Prion Disease: Vermont Sheep to be Killed for TSE
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U.S. judge rules USDA can slaughter Vermont sheep
Vermont trial: in depth coverage
EU experts assess risk of mad sheep disease
Injectible products - House of Lords queries
EU experts say mad cow risk ``cannot be excluded'' for US, Canada
Value of beef exports plunges by 99%
Scientists warn of mad cow risk in dental surgery
Hospital worker: glands taken from bodies without consent
Age trends in nvCJD

U.S. judge rules USDA can slaughter Vermont sheep

Tue, Aug 1, 2000 Reuters North America
Opinion (webmaster): This has been a rotten week for sheep worldwide. First a prion Nobel laureate said he would no longer eat sheep products of any kind because of research indicating scrapie as the forward-infectional source of BSE; then an EU expert said many more sheep back-infected from BSE would have to be culled than in the costly mad cow crisis because "it can be expected that the disease would spread much faster and on a much larger scale than with cattle"; and finally a new biochemistry paper on in vitro prion conversion established both scrapie and CWD as comparable risks as BSE in terms of transmissibility to humans.

A reality check is in order. First, tens of millions of people worldwide have been exposed to dietary sheep and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, not to mention sheep brain rabies vaccine. Where are the tens of millions of cases of CJD -- still in the pipeline? Second, a great many sheep and deer/elk are healthy and do not have any form of TSE (but which ones?). Third, eradication programs have been tried before in many countries and failed. Is there genuine risk reduction benefit to a haphazard, even hysterical, sheep and cervid slaughter?

While no one questions that any livestock with any TSE should be incinerated, ironically 3 new lab reports have just surfaced on the Vermont sheep, all reporting all sheep tested negative for TSE. The first report, from the National Veterinary Service Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, dated 06-07-99 and signed by Dr. WD Taylor, examined 10 sheep from the Freeman flock including sheep #3708. All 10 were "no etiological diagnosis established, no significant lesions found", not supporting a TSE diagnosis. The second report, also from the NVSL in Ames, also dated 06-07-99 but signed by Dr. Thomas Gidlewski, did Prp-Sc antibody testing (hydrated autoclaving immunohistochemistry of formalin-fixed paraffin embedded brain tissue) on the same 10 sheep, reporting all 10 negative for Prp-Sc. Third, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, available to but apparently not disclosed by USDA at the trial, reportedly show 60 of 60 Vermont sheep testing negative for Prp-Sc upon biopsy.

The Vermont sheep have a right to appeal until August 7. That appeal will be brought to the Second District Court of Appeals in New York.

Meanwhile, successful CWD-to-cattle transmission (intra-cerebral inoculation) has just been demonstrated by APHIS at Ames, Iowa (complementing earlier work showing transmission to goat); oral transmission experiments are in progress in Wyoming. US cattle and sheep have been co-pastured with at-risk wild deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming since 1981. Where is the real risk to US cattle?

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. The U.S. Department of Agriculture can buy and slaughter some 350 sheep suspected of having a neurological ailment that could be mad cow disease, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha in a 13-page ruling, found that "the threat of harm to the public and to commerce if the plaintiffs were allowed to keep these sheep is substantial."

Two Vermont farmers near the rural community of Warren brought the case after the USDA tried to seize their flocks of dairy sheep after four of animals tested positive earlier this month for a disease known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or TSE. Dairy sheep produce milk which is used in cheese.

"It is clear that certain of the plaintiffs's animals have tested positive for the presence of a potentially fatal TSE. As a result all animals in both flocks have suffered from potential exposure to a TSE... "Their destruction," Murtha said, "will greatly reduce the possibility that humans and domestic animals will be exposed to a contagion not presently endemic in the united states.

The sheep are of the East Frisian breed and were imported from Belgium. One form of TSE is scrapie, a disease fatal to sheep but no threat to people. Another form, however, is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, which has been linked to a fatal human disorder.

The Agriculture Department, which fears that European sheep were exposed to feed contaminated with mad cow disease, says it will take years of testing to determine what form of TSE the Vermont sheep had. No cases of mad cow disease have been found in the United States, and the Agriculture Department has been closely monitoring all U.S. livestock since an outbreak in Europe four years ago.

Scientists believe that eating meat from an animal with mad cow disease causes a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a brain-wasting disorder that has killed more than 50 people in Britain. Meanwhile, European Union scientists were examining the possibility of an epidemic of mad cow disease in the sheep population on that continent.

Opinion (John C. Stauber, author of Mad Cow USA): "My thoughts:

The judge's decision was understandable, but the USDA's actions are hypocritcal and driven by politics and the desire to protect the image of livestock exports. If the federal government were really concerned about TSE infections they would launch a highly visible nation-wide campaign to warn hunters not to eat deer and elk from CWD-infected areas, begin a major effort to eradicate scrapie and CWD, and close dangerous loopholes in animal feed regulations.

