Prion Disease: Belgium to take back "Mad Sheep"
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Vermont sheep still grazing as lawyers reach deal
Vermont: why USDA won't do further tests
Vermont farmers ready to pay to save mad sheep
Mother of two may have died of nvCJD; total nvCJD reaches 82
Farmer loses court fight to save prize cow
Norwegian BSE suspected
Bovine bone used as human plasma substitute
Food supplements with raw animal parts: not what this doctor ordered
More House of Lords questions
British cases of human mad cow disease rise to 79
Study to 'rule out' BSE link to milk
Plan drawn up to avert food panic if BSE found in sheep

Vermont sheep still grazing as lawyers reach deal

Thu, Aug 10, 2000 Reuters World Report
BURLINGTON, Vt. Lawyers for owners of Vermont sheep suspected of having a neurological ailment similar to mad cow disease struck a deal with prosecutors on Thursday for a fuller court hearing on the animals' fate.

Under the agreement, lawyers for the farmers will forgo a federal appeals case in return for a more detailed hearing in a lower court, said Tom Amidon, who represents sheep farmer Houghton Freeman. "So the sheep are on the farm awhile," Amidon said. He hoped a new hearing would allow for closer examination of claims by the U.S. Agriculture Department, which wants to seize and eliminate the 350 sheep under scrutiny as a health precaution.

U.S. District Judge Garvan Murtha ruled last week the Agriculture Department could carry out its plan. But the farmers planned to appeal before Thursday's agreement changed the legal picture. "We will drop our appeal to the second circuit and in return the U.S. attorneys office in Vermont will allow us to hold a fuller court hearing," Amidon said.

Four sheep on Vermont farms near Warren, Vermont, tested positive last month for a disease known as TSE or transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, according to USDA officials.

... Breeding pairs for the two flocks of diary sheep came from Belgium and the Netherlands in the mid-90s. Amidon said the Belgian government has sent a letter to the USDA requesting the return of all 350 sheep and that Freeman had already lined up a plane to transport them. Whether that will eventually occur remains unclear.

Vermont: why USDA won't do further tests

9 Aug 00 By Cory Hatch of Vermmont Valley Reporter
USDA APHIS now offer a Question and Answer pdf on Vermont sheep
An offer from the Belgian government to import the roughly 350 Vermont sheep for further testing might provide a positive resolution for both the USDA, who claims the sheep might be infected with a form of "mad cow" disease, and the sheep owners who think the government agency is overreacting. Owners of the sheep, Larry and Linda Faillace of Warren, and Houghton Freeman of Waterbury, say they are exited about the offer and hope the USDA will to allow the repatriotization of the sheep.

The Belgium government originally agreed to accept the 50 original sheep shipped to the US in 1996, but, according to the Faillaces, Freeman has offered to pay the shipping charges for all the animals from both flocks.

USDA spokesperson Linda Detwiler said the USDA is considering the offer. Detwiler said that, in addition to the Belgium government, the European Union must also agree to the proposal. According to Davis Buckley, attorney for the Faillaces, both flock owners are still looking into an appeal of an August 1 Vermont federal court decision to uphold the USDA action.

As negotiations for the export of the Faillace and Freeman sheep flocks to Belgium commence, TSE researchers continue to question tests used by the USDA to condemn the two flocks. In particular, facts about a western blot protein test, meant to detect transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) in brain tissue, have caused concern in some scientists who see inconsistency in testing procedures and problems with the results.

July 24 Vermont court testimony about the western blot test, run by Dr. Richard Rubenstein from the Staten Island Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, raised more questions than it answered as lawyers for the sheep questioned both the procedure and the results of the protein identification procedure.

According to at least three scientists involved in TSE research, Dr. Rubenstein's test did not have the proper controls, did not have clear results, and should be repeated before a TSE is diagnosed. Drs. Thomas Pringle, Shu Chen, and Glenn Telling, have all come forward to question the western blot, one of two tests the USDA is using to make the controversial diagnosis. The other test, a histochemistry test to find certain types of brain lesions, Detwiler admits, is inconclusive.

Detwiler would not comment other than to say she was not a western blot expert and unqualified to comment. Sources Detwiler recommended to answer these questions could not be reached for comment. Dr. Rubenstein, himself, admits that his test could only diagnose a generic TSE. Lawyers for the sheep used this statement to refute the USDA claim that the sheep have an atypical TSE of foreign origin.

