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Woman, daughter: nvCJD suspected
Montana CWD: rooting out chronic wasting disease
Search for CWD from Montana extends to Missouri, Oklahoma
BSE - Belgium
Germany delays moves to lift UK beef ban
Embalmer catches TB from corpse
Canadian blood ban to kick in?
Carcass composting
German govt proposes ending British beef ban?
Prionics sets record straight

Rooting out chronic wasting disease

24 Jan 00 By DARYL GADBOW of the Missoulian
PHILIPSBURG - State wildlife officials went big-game hunting Tuesday, praying they wouldn't find what they were looking for - chronic wasting disease. Biologists and game wardens from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks set out to kill a combined total of 15 deer and elk from three areas near Philipsburg, in the vicinity of an elk game farm where CWD was discovered last fall. FWP officials want to test the animals to determine if the deadly brain disease exists in wild deer and elk populations.

Tuesday's operation involved a crew of 18 state and federal officials. Four FWP ground crews and a helicopter crew hunted for game - white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk - in each of three 20-square-mile zones surrounding the David Kesler game farm.

Animals that were killed were transported by truck or helicopter to a temporary laboratory set up in a field just south of Philipsburg, where tissue samples were collected. Necropsies were performed by scientists from FWP's Wildlife Research Laboratory in Bozeman, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the U.S. Geological Service's National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.

The scientists collected 15 different tissue samples from the deer and elk, including the brain stem, lymph nodes, tonsils, blood and lungs, according to Keith Aune, supervisor of FWP's Wildlife Research Laboratory. The brain stem and lymph nodes are the most important tissues for revealing CWD infection, Aune said.

Besides CWD, the animals will be tested for tuberculosis and brucellosis, Aune said. Tuberculosis tests were an area of emphasis, he said, because the Kesler game farm has a history of TB cases.

Tissue samples will be sent to various diagnostic experts around the nation, Aune said. Brain tissue will be sent to the National Veterinarian Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Much of the tissue will be frozen and saved to be examined by other labs, including the Rocky Mountain Lab in Hamilton. Results from the tests are expected in four to six weeks, he said.

Tuesday's operation was part of a three-pronged wild-game surveillance program outlined in a CWD action plan developed by FWP and the Montana Department of Livestock in 1998.

The three aspects of the surveillance program involve training FWP game wardens and biologists to recognize symptoms of the disease in the wild, testing animals from a wide geographic area of the state at FWP hunter check stations; and collecting tissue samples from wild deer and elk from site-specific areas immediately around Philipsburg and Hardin, where elk from the Kesler game farm have been shipped in the past.

In the past two years, FWP has conducted wide geographic testing for CWD by collecting samples at check stations. About 1,000 animals have been tested. So far, the disease has not been detected in the wild in Montana. "We think it's extremely remote that we'll find something," said John Firebaugh, FWP Region 2 wildlife manager in Missoula. "But it's possible," added Mack Long, FWP Region 2 supervisor.

FWP and livestock department officials have begun discussing possible management strategies if CWD is discovered in the wild in Montana, Aune said.

"We've talked about possible steps we would take," he said. "But we don't have a formalized plan. The first step would be added surveillance in the area where we had a positive test. The traditional approach to disease in wild game is to reduce the density of animals to slow the spread of the disease." [That is, slaughter wildlife. -- webmaster]

CWD has been found since 1981 in wild populations of deer and elk in Wyoming and Colorado. Typically, Aune said, the percentage of animals infected is very low, about 5 percent. And the area affected doesn't seem to be expanding. However, Aune said, Colorado recently has taken fairly drastic action to stop the disease.

"The percentage of infected animals in the wild is about 5 percent in most places," he said. "But in the core area it's up to 15 percent. That's why they're very concerned in Colorado. They're planning a 50 percent reduction in the herds in Colorado now. In CWD, there's no treatment program, so the answer defaults to a reduction of density to try to reduce the transmission from animal to animal."

"Our emphasis now will be to get into total prevention," Aune said. "We'll try to prevent it from getting in the state, or if it occurs in a small local area, try keeping it from spreading." FWP will continue to do intensive testing of hunter-killed deer and elk in the Philipsburg area, according to Long and Firebaugh. Hunters who draw elk permits in the area next year will be contacted by FWP and asked to notify the agency if they kill an elk, so officials can collect tissue samples from it, Firebaugh said.

