Document Directory

29 Oct 00 - CJD - Behind BSE lies a disease of secrecy
29 Oct 00 - CJD - CJD kills girl, 14, as deadly waste spreads
29 Oct 00 - CJD - Feed banned in Britain dumped on Third World
29 Oct 00 - CJD - Madness
29 Oct 00 - CJD - The cast of characters at the heart of the BSE saga
29 Oct 00 - CJD - Tories hid BSE danger from Scots
29 Oct 00 - CJD - A culture of secrecy that risked our lives
29 Oct 00 - CJD - After years of inquiry no-one knows how many lives vCJD will claim
29 Oct 00 - CJD - Millions watched Zoe's final hours
29 Oct 00 - CJD - The cost of taking nature out of farming
28 Oct 00 - CJD - Fears over CJD risk to elderly
28 Oct 00 - CJD - Teenager dies from vCJD
28 Oct 00 - CJD - After BSE: a crisis for science
28 Oct 00 - CJD - After BSE: future safety issues
28 Oct 00 - CJD - After BSE: other scare stories
28 Oct 00 - CJD - BSE nightmare takes new twist
28 Oct 00 - CJD - Dorrell says he regrets giving 'no risk' advice
28 Oct 00 - CJD - Render bender: Jeremy Hardy on the BSE Inquiry
28 Oct 00 - CJD - The diseased herd
28 Oct 00 - CJD - 'We have to be prepared to deal with a major epidemic'
28 Oct 00 - CJD - French mad cowandal greater than first thought

 



29 Oct 00 - CJD - Behind BSE lies a disease of secrecy

Leader

Guardian ... Sunday 29 October 2000


Freedom of information is a cause beloved of woolly liberals, or so this Government believes. Consequently, it is thought to be an issue with no votes in it. It could be a fatal misjudgment.

Health, education and pensions are fundamental. But just as important is trust in the very act of government. Ordinary voters might not chart the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill line by line. That does not mean that they are not alert to the sense that 'they' in today's Britain look out for themselves, and that too many bad decisions by those in power go unpunished . The interest in accountability and demand for better government is not confined to Hampstead; it is vigorously expressed in homes across the country.

After the Phillips Report into Britain's worst post-war public health disaster - the BSE crisis - that demand will certainly grow. Although Lord Phillips was at pains not to establish 'scapegoats and villains', the details of his report are excoriating - and he has been close to pusillanimous in not drawing appropriate conclusions . Within the body of his text lie condemnations that even he could not avoid . There was 'positive censorship' in the early days of the BSE crisis. There was a 'clear policy of restricting the disclosure of information about BSE' that 'robbed those who would have had an interest in receiving it of the chance to react'. A Whitehall culture of secrecy led to worse, slower decisions than would have taken place had the automatic presumption been that information should be disclosed.

In short, had there been a little more 'woolly liberalism' about freedom of information, many fewer British people would now be dying from variant-CJD.

That is why alongside measures to improve food standards we now need wholesale overhaul of Britain's approach to freedom of information. New Labour was pledged to the cause in opposition but their latest bill would still not address the shortcomings exposed by Phillips. Astoundingly, their proposed framework would not have made one iota of difference to the BSE debacle. Under the suggested regime, we would have had to apply to an Information Commissioner to get factual and scientific information that had already been provided to Ministers, but even then Ministers could veto disclosure. The findings of Maff inspectors about renderers and abattoirs could be similarly vetoed. As for policy advice, if disclosure is deemed to harm the policy-making process it would enjoy automatic exemption.

Worse still, the new bill is even weaker than the Open Government code established by the Major government.

That presumed, at least, that information should be provided unless the government proves otherwise - a presumption overturned by New Labour as a concession too far.

The Home Office argument that a proper Freedom of Information Bill will weaken democracy because it places limits on Ministerial freedom is entirely bogus, and used by no other democratic government in the world.

It is not limits on Ministerial freedom that we need; it is knowledge about what informs their actions.

If Britain is serious about not wanting a repeat of the BSE crisis, we must deprive officials and Ministers of the capacity to make decisions quite as haplessly as they did in the 10 years between 1986 and 1996. It's as simple as that.



29 Oct 00 - CJD - CJD kills girl, 14, as deadly waste spreads

Antony Barnett, public affairs editor and Tracy McVeigh

Guardian ... Sunday 29 October 2000


The human form of mad cow disease claimed its youngest victim yesterday as it emerged that potentially lethal BSE-infected waste is leaking into the environment from the carcasses of infected cattle.

Zoe Jeffries, a sports-mad 14-year-old who loved cheeseburgers, became victim number 82 of the epidemic that broke out after the Government repeatedly misled the public about the dangers of eating beef until a ban was announced in 1996.

Zoe's death was announced yesterday by a Greater Manchester police spokesman, who said: 'Ms Jeffries had been diagnosed some time ago as suffering from vCJD, the human form of BSE. She died this morning at her home. Her family would like to work through this difficult period with as much privacy and dignity as possible.'