However, Detwiler said the TSE is considered atypical because of the types of lesions present in the Vermont sheep brains during the histochemistry examination of the brain tissue. Detwiler said that typical TSE's would contain four specific types of lesions in the brain and the Vermont sheep only showed two or three. [Full text of the histopathology reports show results were 0 for 4. It is very twisted to interpret negative findings and conditions commonly found in adult sheep as "atypical" positive findings. -- webmaster] She went on to say that, in the past, all four lesions had to be present to diagnose the disease, but with the advent of the western blot, the diagnosis is less dependent on the presence of all the lesions.

The results of this western blot show contrary results to at least three other tests run on the flocks. No symptoms of TSE have been found in either the Faillace or Freeman flocks. Recently, results of a third eyelid biopsy test of 60 of the Vermont sheep showed negative results in all the test subjects. Detwiler quoted a disclaimer from the researcher that performed the test that said these results may not be conclusive.

"No Prp-res (the abnormal protein that indicates TSE) was detected," quoted Detwiler, "It should be noted it is possible to have Prp-res present at levels below the sensitivity of this test, it should also be noted that Prp-res may be present in tissues in other than samples that were examined."

A genotype test was also performed on the sheep. This test is meant to determine whether or not the sheep have a genetic make up similar to a Suffolk breed, the breed found most prone to TSE disease. According to Detwiler, the Faillace and Freeman flocks do not have a similar genetic code to the Suffolk breed, but that the test does not rule out the possibility that the sheep might carry an unexpressed form of the disease. "We don't know if there's a carrier state," said Detwiler. An immunohistochemistry test also showed negative results.

At present, the USDA has not allowed further testing on the two flocks of sheep. In addition, 21 sheep confiscated from a related third flock were destroyed. Samples have been retained according to Detwiler and will be tested with a western blot, immunohistochemistry, and histology sometime in the future by unspecified labs. A lab in Europe called Prionics is currently the most validated facility in prion research.

When asked why the USDA is reluctant to permit further tests on the sheep, Detwiler said the USDA has a legal responsibility to destroy the flocks and that the two tests performed were, in their eyes, sufficient to make the diagnosis. "We could, that's been offered to us," she said. "but, the department has an obligation."

Detwiler said the 21 sheep were not tested because only three members of the flock were related to the questionable sheep and the chance of detecting a disease was small. "It was a precaution," she said.

Vermont farmers ready to pay to save "mad sheep"

Fri, Aug 4, 2000  Reuters North America
Vermont situation: last update Monday afternoon per telephone/Linda Faillace
A federal judge Friday said two Vermont sheep farmers could appeal a decision that allows U.S. officials to slaughter their flocks because they may carry an ailment similar to mad cow disease.

The farmers have asked that the 350 imported East Fresian sheep be sent back to Belgium so they can be monitored. On Friday, Belgium's Agriculture Minister Jaak Gabriels asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to return the sheep alive and promised they would be monitored.

"Our first thought is to keep them from being slaughtered," said Houghton Freeman, one of the two farmers. Freeman and his fellow farmer Larry Faillace imported breeding pairs of the dairy sheep from Belgium and the Netherlands in 1996. Their flocks have grown over the years.

Earlier this summer, four of the animals tested positive for an as yet unidentified form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or TSE. 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 the 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. "Basically we would like to resolve this as quickly as possible. We are not going outside of the court but we are continuing to negotiate with the families involved," said USDA spokesman Patrick Collins. No cases of mad cow disease have been found in the United States. The Agriculture Department has been closely monitoring all U.S. livestock since an outbreak in Europe four years ago.

Scientists believe eating meat from an animal with mad cow disease causes a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a brain-wasting disorder that killed more than 50 people in Britain.

Under U.S. District Judge Garvan Murtha's Aug. 1 ruling the USDA could begin gathering the flocks Monday. If the farmers appeal, their case would be heard by the U.S. 2nd Circuit in New York.

Belgium seeks repatriation of sheep suspected of mad cow disease

Fri, Aug 4, 2000 By PAUL AMES Associated Press Writer
Belgium's agriculture minister on Friday requested the United States send back 50 Belgian sheep suspected in Vermont of carrying an illness similar to mad cow disease.