Instead, we get a show trial and slaughter, and the domestic crisis of widespread and growing TSE infections in US livestock and wildlife stays covered-up and ignored. [The federal government still allows private sheep grazing at Wheeler National Park in Nevada despite what has happened to wildlife at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. -- webmaster]

Mad Sheep

AP US & World Tue, Aug 1, 2000 By WILSON RING
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A federal judge ruled Tuesday that two flocks of sheep the federal government says might suffer from a version of the always-fatal mad cow disease should be killed. U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha in Brattleboro refused to issue an injunction that would have stopped the slaughter of the flocks, which are owned by Larry and Linda Faillace of East Warren, and Houghton Freeman of Stowe. The Faillaces and Freeman argued the tests used by the federal government to condemn their sheep were inconclusive.

"When preventing diseases with lengthy incubation periods ... the USDA cannot be expected to wait until clinical signs of disease appear," the judge wrote, "because any actions implemented at that time would be taken years too late." The judge said the owners have until Aug. 7 to appeal.

Thomas Amidon, a lawyer representing Freeman, said an appeal is possible. "We are looking at what are options were. We haven't made any decisions yet," he said. "Obviously we knew that we had a huge burden to overcome going in," Amidon said. "But we really had to have someone look at it. To that extent we are appreciative to the fact that a third party -- the judiciary -- has taken a look at it."

Last month Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman ordered 376 sheep in the two flocks to be destroyed after tests on the carcasses of four animals >from Freeman's farm were found infected with a transmissible brain disease that could be bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name of mad cow disease. The owners of 21 sheep in a third flock voluntarily sold their sheep to the USDA to be destroyed before Glickman's order.

Mad cow disease devastated the cattle industry in Great Britain in 1995. It has killed about 70 people in Europe and -- because the incubation period of the disease can be up to 10 years -- the number of human victims is expected to rise.

Even though scientists aren't sure the four Vermont sheep carcasses had a form of mad cow disease [or for that matter, any TSE -- webmaster], the USDA says it's better to destroy them and avoid any possibility the disease could gain a foothold in North America.

The sheep in all three flocks were either imported from Belgium in 1996 or are the offspring of imported sheep. The USDA feels the sheep might have eaten contaminated feed in Europe before they were brought to Vermont.

EU experts assess risk of mad sheep disease

Tue, Aug 1, 2000  By David Evans Reuters World Report
European Union scientists are probing the nightmare possibility of an epidemic of mad cow disease in the sheep population.

"It's an area we are concerned about and there is a scientific risk assessment programme under way," Beate Gminder, spokeswoman for EU Health Commissioner David Byrne, told Reuters on Tuesday. "But so far," she stressed, "there is no scientific proof."

Professor Emmanuel Vanopdenbosch, chairman of the working group in the European Commission on mad cow disease, or BSE, told Belgian newspaper De Morgen, "The BSE question with sheep is a timebomb that continues to tick."

Although the cattle brain-wasting disorder blamed for causing more than 50 human deaths has yet to show up in the sheep population, a disease of the same family, scrapie, is widespread. Scrapie is not believed to be dangerous to humans, but EU scientists believe sheep could contract the cattle variant. If BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) took hold, it could spread quickly from flock to flock and need drastic measures to contain it.

A sheep's relatively small size means the disease would affect nervous tissue much quicker than with cattle and the rate of infection would be much higher. Vanopdenbosch said many more animals would have to be culled than in the costly mad cow crisis. "It can be expected that the disease would spread much faster and on a much larger scale than with cattle," he said.

"Not only Europe but also the rest of the world could be in trouble if it turns out that the 'mad sheep phenomenon' does exist. Sheep have been exported to all corners of the world for years," Vanopdenbosch said.

The prospect of the disease turning up in the sheep population has been highlighted by a case in the United States. Three flocks in Vermont have been found to contain animals with a neurological ailment that could be mad cow disease. Some animals of Belgian origin there have tested positive for TSE (transmissable spongiform encephalopathy), the family of diseases that includes BSE and scrapie.

U.S. agriculture officials have ordered the sheep to be destroyed although it could be years before they determine exactly which type of TSE the animals were suffering from.