Harrowing footage of Zoe, lying sedated and uncomprehending as her mother and three younger sisters took turns to stroke her hair, was released ahead of the Government's BSE report published last week, which revealed an astonishing level of cover-ups to prevent the public knowing the truth about the scale of the disease.

The pictures showed Zoe lying in a metal-sided bed in her Wigan home, with posters of Leonardo DiCaprio around her. Stroking her hair, Helen, Zoe's mother, said: 'It's just as if someone had stuck a knife into Zoe's body. I really do think she has been murdered .'

Her mother also expressed guilt because she frequently fed her children beefburgers .

'I can't remember the makes I bought but they were the cheapest ones. Zoe ate them probably three times a week from the age of two-and-a-half until she was five. It's what she liked to eat. I bought mince and shepherd's pies.'

As Zoe's death was announced, the scale of a possible CJD epidemic was being reassessed . A 74-year-old man who died last year was yesterday confirmed to have had the disease.

The death has triggered questions over whether a larger section of society than initially thought could be vulnerable to the disease. Medical professionals are being urged to be 'more vigilant' about causes of death among the elderly, a Department of Health spokesman said.

The news of the latest fatalities came as an Observer investigation discovered that BSE-infected ash is escaping from incinerators burning slaughtered cattle as well as dumps storing mountains of cow carcasses.

Sources have revealed Environment Agency fears that a Lincolnshire incinerator burning 250 tonnes of cattle a day since April is not destroying the infective BSE protein which transmits the disease to humans.

Tests carried out by Environment Agency officials on ash from one incinerator have found potentially lethal proteins in the residue . The agency has demanded that Fibrogen, the company which owns the incinerator, 'identifies measures to improve the combustion of the material' and 'design and install' new equipment.

The ash containing the BSE proteins is being put on trucks, driven to Scunthorpe and dumped in a landfill site in the North Lincolnshire village of Winterton .

It has also emerged that the Environment Agency is investigating the storage of thousands of tonnes of cattle carcasses in an old bowling alley in Blyton, Lincolnshire .

Photographic and video evidence taken by local residents show trucks leaving the dump covered with cow remains. One photo shows maggots on the truck. The agency has confirmed its legal team is considering action against the owners.

Mandy Thompson, who lives in Blyton, said: 'This material carries the risk of a hideous and incurable disease. It is diabolical what is happening. We have always been told that it is safe and that none of this material can escape, but we've seen trucks coming out of the depot covered in the stuff.'

These problems highlight the continued public health hazard caused by BSE and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of older cattle a year under a government scheme designed to halt the spread of mad cow disease.

After the BSE scandal erupted in 1996, the Government demanded that all cattle over 30 months should be destroyed even if they showed no signs of BSE.

The fear was that older cattle were most likely to be incubating the disease and the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 1 per cent might be contaminated.

The original plan was for the carcasses to be boiled, mashed up and then burnt in a furnace at a temperature of more than 1,000 Celsius to kill the BSE protein.

But until this April there was only one incinerator, in Southampton, capable of burning the cattle remains at such a temperature.

As a result 'mad cow mountains ' have been building up in secret warehouses around the country which now hold more than 400,000 tonnes of BSE waste.


29 Oct 00 - CJD - Feed banned in Britain dumped on Third World

Anthony Barnett

Guardian ... Sunday 29 October 2000


Britain offloaded tens of thousands of tons of potentially BSE-infected cattle feed on the Third World after deciding it was too dangerous to give to herds in the UK.

The meal and bonemeal was exported after March 1988 , when the Government realised that feed made from slaughtered animals was the probable cause of the BSE epidemic in UK cattle. In July that year, the Government banned its use in Britain, and a week later officially informed the European Union, then the EEC, of its fears. But it wasn't until March 1996, eight years later, that a worldwide ban on the export of MBM, as it was called, came into force.

No one knows how many cattle fed on the meal in those countries may now be incubating BSE .

According to figures released by HM Customs and Excise, by 1989 the UK was exporting about 25,000 tonnes of MBM to EU countries and about 7,000 tonnes to nations outside Europe mostly in the Middle East and Africa. By 1991, sales of MBM to Europe dropped to zero. At the same time exports of MBM to the Third World had soared to 30,000 tonnes .

Countries that continued to buy British MBM included Czechoslovakia , Nigeria , Thailand , South Africa , Kenya , Turkey , Liberia , Lebanon , Puerto Rico and Sri Lanka .

Memos and minutes uncovered in the BSE inquiry reveal that the question of whether Britain should ban exports to non-EU countries led to ministerial arguments between John MacGregor and John Gummer inside the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food as well as a row between MAFF and the Department of Health .

On 15 June 1989 chief veterinary officer Keith Meldrum wrote to the president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association saying: 'We do not consider it morally indefensible to export meat and bone to other countries since it may be used for feeding to pigs and poultry.'