The sheep are among 376 that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman ordered destroyed after scientists said four dead animals showed traces of a brain disease that resembled bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

In a statement, Belgian Agriculture Minister Jaak Gabriels said he'd written to Glickman asking for a reprieve for the original sheep exported in 1996 so they could be sent back across the Atlantic for further tests. "It is very important, both for the United States and the European Union, that we know for sure if the sheep have, or have not, been contaminated by a transmissible brain infection," Gabriels said.

Scientists in the United States are not certain the four Vermont sheep had a form of mad cow disease, but the Department of Agriculture said it is better to slaughter them to avoid any possibility the disease could gain a foothold in North America.

The Vermont farmers who own most of the sheep have until Monday to appeal a federal judge's ruling last upholding the destruction order.

An official at the Belgian Agriculture Ministry said Gabriels was seeking the repatriation of the around 50 surviving sheep exported to Vermont. The others awaiting slaughter are their offspring, he said. The minister's statement said the sheep's' owners in Vermont supported sending them home and had agreed to cover the costs.

Gabriels said the sheep would be kept under close surveillance once they were returned to Belgium for tests. He said European Union had agreed the sheep should be returned after a visit by EU experts to the United States later this month.

Mad cow disease first broke out in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s and has affected some 180,000 cattle, it has been linked to a similar brain-wasting ailment in humans -- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease-- which has killed some 50 people in Britain.

British cattle feed containing the ground remains of sheep infected with a disease called scrapie is believed to be the cause of the outbreak. Scrapie is not believed to create a direct threat to human health. The EU said last week its scientists are investigating new claims a varient of mad cow disease may have spread to sheep.

Opinion (webmaster): This turn of events could upset USDA's scheme to quietly incinerate the sheep and never mind whether they actually had a TSE.

The 4 "positive" sheep were 13-14 month old rams, whereas the original imported animals are now 5-6 years old and still very healthy. None of the 376 have ever displayed any symptom of TSE, neither have any sheep in the parent flocks.

It is going to be hard to deny Belgium's request because this is something that USDA itself originally proposed. USDA has in fact denied Belgium and other US labs any brain samples so far. The 21 sheep from the farm that did sell out were all incinerated at Newburgh without sample retention. It is very doubtful that any information would ever emerge from Plum Island -- the agency would be in no hurry to conduct further tests nor to admit to a mistake.

There was plenty of time to repeat the western blots on older sheep, including negative controls and blinded code numbers and two labs this time around. There has been plenty of time to run western blots on the 21 culled sheep. The USDA is afraid to repeat the western blots or allow Belgium to acquire samples.

The issue boils down to how much tissue it takes to do a western blot; they may argue that the relevant area of the brain is only big enough for one run but this is quite false. Assuming Staten Island prepped the whole 19 grams (per each sheep) into a single small pellet through suspension in detergent buffer and high speed centrifugation, then protease K digestion, then repelleting. This gives a small pellet. Lab notes would say how much "SDS PAGE buffer" (or some similar term) was used to resuspend the pellet. The pellet is boiled in the buffer.

How is that pellet resuspended into the 15 or 20 microliters of buffer to run on the gel? Unless his method is quite different from the standard method of Dr. Richard Race, it's hard to get that pellet, even after PK treatment, resuspended into the smaller 20 microliter volume.

More typically, the pellet from such a large run would be resuspended in 100 microliters, then 20 microliters run as one lane on the gel. The rest is kept at -20C and run on other days. That's how control tissues are typically run, so that one prep gives enough material for several runs. Otherwise a one whole control animal is needed for each gel run (practical only for rodents). Very little was disclosed in court about sample handling and what western blot protocol was really used.

The bottom line: 100 microliters was plenty for 2 labs to do 2 western blots each with 20 microliters left over for strain-typing.

From the point of view of USDA, the pending Belgian deal would at least get rid of the sheep; later embarassing disclosures about total lack of TSE in the sheep could be brushed off as politics. The whole incident has been very damaging to the credibility of US testing for TSE: while Europe has moved to impartial validated testing by third parties (eg, Prionics), the US remains mired in politicized testing shopped around for a conclusion specified in advance, be it positive for these sheep or negative for elk game farms and BSE.

The events unfolding in Vermont hardly instill confidence in comparable USDA testing of US downer cattle. Obviously Europe will not be importing any US beef until objective testing is instituted.