Spokeswoman Gminder said the European Commission had been in contact with U.S. officials over the Vermont case, and had requested tissue samples for their own investigation. [These requests have reportedly been denied. -- webmaster]

Injectible products - House of Lords queries

1 Aug 00
The Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, when investigating the Leicestershire nvCJD cluster, particular attention will be paid to investigations of hospital and general practitioner records to find whether injectible medical products of bovine origin were a common factor. (HL3424)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath):

The National CJD Surveillance Unit routinely investigates all available general practitioner and hospital records for all Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) patients, including medical injections that the patient has received, in order to identify any common factors. The investigation of the variant CJD cases in Leicestershire will include close examination of medical records of patients for this purpose.

The Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether it would be a reasonable precaution against developments in the nvCJD outbreak for the Government to establish which injectible medical products in current use in the United Kingdom use bovine or ovine material in their preparation. (HL3426)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath):

The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) is undertaking an exercise that requires all marketing authorisation holders of medicinal products licensed for use in the United Kingdom to supply information on use of animal material in the manufacture of medicinal products. A comprehensive database of the information received will be established once the exercise is complete in March 2001. This will enable the MCA specifically to confirm that all medicinal products on the UK market that use such material comply with new European legislation. This legislation requires all new applications for a marketing authorisation made after 1st July 2000 to demonstrate that they comply with European guidelines on minimising the risk of transmission of spongiform encephalopathies via medicinal products. Marketing authorisation holders of existing medicinal products must produce evidence of compliance with the guidelines by 1st March 2001.

The Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether any rabies vaccines available in the United Kingdom are prepared using nervous tissue from a species known to harbour a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy. (HL3425)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath):

The rabies vaccines available in the United Kingdom do not require the use of any mammalian neuronal (nervous) tissue in their preparation.

EU experts say mad cow risk ``cannot be excluded'' for US, Canada

Tue, Aug 1, 2000 By PAUL AMES  Associated Press Writer
Mad cow disease is likely to occur in Italy, Spain and Germany, and cases cannot be ruled out in the United States and Canada, according to a European Union report Tuesday into the risks of the cattle ailment spreading beyond the nine nations with confirmed cases.

"It is still unlikely, but cannot be excluded that BSE is present in the USA and Canada," said an EU statement on the report by a team of European scientists.

The EU's Scientific Steering Committee found bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, "is uncertain, but likely" in Italy, Spain and Germany, where no cases have yet been found. The scientists based their analysis on patterns of live cattle and cattle-feed exports from Britain during the 1980s and 1990s when British herds were hit by an epidemic of BSE that was blamed on the use of cattle feed that included ground animal remains. The fatal cattle ailment has been linked to a similar brain-wasting illness in humans, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has killed about 50 people in Britain.

Since the British outbreak, which affected some 180,000 cattle, around 200 cases have been found in Portugal and smaller numbers in Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and, Switzerland.

The EU study covered 23 nations. It concluded BSE occurrence was "highly unlikely" in the non-EU members Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Norway, New Zealand, Argentina and Paraguay.

However, the experts included United States and Canada with EU members Austria, Finland and Sweden, where the presence of infected cattle was unlikely but not excluded. "These countries are probably free of BSE -- but individual BSE-cases may nevertheless occur in the future," the report said. "However the development of an epidemic is not likely."

The report said there was a risk BSE-infected livestock imported from Britain may have used in cattle feed in the United States before the introduction of tighter safeguards during the 1990s. The US is among several nations with bans on British beef since the early or mid 1990s. The EU dropped a worldwide prohibition of British beef exports last year, after London introduced safety measures. The report said such controls in Britain and other nations with mad-cow disease, have been effective in diminishing the BSE risk.

On Nov. 1, the EU plans to introduce a ban on the sale of cattle parts judged most likely to harbor the disease, notably the tonsils, brains and spinal cords. Certain non-EU nations may be required to remove such parts from meat imported into the EU from April 1.

The EU scientists stressed their report was based only on the risk of infected imports. It did not consider others suspected sources of BSE, such as transmission from other animals, since they "are not scientifically confirmed."

However, the EU said separately it is investigating reports a new BSE-type disease has been detected in sheep. "It is a complex scientific dossier," said Beate Gminder, health spokeswoman at the European Commission. "There is no conformation that the BSE agent actually exists in sheep. There are doubts." U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman on July 14, ordered the slaughter of 376 sheep originating from Belgium on suspicion they may have a mad-cow type disease.

EU says Germany, Spain, Italy may have BSE

Reuters Business Report  Tue, Aug 1, 2000
European Union scientists have concluded that mad cow disease is probably present in cattle in Germany, Spain and Italy even though these countries say they are free of it, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

The EU executive said in a statement that scientists believed that in these member states the risk of mad cow infection in cattle was "likely to be present at levels below the detection limits of their surveillance systems."

According to the scientific evidence, gathered by 50 external, independent experts on 23 countries, the only member states that could be regarded as having a BSE risk classified as "unlikely but not excluded" were Austria, Finland and Sweden.