In January 1990, chief medical officer Sir Donald Acheson wrote to Meldrum warning him of the risks . He said: 'We should take steps to prevent these UK products being fed to ruminants in other countries... Unless such action is taken, the difficult problems we have faced with BSE may well occur in other countries. Surely it is short-sighted for us to risk being seen in future as having been responsible for the introduction of BSE to the food chain in other countries.'

Previously in 1998 Gummer, who was a MAFF Minister at the time, is reported in departmental minutes as having said the UK had a 'moral obligation to ensure that importing countries were aware we did not permit the feeding of these products to ruminants.'

But MacGregor disagreed . MAFF civil servant Alistair Cruickshank told the enquiry: 'At the meeting of 14 April 1988 MacGregor gave no indication that he agreed with Gummer's suggestion.'

In February 1990, Dr Hilary Pickles, a senior official in the Department of Health, wrote to the Chief Medical Officer claiming the Government's behaviour was not 'responsible '.

She wrote: 'I fail to understand why this cannot be tackled from the British end.'

Government scientists claim they published scientific papers about the risks of BSE which should have warned countries of the risk of feeding MBM to cattle and raised the issue at the Office Internationale des Epizooties - the international organisation concerned with animal health.

Lord Phillips' report does not criticise individuals and concludes that very few BSE cases have been reported outside Europe in cattle which have been fed on British animal feed.

However, a spokesman for the OIE said: 'If MBM was exported to countries in the Middle East and Africa and was used to feed cattle then there is a risk cows will become ill.

'We only hear of BSE cases from countries that report them so we cannot say for certain that a country in Africa has not had cases because we may not have been told about them.'


29 Oct 00 - CJD - Madness

Kamal Ahmed, Anthony Barnett and Stuart Millar

Guardian ... Sunday 29 October 2000


Sixteen years after the first infected cow was discovered, the Philips report exposes how the deadly truth was carefully hidden from the public by overcautious officials and political pressure.

Billy McIntyre tried to stick to his routine on Wednesday night. At about 7pm he left his terraced house on a quiet estate in the north of Aberdeen and made the 10-minute journey up the hill to the city's royal infirmary.

For an hour and a half he sat with his daughter Donna, aged 21, who has been in hospital since being diagnosed with new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in September. As usual, he chatted with her, tickled her, and tousled her hair to keep her animated.

When he returned home he could not stomach the thought of dinner. He made do with a cup of tea, and tried to concentrate on the television. At 8am the next day, McIntyre rose, washed and dressed before going into the kitchen for some breakfast. He turned on the radio and waited. It was a long, slow morning. At 12.32pm, Nick Brown, the agriculture secretary, rose to announce publication of the public inquiry into Britain's BSE epidemic.

'I was emotional all the way through the announcement,' McIntyre said. 'I was crying a lot. Some of that was relief that the answers were coming out. But mainly it was anger because the report was so damning. I'm not going to congratulate ministers on this report because the whole thing should never have been allowed to happen. I don't even accept their apology.' McIntyre's daughter will be dead in months.

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David Bee had never seen anything like it. The cow was arching its back, waving its head from side to side. It was pitifully thin. His colleague, Mike Teale, had told him of being chased by a similarly afflicted beast which had 'chased him across the box on her knees'.

It was three days before Christmas, 1984. Bee, a well-known local vet, had been called to Pitsham Farm on the South Downs by its owner, Peter Stent. Stent was worried. One of his cows was ill. He had no idea what it was.

When Bee arrived, he was not sure what to think. Maybe there was a local problem with mercury poisoning Stent's herd. Maybe it was a kidney disease. Nobody knew then, but Stent's sick animal would soon become famous as 'Cow 133' . In the heart of farming country, Bee was staring into the eyes of a disaster.

He never expected a walk-on part in the story of Britain's biggest public health scandal. Most of the locals knew him as an enthusiastic 'joiner-in' at church in his picturesque village of West Liss. His bright tone made him a favourite when it came to reading out passages from the Bible.

Cow 133 was the first case of BSE , bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Sixteen years and sixteen volumes of public inquiry later, the Government stands accused of failing the public. Bureaucracy, caution and secrecy has led, slowly and painfully, to the realisation that the structures in place to protect the people had simply not worked.

Last week, Lord Phillips' report into how a disease in cows became a tragedy for humans shone a light into the deepest recesses of government operation. Debate so far has focused on the surface story, the missed opportunities and confused messages which allowed an ugly sore to fester .

That story was contained in Volume 1 of Lord Phillips' inquiry. But there are 15 other volumes, thousands of pages of memos and secret deals, legal challenges and stand-up rows that reveal how government really works - and not always work in the public's interest. Not since the Scott inquiry into the Arms to Iraq affair has Britain seen such a damning indictment of its public 'servants'.