Mother of two may have died of nvCJD

Fri, Aug 4, 2000  By Chris Marritt, PA News
Comment (webmaster): July 00 saw 5 new cases of nvCJD, June had 4. nvCJD alive changed from 7 to 9, nvCJD dead awaiting confirmation from 3 to 4, nvCJD confirmed from 9 to 11, and total number of definite and probable cases of nvCJD from 74 to 79, an increase of 5 in 34 days. July was the worst month ever; at these rates, the total for 2000 will exceed the total for the preceding 5 years combined.

A pathologist was today carrying out a post mortem examination on a 30-year-old mother-of-two to see if she died of the human form of mad cow disease. Anita Maria Bradshaw died at Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn, Lancashire, after suffering from what was thought to be new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (nvCJD). The disease has been linked to eating meat infected with BSE -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The news follows reports yesterday that the number of deaths from the disease had more than quadrupled since 1995.

Mrs Bradshaw, of Stanley Street, Accrington, Lancashire, died at the hospital on July 27. It is thought she had been battling the disease for about two years.

Her husband, Andrew, was today at home with their children Rebecca, seven, and Reece, two. He said the family was "really upset" and would not comment until after the inquest.

Blackburn coroner Michael Singleton opened the inquest on Mrs Bradshaw yesterday and adjourned it until December.

Comment (webmaster): There are no reports on the health of the children. Information on maternal transmission remains very limited. Epidemic modeling of nvCJD in this week's Lancet and next week's Nature have been obsoleted by the events of July causing contradictory coverage in the press.

Farmer loses court fight to save prize cow

Fri, Aug 4, 2000  By Mike Taylor, PA News
A pregnant prize-winning pedigree highland cow called Diana which poses no threat to the human food chain seemed doomed to slaughter today after her owner failed in a High Court challenge to the Government's rigid enforcement of BSE regulations.

Farmer David Owen breeds cattle for show purposes only, not for meat production, and Diana's bloodline has won him many awards. He was furious when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food decreed that Diana, born in April 1997, must die because her mother Valentine contracted BSE last year and had to be put down, albeit nearly two years after Diana's birth.

MAFF said the resumption of UK beef exports to Europe depended on strict compliance with the regulations.

Lawyers for Mr Owen, of Mansell Farm, Codicote, Hertfordshire, argued today that MAFF should exercise its discretion and make an exception in Diana's case. Alternatively, her slaughter should be delayed until after she had calved next January or February so that, if her carcass was found to be free of BSE, her offspring could carry on the bloodline.

But Mr Justice Dyson, although expressing sympathy for Mr Owen in what he described as a "sad" case, ruled that Diana "has to be sacrificed to ensure that the faltering resurgence of exports of British beef is not halted or put at risk". MAFF agreed to a stay of execution pending a renewal of Mr Owen's judicial review application in the Court of Appeal.

The High Court in London heard that a report from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) stated there was no risk of BSE having been passed on to a calf by its mother if the calf was born two years or more before the onset of the disease in the mother.

But MAFF's policy was that all offspring born after August 1996 of cows shown to be BSE-infected must be culled and incinerated. It said any deviation from that policy would risk a reintroduction of the European ban on UK beef.

Mr Owen was shocked by the news that Valentine had contracted BSE. He maintained a very high standard of hygiene and cleanliness on his farm and was extremely cautious about his sources of cattle feed. Valentine, born in 1991, had won many prizes, including awards at the East of England Show and The Royal Show. Last year, Diana was first in class at the Surrey Show and reserve champion at The Royal.

The judge said he had seen a photograph of Diana "and even to my untutored eye she is a splendid animal". He accepted that the chances of her being infected were negligible and it was difficult to see how she could enter the human food chain.

But he agreed with MAFF that the 1998 BSE Offspring Slaughter Regulations were part of a package presented to the European Commission in order to resume the export of British beef and further the UK's right to free movement of goods within the EC. So long as it remained Government policy to stick to the regulations, MAFF had no discretion in the matter.

Mr Owen was not in court. He was said to be abroad, "taking his first holiday in 25 years".

Norwegian BSE suspected

Fri, Aug 4, 2000 AP WorldStream
OSLO, Norway -- A bull that was imported from Denmark was being examined for possible mad cow disease, Norway's animal health board reported Friday. The bull was imported from Denmark in 1994 and had been used for breeding before it was slaughtered Thursday. Official veterinarians performing a routine examination of the carcass discovered abnormalities in the dead animal's brain and alerted authorities. The carcass was frozen and isolated for further examination. Results were not expected for two weeks.