Eight other member states plus Switzerland have all reported cases of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) -- the cattle disorder linked to human new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), which has killed more than 50 people in Britain. Greece did not supply the scientists with data. The finding is likely to be a particular blow to Germany, which has prided itself on its mad cow-free status and strongly opposed the lifting of Britain's beef export ban in 1999 before finally ended the embargo in March this year. Italy has also portrayed itself as the home of food quality, and has bid to house the planned EU Food Safety Authority, due to be set up next year, in the northern city of Parma.

The scientists also looked at non-EU members, focusing on those which export beef products to the 15-nation bloc. They concluded that in Australia, Chile, Norway, New Zealand, Argentina and Paraguay the risk was highly unlikely, but in the United States and Canada, BSE "cannot be excluded."

The Commission stressed that geographical BSE risk was not an indicator of the danger to humans of contracting nvCJD via the food chain, but simply a measure of the risk to cattle. The risk to humans depended on other measures, such as the removal of suspect animal tissue.

EU agriculture ministers decided last month to ban the most risky cattle tissues -- eyes, brain and spinal cord -- from the food chain across all member states.

The use of so-called Specified Risk Material (SRM) will be outlawed from October 1. Britain and Portugal, deemed to be high risk, will be forced to remove a long list of cattle organs while other countries will have a shorter list of banned tissue.

The shorter list will also apply to non-EU countries in April next year, unless thay can prove categorically they are completely free of mad cow disease.

Scientists Warn of Mad Cow Risk in Dental Surgery

Tue, Aug 1, 2000 By Kate Kelland Reuters Online Service
British government scientists said on Tuesday there was a theoretical risk that variant Creutzfeldt -Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease, could be transmitted from person to person via dental instruments.

The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), set up by the government to monitor the brain-wasting disease, told a news conference it had asked the Department of Health to urge dentists to be vigilant in their sterilization practices.

"There is a theoretical risk of person to person transmission of the disease (from dentistry)," said Peter Smith, acting chairman of SEAC. He stressed "the need for thorough cleaning and sterilization practices be observed" and did not think there was any reason at the moment to recommend changes in dental procedures. But he also warned: "Sterilization does not completely inactivate the agent that causes the disease", and called for a full theoretical risk assessment and further analysis of oral tissue from nvCJD patients to improve knowledge of the risk.

SEAC said last month that incidence of the deadly human form of BSE in Britain was increasing by a "statistically significant" 20 to 30 percent a year. Smith said on Tuesday that latest figures show a total of 77 "definite" and "probable" cases of the disease had been identified in Britain. Eight of those patients are still alive.

Last month the government launched an urgent inquiry into a cluster of CJD deaths around the small village of Queniborough in Leicestershire. Three of the four victims died within weeks of each other and all lived within a close radius. Dr Robert Will, head of the government's CJD surveillance unit, said at the time that baby food and school meals may have been a major source for the Queniborough outbreak.

The Health Department has ordered tests of more than 10,000 tonsils and appendices removed since 1985 to find out how many people in Leicestershire have contracted the disease. Smith said the investigation, which is unlikely to report its findings until the end of the year, might give scientists more clues about the disease. But he warned that investigations into cluster groups of other diseases did not always prove that useful.

"But that is not to prejudge what is going to happen with the Leicestershire cluster. The hope is of course that this will tell us something."

Many scientists believe humans contract the disease by eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. Outbreaks of BSE all but crippled Britain's beef industry in the late 1990s and provoked a bitter political row within Europe over whose beef was safe to eat.

European Union scientists said on Tuesday that mad cow disease is probably present in cattle in Germany, Spain and Italy even though these countries say they are free of it. The EU executive said scientists believed that in these states the risk of mad cow infection in cattle was "likely to be present at levels below the detection limits of their surveillance systems."

Theoretical risk of dental transmission

Tue, Aug 1, 2000 By Nick Allen, PA News
Dentists were today being urged to ensure surgical instruments were kept scrupulously clean after scientists confirmed there was a theoretical risk they could transmit the human form of mad cow disease.

The Government's advisory body, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), said there were no recorded cases of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease being transmitted by surgical instruments in the UK. But there was a "theoretical" risk the disease was not completely destroyed by sterilisation of surgical instruments.

It is calling for more research including the analysis of oral tissues of nvCJD patients and a theoretical risk assessment, but said at the moment there were no grounds to change sterilization procedures. However, it reiterated the need for thorough cleaning and sterilisation practices to be observed by dentists for used instruments.