Carol Richardson had just returned from holiday in September 1995. A pathologist at the government's Central Veterinary Laboratory, she was asked to study the brain of an adult cow from Pitsham Farm, one that Bee had seen. After looking at slides of the brain she confirmed that it showed characteristics of a 'spongiform encephalopathy', BSE. It was the start.

Richardson sought a second opinion from a colleague, Dr Martin Jeffrey. She left the slides on his work bench in the laboratory and went to lunch. On her return, Jeffrey had left a note by one of the slides. 'Bovine scrapie' he wrote, referring to the BSE-type disease common in sheep.

Richardson's boss, Gerald Wells, was at a meeting in Cheshire when she made her astonishing finding. On his return he read the report. 'I agreed with her,' he said simply. The following April further evidence emerged from a farm in Kent. Something big was happening.

How should the Government vets deal with it? The head of pathology department at the CVL was Ray Bradley. With initial results showing that a new, potentially fatal, disease had been discovered, the initial policy was clear. Bradley sent a memo to Dr William Watson, CVL director, and Dr Brian Shreeve, director of research. This is what it said:

'If the disease turned out to be bovine scrapie it would have severe repercussions to the export trade and possibly also for humans if for example it was discovered that humans with spongiform encephalopathies had close association with cattle. It is for these reasons that I have classified this document confidential. At present I would recommend playing it low key.'

New cases kept dribbling in. It was suggested that information should be passed around, the usual method when new scientific discoveries are made. The veterinary journals - Vision, the in-house magazine for the Government's veterinary service, and Veterinary Record - were suggested as forums for this exhange. But permission was withdrawn. Plans to give information to universities and outside research bodies were also blocked.

Why? By getting the information out in the public domain, there would be a greater chance of understanding what the vets were dealing with and of estimating how widespread the problem was. The reasoning by the officials was clear. 'Because of the nature of the disorder, its political implications and possible effects on exports,' said Dr Bernard Williams, head of the Government's veterinary investigation service. Cards would be played very close to the chest.

By the end of May 1987, with Margaret Thatcher's third election victory a matter of weeks away, there were six positive cases of BSE and 13 suspected cases. It was well over two years since Bee had first set eyes on Cow 133. The problem was growing. Ministers had still not been told.

On June 1, William Rees, the chief veterinary officer and as such one of the most powerful men in the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, wrote to Donald Thompson, MAFF's parliamentary secretary, about BSE.

'Irresponsible or ill-informed publicity is likely to be unhelpful since it might lead to hysterical demands for immediate, draconian government measures and could lead to a rejection of UK exports,' he said.

'It does not seem appropriate at this stage for MAFF to issue general information. The political implication are serious, particularly if not handled correctly. '

That line became the leitmotif of the Government's response to an approaching storm. Economics were the main concern and the farming industry needed to be protected. People could be easily alarmed, the civil service thought. Better secrecy than public hysteria . By the end of August, 1987, 46 more probable cases of BSE had been identified. By the middle of September it was 73 . By the end of October, 120 . Farming newspapers published the first articles about an 'incurable disease wiping out dairy cows'. By the end of November, there were 243 suspected cases.

The public were oblivious to the danger. Richard Sibley, chairman of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, said: 'Throughout most of 1986 and 1987 most veterinary surgeons who were in the front line of disease diagnosis and control were ignorant of the presence of this disease and were not informed of its clinical signs or its significance as a potential national disease problem .'

By the end of March 1988, 600 probable cases of BSE had been reported. The Government's mind was made up: scrapie in sheep had never jumped species to man, despite being known about for 200 years. BSE wouldn't either.

As usual, John MacGregor's red box of weekend reading was overflowing. It was February 1988 and the secretary of state for agriculture had a two busy days of meetings and business ahead.

In his ministerial papers was a document from John Suich of MAFF's animal health division. The BSE problem was becoming serious, numbers were rising alarmingly. Suich suggested that a slaughter compensation scheme should be agreed for farmers, who were increasing disquiet about a disaster developing in their midst.

Two months earlier, MacGregor had received a letter from Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, a landowner. 'There is nothing which prevents veterinary officers from certifying the carcass of an animal infected with this disease as fit for human consumption. I understand little research has been done on whether this disease can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of beef from infected animals. Until this is known it seems quite wrong to sell infected carcasses for this purpose .' It was the first time the public health link had been made.

Suich's memo to MacGregor tackled the issue. 'I would be reluctant to say the risk [to human health] is negligible. One theory is that BSE may have originated from sheep affected with scrapie. If this theory is correct we have to face up to the possibility that the disease could cross another species gap.'

This view would not be made public for another eight years. MAFF considered it too dangerous for the multi-billion pound farming industry.

MacGregor read Suich's comments on the slaughter and compensation deal. In the margins, more as an aide-mémoire than anything else, he noted that there was a need for caution. How much would a slaughter and compensation scheme cost? Would analogies be made with other farming problems, such as rhizomania in sugar beet which was devastating crops, leaving the Government open to heavy compensation claims? Treasury was unlikely to agree to funding the scheme if there was no evidence that there was a risk to human health. For MacGregor, the former chief secretary to the Treasury, economics were of primary concern.