Norway has never registered a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. It also was listed last week in an EU report as among the non-EU countries least likely to have the diseased animals.

Authorities stressed that the public faced no danger since meat from the bull had not reached the market. The fatal cattle ailment has been linked to a similar brain-wasting illness in humans, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Only a few dozen animals are imported annually from the neighboring country of Denmark, where a case of BSE was discovered earlier this year. A BSE outbreak in Britain in the 1990s led to a global ban on exports of British beef. That ban has been lifted, except by France which has consequently been taken to court by the European Commission.

Bovine bone used as human plasma substitute

 Opinion (webmaster):  Are they saying below that there is a market after all for the millions of pounds of the mad cow bones
in the warehouses?  The danger with plasma substitutes made from bovine bone is that a very slight amount of residual infectivity might give rise to CJD over the long human lifespan.  Many people do not realize the extent to which bovine products permeate the medicinal, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical marketplace.

Determination of the clearance factor for TSE agents during the manufacturing process of polygeline.

Intensive Care Med 2000 May;26(5):608-12
Peano S, Reiner G, Carbonatto M, Bodenbender L, Boland P, Abel KJ
To determine the safety of polygeline, a gelatine-derived plasma substitute produced from bovine bones, in terms of safety for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) by evaluating the ability of the manufacturing process of polygeline to eliminate agents related to transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) through the validation of three main production steps.

Laboratory scale experimental process (in duplicate) using 20% hamster-adapted 263K scrapie-infected brain homogenate as infective titrated source (10(9) LD50/2 ml), added to each material before being processed and titrated in hamsters. Experiment 1: time/temperature dependency of gelatine autoclaving. Experiment 2: cross-linking and distillation. Experiment 3: final sterilization. Monitoring period: 1 year with daily animal clinical observation.

Heating the gelatine (at conditions lower than those used in production process) was very effective in inactivating the infectivity of TSE agents. Clearance factors were reproducible, dependent upon time and temperature, reaching a total theoretical process clearance in the range of 9.2-13.8 [6.9 + 2.3 (+ 4.6)] log10 LD50.

These experimental results provide further important data confirming the safety of the procedural steps; this complements the safety due to the careful sourcing of the raw material. There is high assurance that there is no significant risk of TSE transmission to humans by the therapeutic administration of polygeline.

Opinion (Dr. Roland Heynkes): "Is a monitoring period of one year really sufficient? A monitoring period of one year can be sufficient, if you only want to titrate high infectivity material. But if you really want to know if there is a remaining low infectivity after a sterilizing procedure, one year is of course not sufficient.

In my opinion this is propaganda research. They should not calculate theoretical clearance factors by just adding the clearance factors of the three main production steps, but put the spiked material through the whole production process and look than thoroughly for remaining infectivity.

The problem of adding experimental clearance factors to a theoretical clearance factor is, that the majority of scrapie infectivity is easy to remove, but a small rest is extreemly resistant and even several sequential processes will not achieve further reduction of infectivity."

Settlement offered to Canadians infected by blood transfusions

August 4, 2000 The Associated Press 
Thousands of people suing the Canadian Red Cross over tainted blood transfusions that infected more than 11,000 with HIV or Hepatitis C will vote on whether to accept a $53 million compensation package.

Accepting the package would force them to abandon further legal action.

About 5,400 people are being invited to vote on the plan Aug. 30. Those eligible include about 25 people infected with HIV through blood transfusions in the early 1980s, and a larger group of Hepatitis C sufferers excluded from $1.2 billion in government compensation because they weren't infected between 1986 and 1990.

The money will be offered through a trust fund, which has been put together with contributions from the Red Cross and co-defendants in the lawsuits, including drug manufacturers and medical insurers, chief negotiator Bob Rae said Thursday. Red Cross creditors, who are owed about $18 million, will also be asked to vote on a separate deal to determine how much payment they are entitled to.

Calling the offer "pathetic," Toronto lawyer Ken Arenson said he thinks it's "still uncertain legally" if the co-defendants can be released from liability in exchange for enriching the deal.

Mike McCarthy, past vice president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, said the payments, which could work out to between $6,739 and $8,086 for those infected with Hepatitis C, are "table scraps" compared to payments of up to $107,134 awarded to victims included in the $1.2 billion government package.