A Department of Health spokesman said dentists were already given clear guidance on cross-infection control and a circular referring specifically to nvCJD was sent out in August last year. He said SEAC was reiterating previous Department of Health advice that effective washing and decontamination of surgical instruments, including those used in dentistry, was the "most effective way" of reducing the risk of the disease being transmitted. The spokesman added: "There has not been a case of any type of nvCJD recorded as being transmitted by contaminated surgical instruments in the UK and the risk, confirmed by SEAC today, remains theoretical.

"What they are saying is that sterilisation will inactivate a lot of the disease but possibly not inactivate all of it but should reduce it to a level where it minimises the risk of infection. If somebody with nvCJD was operated on and those instruments were not properly washed and sterilised there is a theoretical risk it could be passed on to someone else."

According to SEAC there have so far been 76 "definite" and "probable" cases of nvCJD in Britain, including seven "probables" who are still alive. It said the number of cases was rising by between 20 and 30% a year but it was too early to "forecast the ultimate size of the nvCJD epidemic".

Dentists told to sterilise equipment in BSE warning

August 2 2000 BY VALERIE ELLIOTT London Times
DENTISTS are being told to sterilise all surgical instruments in case they are a factor in helping to spread the human form of "mad cow" disease.

The alert was signalled yesterday after the Government's leading advisers on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) said that they believed there was "a theoretical risk" that the fatal human version of the brain disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, could be passed on by dirty equipment.

Professor Peter Smith, acting chairman of the Spongiform Encepalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), said yesterday that dentists must ensure that they followed recommended cleansing practices of their instruments, which involves washing and sterilising to reduce the risk of contamination.

The committee has previously issued warnings about the need to sterilise surgical instruments, but this is the first time that they have issued a warning to dentists.

Professor Smith made clear that he was not recommending the disposal of all dental instruments after their use on a single patient. He admitted that scientists did not know if there was any link between dentistry and cases of nvCJD but that they were not prepared to take any chances.

They were concerned, however, because dental treatment is an invasive procedure and the instruments could be in contact with blood. He also said that the areas of the mouth anaesthetised in dental work contained cranium nerves that linked to the central nervous system in the brain. SEAC has also ordered further research on oral tissues of nvCJD victims to identify whether infection was present.

Dr James Ironside, a neuropathologist at the CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh, said that he would now routinely ask relatives of victims if he could carry out post-mortem tests on these tissues. He said: "We will try to get this consent. We are very grateful to relatives for their support and encouragement with post-mortem examinations to allow us to perform this vital research. But people reserve the right to refuse and anything that damages and involves the face in a post-mortem is a sensitive area."

He said that in cases of sporadic CJD there had been no evidence that there was any infectivity in tissue linked to dentistry. He now hoped to conduct the same analysis on nvCJD victims.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that dentists had already been told to take great care in the sterilisation of their instruments because of the risk of Aids as well as possible links to nvCJD. Officials would decide in the coming days whether to issue new guidance, he said.

The British Dental Association said that it was fully aware of the risks and that dentists knew that they had to sterilise instruments thoroughly.

The Department of Health is still conducting a review on whether surgical instruments used in operations should be disposed of after use. Surgeons are drawing up a list of the operations that are considered to be most at risk for the possible contraction of nvCJD.

Replacement of all instruments after use would cost millions and is not considered necessary. Professor Smith said yesterday, however, that scientists and doctors were looking particularly at possible disposal of instruments used in neurosurgery, the brain and central nervous system.

Professor Smith also yesterday updated the number of cases of nvCJD. There were now 69 deaths and a further eight probable cases, he said, one more than disclosed two weeks ago. The illness lasted on average some 14 months from first symptoms to death, but some people had died within six months, and the longest suffering had been 39 months.

Value of beef exports plunges by 99%

Tue, Aug 1, 2000 By Rebecca Paveley, PA News
The value of Britain's beef exports has fallen to less than 1% of what they were worth before the European Commission banned overseas sales of the meat because of the BSE crisis, it was announced today. Meat and Livestock Commission figures -- released on the first anniversary of the European Commission's lifting of the ban -- showed that the value of beef exports had plunged from 520 million in 1995 to just 5 million now. But British farmers now supply 81% of the total domestic market.

National Farmers Union spokesman Kevin Pearce called for an immediate relaxation of the conditions imposed by the European Commission, which allow exports only from abattoirs which are dedicated to the beef export market.

Britain currently has just two abattoirs dedicated to exports -- one is in Scotland and the other in Cornwall.

Mr Pearce said: "We are calling on the Commission to relax the conditions to allow abattoirs to dedicate just part of their week to exported beef. This would give a bolster to the industry. "There is no question that standards in abattoirs in Britain are some of the best, if not the best, in Europe."