MAFF officials took this to mean that the scheme was off the agenda. In a letter to the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Donald Acheson, they failed to make it clear that they urgently wanted a slaughter and compensation scheme . They simply said they wanted Acheson's thoughts on the possible health implications of BSE. Acheson himself confessed that he felt irritated at the incredibly short notice he had been given to come up with such an important opinion.

'To be, off the cuff, asking the CMO, at a moment's notice, personally to give advice to take diseased cattle out of the food chain is a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the job,' Acheson later told the inquiry.

His feelings were nothing compared with Dr Hilary Pickles, the principal medical officer at the Department of Health. How, she asked, was the department supposed to fulfil its role when MAFF didn't keep them informed?

'The most serious delay was in informing DH in the first place,' she said. 'The Central Veterinary Laboratory were aware of a new disease in January 1987, they informed their ministers in June 1987 but wrote to us only on 3 March 1988, by which time they had 500 cases.' Pickles was furious. Inter-departmental jealousies meant that MAFF wanted to keep BSE within its sphere of influence.

The civil service had fallen into what is known along the corridors of Whitehall as 'shaded-opinion'. When officials feel they know the mind of the minister, all options are couched in terms that the minister is likely to agree to. MAFF officials didn't tell Acheson of their own feelings on the issue of compensation because they thought MacGregor's mind was made up. It wasn't.

'I am a little surprised to find significance attached to things which were an aide-mémoire to me,' MacGregor said later of his notes scribbled in the margins. On such misunderstandings are problems built. It was another five months of delay and circulating memos before the slaughter scheme was finally agreed. In that time hundreds of infected carcasses had entered the food chain .

With Acheson and Pickles' opinions clear, Bradley knew pressure was growing on MAFF to give information more widely to the medical profession. In September 1987 he dropped a note to Watson suggesting publishing an article about BSE in the medical journal the Lancet. 'There are of course pros and cons,' Bradley said. 'What do you think?'

Watson replied. 'Not at present. It would over-emphasise the possible link to human spongiform encephalopathies.' So the public remained ignorant.

MAFF were determined to hold the line that beef was perfectly safe to eat. A week after Bradley's Lancet request, Rees knew that '[the DoH] are aware of the problem and have informally expressed some concern about any possible human health risks,' he wrote in a progress report to MacGregor. But less than a month later, Suich circulated this memo to press officers in case they had to answer questions on BSE.

'Q: Can it be transmitted to humans?'

'A: There is no evidence that it is transmissable to humans.'

There was no evidence, but there were concerns. It was MAFF's policy not to reveal them .

A cow's death is seldom pretty. In the Eighties most of Britain's 1,000 abbatoirs had adopted a 'production-line' system for killing, blood-letting and cutting up cows.

Beasts ready for slaughter would arrive at a holding area. They would be lined up between metal fences, single file, and fed into a pen. A bolt would be fired into the animal's brain, followed by a pithing rod, a pronged instrument which would cause further damage to the brain and spinal cord to stop the animal kicking. Hoisted up by the hind legs, the cow's neck would be slit, the head cut off and the offal removed. Meat would then be processed in one direction, and the mass of guts and blood would go to a different department. Everything was used for either animal or human consumption.

In October 1992, John Gummer, then the secretary of state for agriculture, was called before the agriculture select committee. Sitting before them in the House of Commons, Gummer was asked about hygiene standards for killing cattle. Reading from reports from environmental officers charged with inspecting slaughter houses, Gummer said:

'We have real problems with our slaughter houses.' He turned to one of the officer's reports. 'Slaughter hall floor heavily soiled with blood, gut contents and other debris - no attempt to clean up between carcasses. Car cleaning brush heavily contaminated with blood and fat being used to wash carcasses. Offal rack and carcass rails encrusted with dirt. Missing windows - birds, flies and vermin entering. Effluent discharging across floor - risk of contamination.' Faeces was often found smeared over the dead bodies of the cows.

A year earlier, Gummer had warned Prime Minister John Major that 60 per cent of slaughter houses did not meet European standards.

It mattered. In November 1989, the Government had ordered that brains and spinal cords of cows should be prevented from entering the human food chain. Brain and spinal cord were thought to contain the infective BSE material. It became known as the specific bovine offal ban.

The removal of the spinal cord was a tricky business. Cows had to be sawn neatly in two. The safety of the public was dependent on men with knives with electric saws and stun guns, killing and cutting up cows in chaotic conditions. There was widespread evidence that remains of spinal cords were entering the food chain, in reports given to MAFF and the DoH in 1995 .

'We asked MAFF officials whether evidence of poor hygiene standards in slaughter houses did not raise concerns about the standard of enforcement of the duty to remove the spinal cord from the carcass,' Lord Phillips said. 'Each replied that it did not.'