Hepatitis is a progressive disease which may produce serious symptoms 20 or 30 years after the date of infection.

Food supplements with raw animal parts: not what this doctor ordered

Fri, 4 Aug 2000 Mark DePaolis, MD Minneapolis Star Tribune
Whenever people ask me what kind of nutritional supplements they should be taking to stay healthy, I always say, "The ones without the raw animal parts."

Lots of people take supplement pills. They are a $14 billion industry in this country. Walk down the vitamin aisle at any drugstore and you'll see a virtual periodic table of supplements, with names like "Argesium" and "Nitrospasine," which have been proven to increase your blood levels of imaginary chemicals.

Others sound as if they came from a spice rack, with natural-sounding names like Cayenne Thymustardine and Cuminacea. People take one for energy, one for muscle, one for liver, one for kidney, and so on. Then they take one for memory so they remember to take all the other ones.

I'm not sure why people want to take so many pills when they feel fine. If you ask, they always say they are trying to stay healthy. To me, being healthy means you don't have to take any pills.

Although a few supplements can be dangerous, most of them are safe as long as you can find wholesome products that are manufactured and packaged correctly, and that contain exactly what it says on the label. This is not as easy as it sounds.

This week Time magazine reported that some supplements might actually make you sick. ConsumerLab, an independent laboratory in New York, has tested many of the popular brands of supplements and found some problems. They tested 21 brands of ginseng, which some people take to improve their energy and memory, and found that a third of them contained high levels of pesticides, as much as 20 times the allowed amount. Some of them also had high doses of lead, another scary thing to put in your body.

Even when they list all the ingredients, the labels are rarely correct. Almost half of the Glucosamine products tested had less than the amount listed on the bottle. A quarter of the Ginkgo biloba products had less than the advertised amount of the main ingredient, Ginkgo, which is, if I remember correctly, a type of salamander.

Supplement manufacturers claim they are following all applicable laws, which is easy because there aren't any. In 1994, congress took away the power of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate these products. There are no rules governing their manufacture, labeling or advertising. As long as the makers don't claim to cure a disease, they can say pretty much anything. The only way the FDA can regulate these products is afterward, when something goes wrong. Once a few people get sick or die from a product the agency can step in and take it off the market, as it did with L-tryptophan in the '80s and diet pills in the '90s.

This sounds bad, but according to another report that came out last week, anyone who buys a supplement product that merely contains the wrong dose should thank their lucky stars, because it could be much worse.

Dr. Scott A. Norton, a dermatologist in Maryland, examined a variety of herbal supplements and found that some of them contained raw animal parts. As reported the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, he found supplements that contained 17 different cow organs, including lungs and brains.

Some of these products listed the parts on the label, but most of them used confusing, doctor-type words for them, like "hypothalamus," which means brain tissue, and "orchis," which means you'll have to go look it up yourself. Some listed "thymus," like in the popular Simon and Garfunkel song "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Glands."

The tissue from cow brains is particularly troubling, according to Norton, because it could theoretically transmit the virus that causes "mad cow" disease. In an interview, Norton said, "I would advise all my patients not to take supplements that contain central nervous system tissue from animals." Whew! Good thing he said something. As advice, that's right up there with, "Don't run with scissors." Department of Agriculture rules prohibit using this kind of brain matter in food, but they have no power over the supplement industry either. Apparently, no one does. Without regulations, manufacturers are able to put things in supplements that they can't even put in hot dogs. And if you know what's in hot dogs, you are now trembling with fear.

I'm going to stick with the "no pills" health plan. For one thing, it's easier to remember not to take them. Plus, as a bonus, the "no pill" plan also turns out to be the "no parts" plan, and that makes me feel healthy already.

More House of Lords questions

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

Whether, in investigating the cluster of nvCJD cases in Leicestershire, they will make reference to the collection of samples relating to the "unfit meat" scandal of 20 years ago held at the Ventress laboratories. (HL3628)

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

The public health team undertaking the detailed investigation into the apparent cluster of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cases in Leicestershire are pursuing a number of avenues of inquiry. The results of the nationwide investigation into the illegal trade of unfit meat carried out in the early 1980s (known as Operation Meat Hook ) are being drawn to their attention.