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo blamed the poor export figures on the message sent out to the rest of the world by France's continuing ban on British beef. France faces legal action by the European Commission for persisting with the ban. Mr Yeo called on the Government to bring more pressure to bear on both France and the European Commission.

"Until Nick Brown starts banging on the table over this with the European Commission the conditions will remain for years," he said. "They have to seize the opportunity with the French. Every time a French minister and a British minister meet, the ban should be the first item on the agenda. "At the moment there is no evidence the Government are making any effort at all."

But Belgian meat exporter Johan Eylenbosch said low sales of British beef abroad were due not to poor confidence, but to the high value of the pound. "People over here do accept British beef, but the main problem is the price -- it is too expensive," he told BBC1 Breakfast News.

A Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods spokesman said the pound's high value was a "small factor" in the depressed export market. "When the ban was lifted we always knew it was going to be a long haul," he said. "Even if the French lifted their ban now we wouldn't expect a huge surge in the figures because a large proportion of their pre-ban market was in older beef, that we are now not allowed to sell or even eat ourselves. "But if the French lifted the ban it would send out a positive message of confidence. The matter of the ban is now in the hands of the Commission."

Commenting on the statistics, Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed said: "There is still a long way to go in building British beef exports back up to where they were before the ban was imposed. "What is clear is that the French position is becoming untenable. "Other European partners also recognise there is a relentless rise in the BSE problem in France at the same time as cases in the UK fall," he added.

Eat beef to mark end of ban, say farmers

Mon, Jul 31, 2000 By Rachael Crofts, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, PA News
Farmers' leaders today thanked the British public for their support on the first anniversary of the lifting of the beef ban in Europe. National Farmers' Union deputy president Tim Bennett urged consumers to eat beef to mark the occasion and back British farmers.

He said: "It is thanks to the public that beef sales in June this year were eight per cent higher than for the same period last year. "It is hypocritical of the French to persist with their illegal ban on our beef, particularly when the actions to control the rising incidence of BSE in France are woefully inadequate. "British consumers know that British beef is amongst the safest in the world and is produced to some of the highest welfare standards in the world.

"It is only the French consumer that is losing out in all of this."

France is facing legal action by the European Commission for persisting with a ban on sales of British beef. British farmers now supply 81% of the total domestic beef market, but the NFU is continuing to lobby the French Government to lift its ban and is also calling for a greater number of processors to be licensed for export to meet increased demand for British beef abroad.

Mr Bennett added: "We are asking consumers up and down the country to support us in re-building our market by eating British beef today and by writing to their local MEPs to call for the French ban to be lifted."

Hospital worker: glands taken from bodies without consent

Mon, Jul 31, 2000 By Maria Breslin, PA News
Glands were stripped from dead hospital patients without the consent of relatives and used for drug research, it was claimed today. British hospital workers were paid by the Government to remove pituitary glands which were later used in the manufacture of human growth hormone treatment for children.

And according to a Merseyside mortuary assistant the glands, which are located just below the brain, were also sold to pharmaceutical firms in the US for the development of fertility treatment.

Father-of-three Fred Foreman, employed at Liverpool's Fazakerley Hospital during the 1960s and 1970s, claimed the pituitary glands were also taken without the consent of grieving families.

The 56-year-old, of Huyton, on Merseyside, said although he was disturbed by the practice, it was widely accepted as part of the job. "There were never any consent forms or correspondence from relatives. They had no idea what was happening and would have been devastated if they had known," he added.

A Department of Health spokesman confirmed there was a statutory countrywide scheme launched under the Human Tissue Act 1961 "which allowed pituitary glands to be taken from cadavers and used in the production of human growth hormone". "In those days it was the only way of making human growth hormone which was given to children with very clinically stunted growth and on the whole it was very successful."

The spokesman said as a statutory scheme, operated broadly from the late 1960's to the early 1980's, the process was "open" although issues arose around consent. "What we aren't able to say, because it was a long time ago, is that consent was given in every case. Consent would have been given for the post-mortem examination to take place but I think 30 years ago the issue of consent wasn't as sharply focused as it has become over the last couple of years. I think it is very difficult to say in how many cases consent was expressly sought and given," he added.

The spokesman said morticians were paid around 20p for every pituitary gland removed but could not comment on claims they were sold to US firms. "The issue is it was a long time ago. The sorts of issues which right now are very much emotive and focused around the patient now were not in those days," he said.

But Mr Foreman, who claims to have removed around 3,000 glands and denies being paid, today said he would like to see an inquiry launched into the practice.