Even with the evidence that the slaughter house system was filthy, MAFF and the department of healt stuck to the line that beef was perfectly safe to eat .

On a warm pring evening in May 1990, Gerald Wells received a telephone call. It was the chief veterinary officer, Keith Meldrum. Wells, a senior member of the Central Veterinary Laboratory, was asked about his discovery of a BSE-type disease in a cat in Bristol.

Wells said that it had 'profound implications' for the Government's line on BSE's possible effects on people. Other experts argued that if a cat had 'caught' BSE, probably from eating infected offal crushed up in pet food, people could be next. Meldrum held a meeting with Gummer at which they agreed that the Government had to hold the line. They said there was 'no likely connection' between the cat and BSE. Such stubbornness was to continue for another six years.

Over the next three years, finding after finding undermined the foundations of the Government's policy. And every time, the Government sort to shore up its own rickety structure with assurances that beef was completely safe.

In August 1990 scientists successfully transferred BSE to a pig . In March 1993 the Lancet reported that the first dairy farmer had died of , the human equivalent of BSE. That month Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, issued a statement saying that beef was safe to eat .

'Dr Calman was seeking to address fears that a farmer had somehow caught BSE from his cattle,' the Phillips report says. 'Responding to such fears by emphasising that it was safe to eat beef naturally carried the inference that transmission of the disease from cow to human was impossible .

'Dr Calman should have been careful not to suggest such a belief, for he considered that there was a real potential for BSE to move from cows to humans.'

Then came Vicky Rimmer . Early in summer 1993 she fell ill with a degenerative disease which mystified her doctors. By mid-September she was blind and had fallen into a coma. She would become another fatal CJD statistic.

On 26 January, 1994, press reporting of Vicky's case was causing alarm. Calman was again pressed into action with the encouragement of MAFF and made another reassuring statement. 'On the basis of the work done so far there is not the slightest evidence that eating beef or hamburgers caused CJD,' he said. Phillips said that the strength with which Calman made the point was 'somewhat more emphatic than desirable'.

Why was Calman wheeled out so regularly? A briefing paper from Douglas Hogg, the secretary of state for agriculture in 1995, to Major reveals the thinking. 'The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Veterinary Officer ought to be by far the most convincing spokesmen for the Government on the question of whether BSE could be transmitted to humans from infected meat.' Politicians weren't trusted, so Britain's faith in experts had to be tested to the limit.

In the second half of 1995, two more dairy farmers died of CJD, bringing the total to four . The committee of experts brought together by the Government to advise them on BSE and CJD said they were now looking at something greater than a chance phenomenon. One official suggested that maybe the farmers had eaten the infected cattle feed they were giving to their herds. Holding the line was getting difficult.

Another blow came. Two more teenagers had been diagnosed with CJD. The media smelt scandal. Confidence had to be rebuilt, ministers had to go on the attack.

In December, Stephen Dorrell, the health secretary, appeared on Jonathan Dimbleby's ITV political programme on ITV to do just that.

'So there is no conceivable risk from what is now in the food chain?' Dimbleby asked. Dorrell thought about his reply carefully, mindful that a word out of place could bring the Government's policy down around his ears. 'That is the position,' he said. Dorrell admitted later that his words 'had gone too far'.

Hogg was worried. Public confidence in beef was taking a battering. He demanded a campaign to convince the public that eating beef was safe. He asked the scientific committee of advisers, supposedly independent, to answer a series of questions. 'This was not because he wished to know the answers,' Lord Phillips said. 'It was in the hope that the answers would be suitable to publish in order to give reassurance to those who are worried about the safety of eating beef.'

Colin MacLean, the director general of the Meat and Livestock Commission, wrote to one of the committee, Dr Richard Kimberlin.

'We agree that we need succinct answers to these questions and my colleagues in our PR company have drafted the sort of answers they would like to see (although they cannot put words into [the committee's] mouth!).'

The MLC is charged with promoting beef in Britain. Kimberlin, a government adviser, was also a paid consultant for the MLC. Phillips says of MacLean's reassuring words on the safety of eating beef that 'hyperbole had replaced accuracy '.

The rows were beginning. As more and more cases of CJD appeared, the DoH was getting increasingly nervous. But to keep the beef industry and exports from collapse MAFF ploughed on.

By the end of February 1996, just a month before Hogg had to get up in the Commons and announce a link between BSE and a new form of CJD in people, MAFF prepared a leaflet to reassure the public. On the front page it stated: 'Two facts should be made absolutely clear. Fact 1: there is currently no scientific evidence to indicate a link between BSE and CJD . Fact 2: the independent expert committee set up to advise the Government on all aspects of BSE is satisfied that British beef is safe to eat .'

Dr Ailsa Wight, a department of health expert on BSE, was shown the leaflet and was asked whether the DoH might like to jointly issue it with MAFF. Wight passed the request on to Dr Jeremy Metters, the deputy chief medical officer. He was furious .