Hunting by sportsmen continues in the areas of Colorado and Wyoming where CWD has been found, Long said. But state wildlife officials there recommend that hunters take a number of precautions in handling the deer and elk carcasses and meat, he said.

Wyoming and Colorado hunters are warned to wear rubber gloves while field-dressing game and while butchering, Long said. And the states' wildlife agencies suggest that hunters do not eat the hearts, livers and brains, and try to avoid cutting into the brain or spinal cord. "Those are all things we'll have to think about if it shows up in the wild," Long said.

Tuesday's operation near Philipsburg got off to a slow start because of bad weather. "The problem with the storm, is that all the animals holed up," Long said. "If it was a nice day, they'd be out in the open feeding. That might make it more difficult for the 'copter crew to find 'em. We hoped to be done by noon, but it could be an all-day deal." But the helicopter soon appeared at the field lab with two doe mule deer.

The team of scientists performing the tests quickly dissected the animals. A larger doe was pregnant with twin fetuses, Aune said. The scientists wore protective disposable suits, rubber gloves and rubber boots to avoid possible infection.

The deer and elk killed Tuesday will be frozen in plastic containers and stored at the FWP's evidence building in Missoula, Long said. If the tests show the animals are not infected with CWD, he said, the meat will be donated to the local food bank. If they test positive, Aune said, they will be incinerated at the FWP wildlife lab in Bozeman.

If officials failed to kill 15 animals for testing Tuesday, Aune said, further sampling of animals may be done in the area later this winter with a smaller crew. Hampered by the stormy weather, the crews had only killed seven mule deer does and one small bull elk by late afternoon.

Scientists preparing the tissue samples were scheduled to drive to Hardin on Tuesday night. On Wednesday and Thursday, FWP officials plan to kill 25 to 35 mule deer for CWD testing from the Sunlight Game Farm, between Hardin and Custer on the east side of the Bighorn River.

Sunlight Game Farm is adjacent to the Elk Valley Game Farm, where at least four elk from the Kesler game farm were shipped.

The owner of the Sunlight and Elk Valley game farms, Sinclair Oil Co., is considering ending its alternative livestock operations, according to Aune. The owner, FWP and the state livestock department have been discussing what to do with the 31 elk at the Elk Valley Game Farm, he said. Those elk have been under quarantine for a couple of years, since an elk shipped from the Kesler farm died of CWD in Oklahoma.

BSE - Belgium

Mon, 24 Jan 2000  ProMED-mail post
On Monday, [a report from] Belgium [indicated that officials] had discovered [the] first case of mad cow disease this year, bringing the country's [cumulative] total to 11. An Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman told [news reporters that] the case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had been discovered on a farm in West Flanders. The ministry provided no details on the number of cows at the farm where the diseased animal was discovered.

Mystery cow disease strikes 3rd Belgian farm

Fri, Jan 28, 2000 Reuters World Report  By Will Hardie 
A mystery disease that earlier killed 10 cows at two Belgian dairy units has struck again at a third farm, the agriculture ministry said on Friday .

All three farms were supplied sugar beet pulp feed by the same manufacturer, although no link has been established, a ministry spokeswoman said.

The outbreak of the unidentified illness comes less than a year after Belgium's dioxin-in-food crisis. The carcinogenic chemical entered the food chain via animal feed made with fats contaminated with motor oil.

Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Sigrid Gevaerts said on Friday that a dairy farm at Maldegem in northwest Belgium had been shut down following the deaths of the eight cows there. Like cows earlier taken sick at two farms at Meetjesland and Zwalm, their symptoms included bloody diarrhoea.

"The Maldegem farm is closed. We are taking no public health risk. Nothing can be transported in or out," Gevaerts told Reuters. "Every week in Beligum 1,000 cows die. There is no need for everybody to panic," she added.

New Case of Mad Cow Disease Detected In France

1/27/2000  AP 
A new case of mad cow disease has been discovered in France, the agriculture ministry said in a statement Thursday. A milk cow, born in November 1993, and a herd of 129 were slaughtered on Wednesday after the new case was detected in the Cantal region, central France. It was the third case in France this year.

