Heynkes):

"This age of these cows is an extremely important point. The British government claimed that it can identify every individual cow by its new computer supported system.

Without this identifying and tracing system the EU commission would not have lifted the ban. If British BSE cattle were born after 1 August 1996 ban, this would be the proof that the date based export scheme is unsafe. This would hopefully force SEAC and SSC to think about alternative mechanisms of transmission.

The first relevant decision is 95/60/EC: Commission Decision of 6 March 1995 amending Decision 94/381/EC concerning certain protection measures with regard to bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the feeding of mammalian derived protein, official journal NO. L 055 , 11/03/1995 P. 0043 - 0043

The following paragraph is added to Article 1 of Decision
'3. The prohibition mentioned in paragraph 1 shall not apply
  - milk,
  - gelatin,
  - amino acids produced from hides and skins by a process
    which involves exposure of the material to a pH of 1 to 2
    followed by a pH of   11 followed by heat treatment at
    140 C for 30 minutes at 3 bar,
  - dicalcium phosphate derived from defatted bones,
  - dried plasma and other blood products.'
The second is 1999/129/EC: Commission Decision of 29 January 1999 amending for the second time Decision 94/381/EC concerning certain protection measures with regard to bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the feeding of mammalian derived protein (notified under document number C(1999) 198), official Journal L 041 , 16/02/1999 p. 0014 - 0015
Article 1
Article 1(3), third indent of Decision 94/381/EC is replaced
by the following:
- hydrolysed proteins with a molecular weight below
  10 000 daltons which have been:
  (i) derived from hides and skins obtained from animals which
      have been slaughtered in a slaughterhouse and have
      undergone an ante mortem inspection by an official
      veterinarian in accordance with Chapter VI of Annex I
      to Directive 64/433/EEC and passed fit, as a result of
      such inspection, for slaughter for the purpose of that
      Directive, and
 (ii) produced by a production process which involves appropriate
      measures to minimise contamination of hides and skins,
      preparation of the hides and skins by brining, liming and
      intensive washing followed by exposure of the material to
      a pH of   11 for  three hours at temperature 80C and
      followed by heat treatment of >140 ƒC for 30 minutes at
       3.6 bar or a by an equivalent production process approved
      by the Commission after consultation of the appropriate
      Scientific Committee, and
(iii) come from establishments which carry out an own checks
      programme (HACCP).
These Commission Decisions were taken over into UK legislation with some minor exceptions."

Herd of 112 destroyed after new mad cow case in France

 Reuters World Report Mon, Mar 27, 2000
Officials slaughtered the milk cow, born in 1992, and its herd of 112, as a precaution, the ministry statement said, after the discovery of the country's 12th case of mad cow disease this year, the French farm ministry said on Monday.In 1999, French authorities discovered 31 cases of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Another French herd, of 72 cattle, was destroyed last week.

The discovery, in the Haute-Vienne region of central France, marked the 92nd case in France since 1991 when the first cases of the fatal brain-wasting illness bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- so-called mad cow disease -- were diagnosed.

BSE, which forced hundreds of thousands of cattle to be destroyed in Britain, has been linked to new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a similar illness in humans for which there is no known cure. The European Commission, the EU executive body, has taken France to court over its refusal to lift a ban on British beef even though EU states agreed in August to end an export embargo.

French farmers sue feed praoducers over mad cow disease

Friday, March 31, 2000 UPI
A spokesman for French farmers said they are filing a lawsuit against cattle feed producers they suspect of selling feed that continues to infect herds with so-called mad cow disease.

Attorney Pierre-Yves Lomar told French radio RTL on Friday that farmers from the Ain Department in eastern France want to know why the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cannot be eliminated from feed given to French herds. The lawsuit documents so far made public did not name the specific defendants the farmers charge with "deception, falsification, and the transmission of an animal epidemic."

But Lomar said an explanation "is demanded" because cattle continue to show traces of BSE even 10 years after suspect animal feeds were banned. BSE is found in French cattle about once a week and two thirds of the 92 confirmed cases in France have cropped up since a 1990 ban on bone meal in cattle feed.

French farmers are paid between $100 and $1,000 a head for the government slaughter of an animal in connection with BSE. A month ago, the European Commission issued a report claiming 4.2 percent of French animal feed continues to contain bone meal traces.

In February, a total of 670 cattle in the Ain Department were slaughtered after one cow born after the ban was found to have BSE. Officially reported BSE cases in France are almost negligible, compared with Britain, where 176,526 cases have been detected. But French agriculture officials acknowledge BSE is persistant in France.

In a related development, Germany on Thursday officially ordered an end to its four-year ban against importation of British beef. France is now the only EU country with an import embargo still in place.

Earlier this week, the European Commission voted to order compulsory autopsies on cattle for mad cow disease, hoping for a more realistic picture of a disease that many EU officials fear is underreported. The tests will be random but cover some 65,000 "fallen" cattle a year. But before the order takes effect a supporting vote is needed from member states on the EU's standing veterinary committee, April 5.

The randomly selected group of cattle represents about 1 percent of the EU's 41 million cattle over two years of age. According to European Union Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne, consumer confidence is "the most significant (issue) we face ... and will take long arduous years of work to repair." He hails the new tests as superior to any thus far, as "they are more accurate than those used in the past." Laboratories in Switzerland, Ireland and France are to be used to examine brain tissue.

France to hold tender next week for mad cow test

Fri, Mar 31, 2000 Reuters World Report By Paule Bonjean
France will hold a tender next week for a suitable large-scale testing method for mad cow disease amid European-wide concerns that the deadly illness might be more widespread than officially recognised.

"We will launch the tender for the test in a week. We must define the last details of the specifications," a spokesman for Farm Minister Jean Glavany told Reuters.

He said France, which has come under fire from the European Union over its safety record on the disease, would start conducting tests in May on 50,000 cows that died or were killed after they showed signs of BSE or mad cow disease. This was up from an initially forecast sample of 40,000 cows, the spokesman added. The tests were aimed at gauging the spread of the disease and whether current prevention methods were strict enough.

France was looking at three tests for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease, developed by Switzerland's Prionics AG, French state-owned nuclear power group CEA and Ireland's Enfer Scientific. "We will take the least expensive, but especially the most adapted to our needs and the one which we are certain will be produced in sufficient quantities," said another government source.

France has officially registered 92 cases of the deadly brain-wasting disease since 1991, including 12 since the start of the year, out of a total of 21 million heads of cattle. "Since the end of 1999, we are on an average of 50 cases per year compared to 25 previously," said the government source, adding that scientists were unable so far to explain the jump.

The EU's executive Commission earlier this week announced compulsory tests on thousands of cattle for BSE amid worries that cases of illness might be going unreported and potentially infecting meat still entering the food chain. An EU report in February said traces of meat and bone meal continued to be found in French animal feed despite a ban on cows being fed on animal proteins imposed in July 1996.

Scientists have blamed BSE for human cases of a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or nvCJD, a deadly, brain-wasting disorder for which there is no known cure. The Commission took France to court in January over its refusal to lift a ban on British beef although EU states agreed in August to end an embargo imposed in 1996.

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