'Some statements are too definite and in time may be seen to be wrong ,' he wrote in a memo to Wight. 'We should not follow MAFF's hyperbole of reassurance. We must leave ministers and CMO in particular an escape route if any of these statements turns out to be WRONG .'

As the inter-departmental battles intensified, the number of young people catching CJD was increasing. Dr Robert Will, the leading expert in CJD from the Government supported CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, had depressing news. These cases of CJD were unlike any other. There was something going on.

On a damp evening early in March, 1996, Richard Packer, the permanent secretary at MAFF, walked into Hogg's cavernous office on the corner of Smith Square in Westminster. It was late, but Packer had some bad news. 'There is a very dark cloud on the horizon,' he told Hogg. 'SEAC [the Government advisory committee] think, or are coming to the view, that BSE might be transmissible .'

Hogg paused as the import of what Packer was saying sunk in. 'This is a very serious state of affairs,' he said.

Calman was told. Meldrum was told. Beef was not safe . Hogg prepared to make a statement to Parliament as soon as possible. If this leaked out, the Government would be finished. It was agreed that Dorrell would make the first statement and Hogg would follow. For the first time in the whole disaster, the considerations of the DoH were put ahead of those of MAFF .

On 20 March, at 3.31pm, Dorrell rose from the green Government benches in the Commons chamber. He said that a new form of CJD had been discovered and that, despite there being no firm scientific evidence that it had come from eating beef, SEAC concluded that the cases were linked to eating infected meat in the Eighties.

At 4.17pm, Hogg made his statement, saying that all cattle over 30 months would be slaughtered. In that one day billions of pounds were wiped off the value of Britain's beef industry. Incinerators worked night and day burning cattle. Pictures of bovine funeral pyres led the news day after day as hundreds of herds were burnt. Farmers were ruined. Many have never recovered.

The Government had finally been caught out. From day one, convinced by the theory that scrapie had never been transmitted to man from sheep, and that therefore BSE could not be transmitted either, they drew a line in the sand and refused to cross it. Even when the scrapie theory was proved wrong - BSE actually came from a genetic mutation in cattle in the Seventies and was passed on by feeding cow remains to herds as animal feed - they refused to budge.

Economics guided them. The public could not be trusted to make up their own mind . Science found it impossible to prove a link, so there was always an opportunity for more research. More delay and more reassuring noises.

Eventually the weight of evidence overwhelmed the Government's defences . But even at the very last, there were those arguing that a cattle cull could be 'disproportionately expensive' given the number of cases of CJD (then 10). These were men trying to bale out out the Titanic with a teaspoon .

Sixty miles away, David Bee must have greeted the news with horror. On a cold Christmas in 1984 he had created the first ripple of a gathering storm which eventually engulfed the nation. And in Aberdeen, Billy McIntyre still makes the 10 minute journey to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to tousle his daughter's hair. Anything to keep her happy until she dies from a disease that started in cattle and is now eating her brain.

The key unanswered questions

Why does vCJD predominantly affect young people?

A possible explanation is the disproportionate consumption by young people of beefburgers, some of which contain high-risk material. There is also a higher incidence of affections such as tonsilitis or gastroenteritis in children giving rise to transmission through broken skin or mucous membranes; and transmission via childhood vaccines prepared in cultures containing bovine constituents.

How many more people will succumb to vCJD?

Estimates of the size of an epidemic are made difficult by the many unknowns. Scientists do not know enough about dose, route of exposure, incubation period, genetic susceptibility and scale of the species barrier between cattle and humans. Latest estimates range from a few hundred to just over 130,000 .

What was the origin of BSE?

Lord Phillips believe we may never know for certain how and why BSE first appeared. The best guess is that a sporadic form of the disease probably occurred in the 1970s through some type of freak genetic dysfunction. The epidemic happened because remains of individual diseased cattle were ground up and fed back to healthy animals.


29 Oct 00 - CJD - The cast of characters at the heart of the BSE saga

Staff Reporter

Sunday Times ... Sunday 29 October 2000


The cast of characters at the heart of the BSE saga,the roles they played, the decisions they made:

Keith Meldrum

As chief veterinary officer from 1988-97, Meldrum was the man in charge of animal health for most of the BSE crisis. The report accuses him of not properly considering the theory that BSE could 'jump species' and not warning then agriculture secretary John Gummer that the first case of a BSE-like disease in a cat was important.

Sir Donald Acheson

Chief medical officer from 1983-91. Acheson is accused of misleading the public by spreading 'false reassurance' that beef was safe to eat. In May 1990 he said: "British beef can be eaten safely by everyone." He failed to realise that the transmission of BSE to a cat in 1990 was cause for concern and needed to be properly investigated by scientists.