Whether they are conducting surveillance for asymptomatic nvCJD by means of tests on random human autopsies or otherwise. (HL3629)

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

A number of studies to detect asymptomatic variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD) have been commissioned as part of the Government s research strategy. These include:

i. Retrospective surveys to examine some 18,000 samples of tonsil/appendix tissue for the presence of the abnormal prion protein associated with nvCJD. Interim findings were published on 28th April 2000 (Department of Health Press Release R368 34). No positives were found. ii. A study of the brains of the elderly population in Nottingham on whom autopsies are carried out.

iii .A systematic survey of brain samples from an unselected autopsy population, including younger individuals, in Oxford. Preliminary results of some two hundred samples from this study have not detected any unsuspected or asymptomatic cases of nvCJD.

iv. A national retrospective review of CJD and related disorders - involving most neuropathology laboratories in the United Kingdom - to establish that cases of neurodegenerative disorders have not been misclassified before nvCJD had been identified.

v. A comprehensive examination of the Corsellis brain collection to identify any unidentified cases of prion disease.

What symptoms are associated, in a significant number of cases, with the early clinical manifestations of nvCJD; and whether they will bring this list of symptoms to the notice of all health professionals. (HL3702)

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

Early clinical symptoms of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD) are non-specific and include psychiatric symptoms such as depression, personality change, irritability, sleep disturbance and personal neglect. In addition, persistent pain and odd sensations may be experienced in the face and limbs. After several weeks or months, more clear-cut neurological symptoms may set in such as unsteadiness in walking, sudden jerky movements and loss of mental function.

nvCJD is a rare disease. With the vague nature of the early symptoms, general practitioners might initially diagnose a range of much more common psychiatric disorders. However, all health care professionals should be aware of the above symptoms and hence the possibility of nvCJD through publications in the medical press, the media and the National CJD Surveillance Unit Website. Updates on the disease are being sent out to all general practitioners through CMOs update

Which research proposals relating to nvCJD have been refused state funding within the latest 12 months for which records are available. (HL3703)

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

In the last twelve months the Department of Health has turned down only one research proposal relating to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), following advice from referees. There is also a small number of research proposals relating to variant CJD currently being held in abeyance until further information has been provided by the applicants.

The Medical Research Council has considered 12 applications for grants to support research related to variant CJD during the funding session October 1999 July 2000. Nine proposals were successful in securing funding totalling 2.5 million. Those failing to reach the competitive standard (3 in total) were identified to have significant weaknesses in their scientific strategy.

British cases of human mad cow disease rise to 79

Mon, 7 Aug 2000 Reuters World Report; UK Dept of Health press release
The next table will be published on Monday 4th September.
The number of "definite and probable" cases of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease (BSE), has risen to 79, Britain's Department of Health said on Monday. The official figures show the number of cases of the disease has risen by two since the last set of figures were released in July. The numbers include six probable, but unconfirmed deaths from the disease. [Three deaths in France and Ireland bring the total to 82 --webmaster]

Government scientists warned on August 1 there was a theoretical risk that vCJD could be transmitted from person to person via dental instruments.

An urgent inquiry has also been launched after a cluster of deaths from the brain-wasting disease was found around the village of Queniborough in Leicestershire, central England.

The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committe (SEAC) said last month that cases of the disease were increasing by between 20 and 30 percent a year. Writing in the medical journal, The Lancet, Dr Robert Will, head of the government's CJD surveillance unit, said: "The absolute number of cases in the UK is still low, but such an increase should be a matter of concern." SEAC said the team investigating the Leicestershire deaths was likely to report within the next few months and could cast new light on the transmission of the disease.

Study to 'rule out' BSE link to milk

Mon, Aug 7, 2000 Keith Perry The Guardian [UK]
Special report: what's wrong with our food?
The government has ordered an inquiry into whether there is a link between BSE and milk and dairy products. The research, announced by Nick Brown, the minister of agriculture, follows assurances that dairy products are safe from causing variant CJD, the human form of BSE. The food standards agency has asked scientists to carry out a three-year study into possible links "as soon as possible". They are also being told to re-examine previous studies which have given milk and dairy products the all-clear.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture said that the inquiry would cost 800,000 pounds. It followed a recommendation by the spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee (SEAC), set up by the government to monitor the brain-wasting disease.

"Milk is safe but this research is to put it beyond doubt," the spokeswoman said. "It is a precautionary measure and previous studies have shown milk is safe." CJD deaths have so far been blamed on eating meat from infected cattle. But some scientists are concerned that earlier studies are unreliable, and that the infective agent could be passed on through milk.