Last year, 31 cases of mad cow disease, otherwise known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, were found in France. Officials say new cases of mad cow disease will continue to appear in France until 2001, five years after stringent prevention measures were taken against the disease, which has an average incubation period of five years.

In February, France will begin testing cattle destined for human consumption to determine how widespread the disease has become.

France Reports 4th Mad Cow Disease Case

1/31/2000  Paris, Jan 31, 2000 (ap Online Via Comtex)
A new case of mad cow disease has been detected in northwestern France, the fourth in the country since the beginning of the year, the Agriculture Ministry said Monday. The infected animal, a milk cow born in September 1993, was one of a herd of three in the northwestern Cotes dArmor region. All three animals were killed as a precaution, the ministry said.

Last year, authorities discovered 31 cases of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in France. Authorities say new cases of mad cow disease will break out in France until 2001, five years after stringent prevention measures were taken against the disease, which has an average incubation period of five years.

In February, France will begin testing cattle destined for human consumption to determine how widespread the disease has become.

France has provoked a spat within the European Union by keeping in place its ban on beef from Britain, where the brain-wasting disease first started an international scare in 1996. The EU ruled in August that British beef was again safe for import, but France has maintained its ban.

Germany delays moves to lift UK beef ban

Thu, Jan 27, 2000 Reuters World Report
Germany has told the European Commission it will not consider lifting its ban on British beef until March 17, EU officials said on Thursday. The Commission had hoped the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house, would this month discuss the ban which Berlin originally imposed over fears of mad cow disease. It had also been confident Germany would decide to remove the embargo altogether. The ban contradicts EU law.

Germany now seems in no hurry to tackle the sensitive issue and the Commission is showing signs of being nervous that Berlin might not comply. The EU lifted its ban on British beef last August subject to strict controls, but France and Germany maintained their own import blockades. The Commission took France to court earlier this month because of its refusal to fall in to line.

But it has hesitated to do the same with Germany after receiving assurances from Berlin that steps were being taken to allow British beef back in. German Health Minister Andrea Fischer has said in the past that tighter labelling requirements must be introduced before the embargo can be removed. Progress was made earlier this month when a majority of EU farm ministers supported the introduction of a detailed labelling system to try to boost consumer confidence following the mad cow, or BSE, scare.

But ministers are not due to take a final decision on new rules until later this year, after the European Parliament examines the issue in March.

The Commission is keeping the option of legal action under review. "No decision has been taken yet but we can't rule it (legal action) out," one EU official said on Thursday. "We regret the delays because Germany should have lifted the ban last August," she added.

Search for CWD from Montana extends to Missouri, Oklahoma

Billings Gazette (AP) 27 Jan 00
HELENA - The game farm elk herd where chronic wasting disease was first discovered in Montana last fall is burned and buried, but state officials are still trying to determine how far the disease may have spread.

Evaleen Starkel, who heads the alternative livestock program for the state Livestock Department, said Wednesday a U.S. Department of Agriculture specialist will soon begin a study to track down dozens of Kesler Game Farm elk sold in Montana and other states. State records show the farm sold 99 head in the three years before a quarantine was imposed in June 1998.

Dr. Thomas Linfield, a department veterinarian, said the animals were shipped only to farms in Hardin, Oklahoma and Missouri from 1995-97. Records filed with the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks indicate 84 elk were sent to Oklahoma, 14 to the Elk Valley Game Farm near Hardin and one to Iowa.

The problem is finding out what happened to the animals once they reached their first destinations. Although each elk is identified by a unique number, some states have few mandates for monitoring and testing game-farm animals, Linfield said. Montana's requirement that dead game-farm animals be tested for chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has been on the books only since April 1999.

As a result, officials will never know if the neurological disease infected any of the 20 elk that died at the Kesler farm in the three years before CWD was discovered there, Linfield acknowledged. Reports filed with the state indicated no obvious cause of death in seven cases.

CWD was diagnosed in an elk that died at the Kesler farm last Oct. 17. The herd had been under quarantine since June 1998 after one of the animals shipped to Oklahoma died of the disease. A quarantine remains in effect for the Elk Valley farm, which received 30 Kesler elk during the 1990s.