"When the pituitary glands were taken out I just thought that was normal. But not once was consent ever given by any relative," he alleged. The use of human derived growth hormone treatment was halted in 1985 due to the development of CJD -- the human form of mad cow disease -- in some patients. [There are still new cases every year in several countries including the US. -- webmaster]

Age trends in nvCJD

1 Aug 00 webmaster
As mentioned, the vastly improved nvCJD onset data obtained in response to a House of Lords question, opens the door to various sorts of statistical analyses. First, while the vaccine issue must not be dismissed out of hand, it must be stressed that there are a fair number of middle-aged people affected by nvCJD.

Working back to age on July 1986, we see at the high end victims of age 41, 40, 40, 38, 37, 33, 31, 29, 28, 26, 26, 25, 24, 24, 23, 23, 22, 22, 21, 21, 20, 20, 20, and 20.

Working back to age on July 1986, at the low end victims were of age 10, 9, 9, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, and 0.

Overall, the average age of victims in July 1986 was 16.0 (9.6 std dev). Aggregating ages on July 1986 in 5 year blocks, we see (beginning with 40-45): 3, 2, 2, 5, 12, 12, 22, 13, 7. Even adjusting for population demographics, the worst age to be in 1986 was the 10-15 bracket.

BSE is commonly said to have begun in the late 1970's, though the British never followed up on the 1970 spongiform white tigers at the Bristol Zoo even though frozen sample is still available from Dr. Gibbs at NIH. No one will do the western blots.

That would be an excellent further question for the House of Lords, if their most noble veterinarians could bestir themselves to look at these tiger brains with modern immunological methods. Tigers were fed split spinal cords and skulls, a monitoring system rather like the American use of mink fed downer dairy.

age on Jul 1986

16.0  average age of victim in July 1986
9.6   standard deviation or spread in ages

Vermont trial: in depth coverage

Wed, 02 Aug 2000 By John Dillon and Robin Palmer TIMES ARGUS STAFF
EAST WARREN - Linda and Larry Faillace are tentatively planning an appeal of a U.S. District Court order that their imported sheep must be killed.

Judge J. Garvan Murtha refused Tuesday to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from seizing and slaughtering the animals suspected of harboring a form of mad cow disease. Murtha agreed with the USDA that the sheep must be destroyed in order to block the spread of an always-fatal brain disorder that could infect humans.

Owners of two separate flocks - the Faillaces of Warren and Houghton Freeman of Stowe - had fought the government's order to destroy their 355 animals, arguing the test the government used was flawed and that their sheep are healthy and were not exposed to mad cow disease before being imported from Europe in 1996.

But Murtha cited tests conducted for the USDA that showed four of the animals culled from the Freeman farm are infected with a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a family of illnesses that includes mad cow disease and a far more common sheep disease called scrapie.

Murtha said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman was trying to protect the public when he issued a "declaration of extraordinary emergency" on July 14 requiring that the imported Belgian dairy sheep be killed.

"If the secretary is correct that the continued presence in this country of the Belgian sheep constitutes an unacceptable risk, their destruction will greatly reduce the possibility that humans and domestic animals will be exposed to a contagion not presently endemic in the United States," Murtha wrote. "Such potential harm, together with the government's obligation to compensate the plaintiffs for their loss, counsel against the granting of injunctive relief."

The judge gave the flock owners until Aug. 7 to comply with the government's July 14 seizure order. A USDA spokesman said the government would not take the animals immediately but would meet with the owners first to set a value for the sheep.

The USDA will remove and destroy the animals in a humane manner, spokesman Patrick Collins said. "Our goal would be to work something out before the 7th," he said. "We're clearly interested - and the court is interested - in us working with these families in a positive way in a situation that's obviously uncomfortable for all parties involved."

Linda Faillace said Tuesday evening that the family was considering an appeal. "If it means keeping the sheep alive, we'll go for it. It's like they're taking your kids away," she said through tears.

Thomas Amidon, a lawyer representing Freeman, also said an appeal is possible. "We haven't made any decisions yet," he said. "Obviously we knew that we had a huge burden to overcome going in. But we really had to have someone look at it. To that extent, we are appreciative to the fact that a third party - the judiciary - has taken a look at it."

Larry Faillace said Tuesday evening said the family would consult with their lawyers before making a final decision on the appeal. After an evening of thought however, "our feeling has become increasingly strong that that's what we need to do," he said this morning.

Last month, Glickman ordered the sheep destroyed after tests on brain tissue from four of Freeman's animals revealed signs of a transmissible brain disease that could be bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name of mad cow disease.

The USDA says the Vermont animals or their ancestors were exposed to mad cow disease by consuming feed in Europe made from meat and bone meal contaminated with the infectious agent, an abnormal protein dubbed a prion.

Mad cow disease, the bovine version of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, first appeared in mid-1980s when British cattle began falling ill with a mysterious brain ailment. The epidemic was linked to feed supplements derived from infected animal products. More than 176,000 cows have died from the disease and more than 4 million were destroyed to prevent the disease from spreading further.