Fourteen Britons died from CJD in the first six months of this year - as many as in the whole of 1999. Since 1995 it has claimed 69 lives and SEAC said that the incidence of the CJD was increasing by between 20 and 30% a year. Last week it was reported that there have been 76 definite and probable cases of CJD in Britain, including seven possible victims still alive.

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

Gill Turner of the CJD Support Network welcomed news of the three-year research. "CJD is still a poorly understood disease and we welcome any research and money that is going to be invested into it. "The concern is not knowing whether there is a risk from cow's milk. Athough there has been no evidence up to now that you can get CJD from milk, further study has to be a good thing."

Milk safety has been questioned since an interim UK study suggested that BSE could be transmitted from cow to calf. The report raised fears about possible BSE infection through milk and led to some German states blocking imports of British dairy products.

Plan drawn up to avert food panic if BSE found in sheep

July 19, 2000  James Meikle  The Guardian (UK) 
 Special report: what's wrong with our food?
Contingency plans to prepare for the disastrous consequences of a food panic if BSE is found in sheep are being drawn up by the government and meat industry. Detailed advice on changing slaughterhouse and butchery practices is being considered to help save the 385 million pound a year sheep meat trade from collapse even though no evidence has yet been found that the disease is occurring naturally in the 40m national flock. But officials of the food standards agency warned yesterday that evidence "might emerge at any time in the next year or two from studies under way".

They said that present controls designed to prevent the theoretical risk of human infection from mutton and lamb, introduced after the crisis that hit beef in 1996, would not be enough if a dangerous BSE-like agent was in sheep as well. Some even sugested it would be "very difficult" to remove all risky material from meat before it went on sale because of the way BSE has been shown to work in sheep in the laboratory. It spread far more widely through the carcass than it did in cattle.

The ministry of agriculture last night insisted that its scientific advisers were keeping the problem under constant review. "Any action, if BSE was to be found in sheep, would depend on evidence at the time. We are not going to pre-empt what advice they would give," a spokeswoman said.

David Croston, of the meat and livestock commission, the government-backed industry body, confirmed it had been studying changes but added: "Until science tells us what we should be removing, we can't act. There is no strong evidence as of yet about what we should be doing. If someone says we have to remove x, y and z, we know how to do it and we will then advise the industry in an appropriate manner."

It was difficult to quantify the impact on the industry or the extent of changes that might be needed. Ian Gardiner, deputy director general of the National Farmers' Union, said: "It would be entirely improper if experts in such agencies did not develop contingency plans." But he too was keen to stress that the risk of BSE appearing in sheep did not appear to have increased in recent months.

Some of the concerns were outlined in a "working document" provided by agency leaders for discussion with consumer groups, the meat industry, vets and families of victims of the human form of BSE, known as nvCJD, whose deaths have been linked to eating infected material from cows before risky parts of the carcasses were banned from food between 1989 and 1995. Scientific advisers to the government have so far decided not to widen controls, although they have commissioned an assessment of risk to public health.

Heads of sheep are already banned from human consumption, a move introduced in 1996 particularly to protect ethnic minority groups. In addition, the tonsils and spleen of all sheep and the spinal cords of sheep over a year old are banned. But intestines are still used for sausage casings, and lymph tissue, also infected in laboratory experiments, is widespread through other meat on lambs and sheep.

The main fear is that the presence of scrapie, a BSE-like disease in sheep not known to have endangered human health, may be disguising the BSE agent, which may have transferred to sheep through now_banned cannibalistic feeding regimes in the 1980s. Scrapie-infected sheep brains are being tested using mice to detect whether a BSE-like strain is evident. The agency document suggested one might be identified "at any time".

"Due to the limitations of existing studies and available methods, failure to detect BSE in the national flock will not be conclusive evidence that it is not present." The tone of the document contrasts with that of scientists on SEAC, the advisory committee for BSE and its human form, which suggested last February that tests on sheep brains up to then "do not have the characteristics associated with BSE".

The agency hopes genetic breeding techniques will increase sheep resistance to BSE and scrapie over the next 10-20 years. Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry has contacted US counterparts who ordered the destruction of sheep imported from Europe because they displayed signs of a BSE-like disease. It appears satisfied that some were suffering from a form of scrapie.

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