Beth Williams, a University of Wyoming professor of veterinary science and leading expert on CWD, said Wednesday one of the big problems with the disease is that no one is sure how long an animal can have the infection before symptoms appear.

Signs of the incurable and always-fatal disease can show up as early as 16-17 month after exposure, but the average incubation period seems to be two to three years, she said. The maximum time, after which an animal can be considered free of infection, is a mystery. That uncertainty makes developing regulations for quarantining or monitoring animals difficult at best, Williams said.

She said researchers involved in the early stages of a 10-year study have found no evidence that CWD can be transmitted from deer and elk to cattle. Diseased tissue has been injected directly into the brains of cows or given orally to the animals with no effects so far, Williams said. [Williams succesfully transmitted CWD to a goat by intracerebral injection, as noted in a published paper]

Conventional livestock has been housed in game farms with infected wildlife without any sign of natural transmission between the species, she said. "It is early in the course of these experiments, but we haven't seen anything in cattle and that's reassuring," she said.

State tests deer at area game farm

By MARK HENCKEL Gazette Outdoor Editor 26 Jan 00
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks gunners killed 27 mule deer at the Sunlight Game Farm Wednesday as part of the state's continuing program to monitor Chronic Wasting Disease.

The game farm is between Hardin and Custer on the east side of the Bighorn River. It shares a joint fence with Hidden Valley Game Farm, which is currently under quarantine because it received elk from the Kesler Game Farm at Philipsburg, where CWD has been confirmed. The two adjacent game farms are owned by Sinclair Oil Co.

"It went pretty well. We were able to collect 27 deer for testing," said Keith Aune, supervisor of FWP's Wildlife Laboratory in Bozeman. "We're pretty much done. We're going to hit it a little bit in the morning and get our target of 35 deer," he said.

A joint crew of FWP wardens and biologists, Department of Livestock veterinarians and biologists and veterinarians from the USDA Veterinary Services and Department of Interior are involved with the testing. Most of the gunning was done by game wardens shooting from a FWP helicopter. Wardens on the ground on four-wheelers and in pickup trucks also helped in the shooting and transporting of animals.

Veterinarians and biologists set up a so-called perimeter area where samples were taken of the brains, lymph nodes, tonsils and lungs. These will be tested at the Department of Livestock's Diagnostic Laboratory in Bozeman for tuberculosis and at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory for Chronic Wasting Disease.

"There were no immediate signs of disease in the deer," Aune said. "Based on the fat index and the condition index, the deer are in good shape. A lot of them were pregnant, probably 85 percent to 90 percent." The collection is targeting older-age mule deer does because of the uncertainty of how long it takes for animals to develop Chronic Wasting Disease after they have been exposed.

Aune said those handling the deer were taking precautions. "In any of these sampling procedures, we wear gloves, coveralls, some wear goggles and there is a lot of protocol involved with washing rubber boots and the clothes we wear," he said. "When we leave the perimeter area, we don't track any pathogens around the place and we're leaving with good, clean clothes." He said precautions were being taken with the parts of the animals being sampled, as well.

"After they cool, the carcasses are all quartered and put into plastic containers. The containers are sealed with duct tape. Then they're sent to the freezer in Billings until we get the test results back. The entrails are being buried eight feet deep," Aune said.

If the animals test clean for diseases, the carcasses will be processed and the meat will be donated to relief agencies. [Testing cannot certify these animals as free of disease; disease cannot be detected in its early stages. -- webmaster]

Samples were also taken Tuesday from nine wild deer and one bull elk near the now-empty Kesler Game Farm near Philipsburg for testing. Aune said results of the testing will be completed in about four to six weeks.

If the approximately 14,000-acre Sunlight Game Farm tests clean for disease, its owners have indicated they could take down the fences and allow the remainder of the deer within the enclosure to again mingle with those in the wild.

Embalmer catches TB from corpse

January 27, 2000 Nando Media  AP online
Opinion (webmaster): Similar concerns have come up with CJD cases.

Researchers in Baltimore have identified the first known case of an embalmer catching tuberculosis from a corpse. The finding led the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers to recommend that funeral home workers take the same precautions as medical workers to prevent transmission of the sometimes-fatal disease.