Since it first appeared in its human form in 1996, a total of 76 people in Britain, two in France and one in Ireland have died or are dying of the fatal disorder. So far this year, the disease has killed 14 Britons, as many as died from it all last year. Because the incubation period for the disease can last for more than 10 years, the number of victims is expected to rise.

Lawyers for the Vermont flock owners argued that the test conducted for the USDA did not show whether their sheep had mad cow disease or scrapie, a related but far more common sheep illness. Unlike mad cow disease, scrapie is not considered dangerous to people.

Dr. Richard Rubenstein, the scientist who conducted the diagnostic test on the Vermont sheep for the USDA, told the court last week that his test did not reveal if the animals had mad cow disease or scrapie. Other scientists, testifying for the flock owners, challenged the testing procedure Rubenstein used.

But Murtha said the flock owners' experts "merely questioned, but they did not contradict, Dr. Rubenstein's methods and conclusions."

The experts for the flock owners also acknowledged that Rubenstein is "pre-eminent in the field" of TSE research, he wrote. The flock owners failed to meet their legal burden of showing that the government's action was "arbitrary and capricious," Murtha said.

"At this time, a 100 percent definitive test which identifies specific types of TSE is unavailable. It appears (Glickman) has relied upon the most authoritative evidence presently available," he wrote.

The judge also noted that most of the sheep brains - including the area where the TSE can be more easily detected - was used up by the USDA's tests.

"At most, plaintiffs' experts indicated they would have conducted additional tests, which would have to be performed on a less sensitive part of the brain of the same sheep," he wrote.

After the USDA's seizure order, the owners of 21 sheep in a flock in Lyndonville voluntarily sold their sheep to the government. The Faillaces and Freeman, however, fought the USDA order even as government veterinarians traveled to their farms to appraise the condemned animals.

The Faillaces said they expect the government will soon set a price for their high milk producing sheep, which they consider irreplaceable. The Faillaces have valued their business at $11.3 million. But Linda Faillace said she was told the USDA has only $2.1 million budgeted for the entire acquisition and disposal of both flocks.

Larry Faillace said he was disappointed that Murtha ruled that the family would not suffer "irreparable harm" if the sheep were destroyed.

"He said we were not able to prove we would suffer irreparable harm by losing the sheep. We have the highest quality dairy sheep outside of Europe," he said. "If that's not irreparable harm by taking them, I don't know what is."

Heads hung low Tuesday evening at the Schoolhouse Store where the Faillaces and their three children stayed until 10 p.m. meeting with friends and family and answering questions from reporters.

"I've had better days," said Bruce Fowler, owner of the store and a friend and business partner of the Faillaces. "I thought we were doing the right thing. I'm so disappointed.

"I can't believe that all these people looked at a science that was done so poorly that any high school teacher would have negated the results," said Fowler, adding that he still had "a thin veil of hope that's perhaps through an appeal someone will listen. That's what the United States was built on, the small farmer and when you stop listening to the small farmer that's when you in trouble."

Linda Faillace's parents, Glenn and Mary Cahilly of Warren, said there was no small farming opportunity in the United States like the imported sheep, which produce 10 times the milk of other sheep. "I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry and I have never seen bad science used as a weapon like this," Glenn Cahilly said.

Standing on the porch of the old schoolhouse on a cold and damp evening, James Roth, a Warren resident, said he felt as if someone had just told him a relative died. John Barkhausen, also a Warren resident, criticized the USDA and said he had thought the judge's delay in issuing his decision was a good sign for the sheep owners.

"Hopefully they'll get another stay," Barkhausen added. "We'll be her to witness it, whatever happens." Community members brought meals for the family Tuesday evening and left saying, "our thoughts are with you."

"My heart goes out to the other farmer that sold," said Linda Faillace, referencing to a third sheep owner who sold 21 sheep to the USDA after the seizure order was issued. Faillace said the other owner missed out on discovering true community. "The people here, they just bend over backwards."

If their animals are seized, the Faillaces hope the sheep do not suffer. Since many of the dairy sheep are lactating, Amidon asked Murtha in court last week to ensure that, the sheep don't suffer before they are killed.

"A farmer feels very strongly about his animals. A farmer feels some animals stay and some have to go. That's farming. But they all love their animals," Amidon said Tuesday. "Because these animals are lactating, if they were to be transported for a number of hours they would be in great pain."

Linda Detwiler, the USDA veterinarian in charge of keeping mad cow disease out of the United States, said the transporting of the sheep could be timed to coincide with milking and the people who move them could carry a portable milking machine.

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