The 35-year-old dead man had AIDS as well as an active infection of tuberculosis, which is transmitted by tiny particles of respiratory secretions that can hang in the air for hours.

DNA fingerprinting established that the embalmer's TB came from the dead man, researcher Dr. Timothy Sterling said. During embalming, the blood is drained and preservative fluids are injected into the body under pressure. Secretions sometimes become airborne when fluids gurgle through the corpse's mouth and nose or when embalming fluids are dumped down a drain.

The embalmer was treated with antibiotics for six months and is now tuberculosis-free. The research was reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends only that hospital workers and those performing autopsies wear gloves and masks when handling patients or bodies.

Woman suspected of suffering from nvCJD

28 Jan 00 By Matthew Cooper, PA News
A 24-year-old mother was today in a serious condition in hospital suffering from what is believed to be new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease.

Coventry's Walsgrave Hospital NHS Trust said doctors were awaiting the result of tests to establish the diagnosis. The trust's chief executive, David Loughton, said the woman, who has not been named, was admitted to the hospital earlier this month.

The woman's three-month-old daughter is also seriously ill in hospital, but the child is not thought to have the same illness. It is understood the woman, who is being treated on a neurology ward, is to be taken to a London hospital for further tests.

New variant CJD (nvCJD) is thought to be caused by eating beef infected with the cattle disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).

Opinion (webmaster): They must be fairly sure of the diagnosis or the NHS would not be releasing this to the newspapers. It is completely unclear what nvCJD symptoms would be in a newborn or what the prospects are for the daughter if she recovers from the current problem.

Canadian blood ban to kick in

17 Aug 99 but circulating as 27 Jan 00 Mark Kennedy The Ottawa Citizen
Canadians who have spent six months or more in Britain since 1980 must be banned from donating blood, according to a safety measure to be announced today by the federal government. The donor deferral policy is a precaution to screen out people who have unknowingly contracted new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- a fatal brain disorder associated with mad cow disease.

Officials at Health Canada will announce the regulatory requirements in Ottawa this morning. Under the plan, the six-month cutoff will be a minimum requirement that Canada's two blood agencies must follow.

The Canadian Blood Services, which collects and distributes blood everywhere except Quebec, will adopt the minimum standard. All donors who have cumulatively spent six months or more in Britain from 1980 through 1996 will be banned.

The blood agency's own survey has found the ban will cause a loss of at least three per cent of its 600,000 active donors, with the impact being felt hardest at blood banks in large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.

Hema-Quebec is poised to go beyond the minimum regulatory standard. Because far fewer of its donors have visited Britain, the agency believes it can withstand a move in which donors who have spent one month or more in Britain are banned.

Health Canada is giving both agencies until Feb. 1, 2000, to implement the donor deferral policies, although it's expected they might have new programs in place as early as this fall. Erma Chapman, president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, said last night she was pleased with the decision by Canadian regulators. "We're very supportive of the policy. It's a step forward in safety for Canadians." Ms. Chapman said now the blood agencies must implement a "very aggressive campaign" to recruit new donors to replace those who are lost.

There are no known cases of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease being transmitted through blood, but experts say there is a theoretical risk this can happen, especially since the strain is much more virulent than other forms of the disease. Mad cow disease first appeared in British beef in 1980. In 1996, the human form, nvCJD, began appearing in Britons who had apparently eaten the beef. Victims of the neurological disorder suffer memory loss, restlessness, seizures, loss of speech, dementia and usually within a year, death.

A foremost expert on the disease, Dr. Neil Cashman of the University of Toronto, wrote in a report to the federal government this year that: "CJD is a nightmare disease: clinically devastating, rapid, fatal and utterly untreatable."

Dr.. Cashman added that nvCJD poses a significantly higher risk than the more common version, known as classical CJD. The newer version is more virulent, hits victims at a younger age and spreads through the body instead of being concentrated in the brain. As well, because nvCJD only surfaced in 1996 in Britain and infected people are still incubating the disease without showing symptoms, the risk of it being blood borne remains unknown.

Also today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will announce that blood banks in that country must "defer" donors who have spent six months or more in Britain. [The FDA has set April 17, 2000 as the deadline for blood banks to begin limiting blood donations. ]

For months, there has been pressure on Canadian regulators to move in tandem with the U.S. About half of all the plasma contained in blood products used by Canadians -- ranging from hemophiliacs to cancer victims -- comes from U.S. plasma donors [predominantly from prisoners at very high risk for AIDS and hepatitus.-- webmaster. ]

Opinion (webmaster): The FDA has given US blood banks 2 more months which means they don't have to institute the ban until April. However, some institutions have already instituted it.

Also see the account of a long-time blood donor who is now excluded because of the UK blood ban.

Carcass composting

Wed, Feb 2, 2000 AP Financial By MARTHA MENDOZA
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. Crab shells, plastic utensils, even livestock carcasses are making their way back to the soil as communities are pushed to reduce landfill waste with increased composting.

"Anything that came from something alive is compostable," said Mark Van Horn who runs the student farm at the University of California, Davis. "The trick is to make the conditions right so it can biodegrade." Van Horn says those conditions are the right combination of air, water, nitrogen and carbon, reacting together to reach a temperature of about 140 degrees.

While thousands of gardeners and farmers make their own compost today, there are also more than 3,500 working commercial compost facilities in the U.S., according to the national Compost Technology Group. The facilities are paid to accept garbage, which they turn into fertile soil and sell to commercial farmers for about $20 a ton. Consumers can buy bagged compost for their gardens for about $1 a pound in typical landscaping stores. The number of composting centers is growing by a few hundred each year as communities seek to control overflowing landfills.

The push toward more composting isn't just voluntary. Federal and state regulations now require communities to reduce the amount of trash they throw away. And certain industries -- poultry, cattle and sheep for example -- have been banned in many cases from discarding their waste through dumping or incineration because of the pollution created through those processes.

"In some places these days, the only thing they're allowed to do with a dead chicken or cow is turn it into compost," said Utah State University professor Bruce Miller, whose research has focused on composting cows. Miller said their goal is to get rid of dead animals, not to create a marketable soil for farmers. "The issue is getting rid of carcasses," he said. "Nobody wants to buy Bessie compost."

Miller said that cows left to compost in straw take about four months to reduce to soil. The resulting dirt, he said, is best used to compost more carcasses. The biggest problem faced by Miller and other composters are "the strong odors," he said, best controlled with sawdust and straw piles.

At UC Davis, Van Horn said they run huge compost piles filled with waste from campus cafes and festivals. For the past few years, he said, they've been experimenting with cornstarch based plastic utensils, along with paper plates and food waste, in an effort to reuse all their trash. "It might look strange to see a plastic fork on a compost heap, but within weeks they start to turn dark and twist and within months they're basically gone," he said. Van Horn said their complete compost is reused on their organic gardens.

Other unusual composting projects these days include:

--The Maho Bay Campgrounds use composting toilets in the Virgin Islands National Park.

--Peets Coffee and Tea and Starbucks coffee stores are diverting coffee grounds and tea leaves from landfills to compost heaps.

--Researchers in Pusan, Korea, are adding cow manure and saw dust to leather sludge to turn it into compost.

German govt proposes ending British beef ban

Reuters World Report Wed, Feb 2, 2000  By Clifford Coonan
- Germany took the first steps towards lifting its ban on the import of British beef on Wednesday when the cabinet proposed allowing the beef in once its origin was clearly marked on supermarket shelves.

The upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, is to vote on the plan on March 17. If passed, British beef could be on sale in Germany early in April. But some of the federal states that comprise the chamber oppose any lifting of the ban. Germany's 16 states have autonomous responsibility for food safety and some of the biggest want to retain the beef ban until all their fears about labelling have been addressed.

Under the proposal made by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's centre-left coalition cabinet, British beef would have to meet federal health ministry standards, which would mean British beef should carry a six-cornered stamp with the letters "XEL."

Germany was always a relatively small market for British beef -- it imported only around 100 tonnes a year before the mad cow scare, mostly for use in processed forms. Health Minister Andrea Fischer has said in the past that tighter labelling requirements must be introduced before the embargo can be removed.

The European Union lifted its blanket ban on British beef last August, subject to strict controls. But France and Germany maintained their national bans. The EU's executive commission took France to court last month because of Paris's refusal to lift the ban over lingering fears over deadly "mad cow" disease, a form of which the British government has admitted could spread to humans.

A spokesman for the German health ministry said Fischer was in constant contact with the Commission. He did not expect the EU to launch proceedings against Germany. The German rules would be formulated to apply "within European frameworks," the spokesman said.

The two biggest German states, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, said they still oppose lifting the British beef ban. A Bavarian health ministry spokesman in Munich said the planned changes in labelling legislation did not go far enough. "It's not possible for a consumer to see if, for example, British beef has been sold on from another country," the spokesman said, complaining Britain still suffered from BSE.

A spokesman for the North Rhine-Westphalia state government in Duesseldorf said the state would oppose lifting the ban as credible labelling could only be agreed at a European level. Other states including the Saarland and Hesse said it was premature to lift the ban.

Prionics sets record straight

2 Feb 00 Markus Moser
"Just to set a few facts straight on various lab tests for BSE:

The EU commission has done the following evaluations with the tests of Prionics, Enfer, Wallac and CEA (published in the European Commission report on the BSE-test evaluations, available on the website of the European Commission):

1. 1400 CNS tissue samples from normal and clinical BSE animals were tested with each test by the respective institution. Prionics was the only company to correctly identify all samples in one round. Enfer and CEA initially had false positive and false negatives, respectively, but came up with the right results upon repeating the respective samples. Wallac stopped testing after a few hundred samples, after it became clear, that there were too many technical problems. (Compare p. 26ff of the EC report, Annex 1: Repeat Tests etc)

2. 200 homogenates with various ratios of material from normal animals and clinical BSE cases were prepared by the EU labs. Those homogenates were not prepared with the Prionics-Check homogenization buffer, and, unfortunately led to incomplete protease digestion of normal PrP when analyzed in the Prionics-Check test (compare p. 35 of the EC report). Therefore, PrP-BSE could only be identified in those samples, in which the amount of PrP-BSE was higher than the remaining normal PrP, i.e. only in low dilutions. All other samples were inconclusive.

Prionics was not allowed to calibrate its system for the EU homogenates and to repeat the tests (note that all other candidates were allowed to repeat tests during the evaluation procedure, but Prionics did not know that at that time - we only found out when we read the EU report).

What can we therefore say about the sensibility of the various tests?

First we have to note that a dilution of homogenates from clinical animals does not adequately mimic a tissue sample from a preclinical animal in many respects:

We have observed that early-stage aggregates differ, e.g. in their size, from late-stage aggregates. This results in differences in protease resistance, if non-optimized homogenization and digestion buffers are used and it also results in variations in the efficiencies of PrP-BSE concentration steps (which may be relevant for those tests using concentration / purification steps prior to detection).

Secondly, we don't just want to know how a test performs under optimal laboratory conditions with optimal, freshly frozen tissue but how it performs under realistic conditions with probe qualities that range from fair to almost completely autolyzed (the latter being the case quite frequently when analyzing probes from fallen stock).

Therefore, the only way to adequately evaluate a BSE test is in extensive field trials with parallel performance of histology and immunohistochemistry. And you will have to prove that you can identify BSE in animals which were diagnosed, prior to slaughter, as clinically negative in specific clinical BSE-tests. If your test is sensitive enough, you will detect BSE in animals which do not show any histopathology (i.e. which are negative by histology) but are BSE-positive by immunohistochemistry.

In the EU Report on the BSE-test evaluations, Enfer stated that positive results in their test are always at a disease-stage with notable histopathology. In contrast, the Prionics-Check test can detect BSE at a stage which is negative by histology, but positive by immunohistochemistry.

When seriously evaluating a BSE test you will also have to address other aspects, e.g. that your test is not only able to discriminate BSE-animals from normal animals but also BSE from other neurological diseases. All of the above evaluations have been done for the Prionics-Check test and have been published in peer reviewed journals.

Such evaluations, I admit, are a great effort; however, they are the homework each test manufacturer should complete before claiming that his or her test is a high-quality BSE-test.

On our homepage, we have a short summary of the necessary requirements for a valuable BSE-test and how the Prionics-Check test complies to these requirements. You may decide by yourself, to what extent other tests live up to that standard.

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