Kenneth Clarke

Health secretary from 1988-90, Clarke was criticised for failing to ensure that the implications of the Southwood report into BSE were properly investigated by the Department of Health. He received further criticism for not demanding an answer from the Southwood committee to the question of why, if cattle offal was not safe for babies to eat, it should be safe for adults.

John Gummer

Junior agriculture minister from 1985-88, minister of agriculture from 1989-93. The report says that Gummer should not be castigated for his infamous publicity stunt in 1990, when he fed a beefburger to his four-year-old daughter Cordelia in front of media cameras. But of the moment when he raised the burger to his daughter's mouth the report said: "he chose the wrong option ".

John MacGregor

Minister of agriculture 1987-89, MacGregor was informed of BSE by Maff officials in July 1987. He is praised by Phillips for agreeing to a ban on feeding cannibal feed to cows which limited the BSE epidemic and introducing the ban on people eating offal. But in not stressing how important the offal ban was for human health, Phillips chastised him.

Douglas Hogg

Minister of agriculture from 1995-97. Hogg is criticised in the report for failing to act quickly enough when confronted with evidence in 1996 of a link between BSE and vCJD. In 1995 he tried to enlist the support of the government's advisory committee on BSE for his statements reassuring the public about the safety of beef, which the report says "was not a desirable exercise".

Lord Phillips

Inquiry chairman Nicholas Phillips, 62, aka Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, has been promoted twice since he was called to chair the BSE inquiry in December 1997. At the end of 1998 he was elevated to the House of Lords and in April this year he was appointed Master of the Rolls, making him the second most senior judge in England and Wales.

Professor Sir Richard Southwood

He headed the Southwood working party on BSE, the first government committee to investigate the disease. He was criticised by the inquiry for not making clearer in his 1988 report that BSE posed a risk to humans and "that all reasonably practicable precautions should be taken to reduce the risks that would exist should BSE prove to be transmissible to humans".


29 Oct 00 - CJD - Tories hid BSE danger from Scots

Carlos Alba and Jonathon Carr-Brown

Sunday Times ... Sunday 29 October 2000


Scotland was deliberately kept in the dark for several years about the dangers of BSE and CJD because London ministers feared sensitive information would be leaked by Scottish Office civil servants.

Douglas Hogg, the former Conservative agriculture minister, told the Phillips report on BSE: "The Scottish Office is one of the leakiest departments I have come across."

Lord Phillips's report was published last week as CJD claimed its youngest victim. Zoe Jeffries, 14, died yesterday as scientists began to increase their estimates of the possible death toll from the illness.

Jeffries, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, contracted the disease two years ago. She became the country's 81st person confirmed to have died from CJD, the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease.

Her death coincided with predictions from government advisers that Glasgow will be among a number of CJD clusters, as the number of victims is expected to rise tenfold throughout Britain. The death rate is expected to rise to one per week by next September and one per day in 2003.

There have been five CJD victims in Glasgow, while Doncaster, which is also marked as a cluster, has had two deaths.

Deaths among older people from new variant CJD raise the possibility that the disease may have a longer incubation period than previously thought, which would indicate a higher death toll than had been forecast.

Scientists had believed that most people were infected in the late 1980s but the evidence from the Phillips inquiry is that the disease may have entered the food chain in the 1970s.

Phillips also revealed how cabinet ministers put Scots at greater risk by withholding crucial information from their Scottish colleagues. Officials in Edinburgh were not told of initial concerns about BSE until the autumn of 1987 - months after London ministers knew about the disease.

In 1989 a last-minute decision on sausage casings and the suddenly accelerated introduction of regulations governing bovine offal were said to have left Scotland "on the back foot". In November 1989 ministers in England and Wales introduced a ban on cattle offals in human food, but the same regulations were not introduced north of the border for a further 76 days - increasing the risk of people contracting CJD.

The introduction was further delayed because Lord Sanderson, then the Scottish Office agriculture minister, feared the political embarassment of introducing such a ban ahead of Burns' Night . At the time, bovine intestines were still used in haggis .

The lives of 87 people have already been claimed by nvCJD - including Scots Donnamarie McGivern, Margaret Tibbert, Kevin Morrison and Andrew Haig. Alan Milburn, health secretary, will meet their families next week to discuss a compensation award. An immediate payment of £1m will also go to the National CJD Surveillance Unit to start a care scheme for sufferers.

In 1990 the government set up the surveillance unit in Edinburgh to monitor CJD cases and investigate a possible link with BSE. However, five years later Scotland was still being left out of the loop because London ministers feared Scottish officials could not be trusted with sensitive information.

The report claimed that Hogg and his predecessor John Gummer "saw consultation with, and briefing of, the administrations outside London as a process that threatened successful departmental management of sensitive public information ".

It added: "The Scottish Office often felt excluded from the real debate and obliged to scramble through the necessary consultations and other action at the last minute because it was given little notice. It was plain from the evidence we examined that early consultation was far from being the first consideration in some Whitehall policy-makers' minds."

The revelations were seized on by opposition politicians who insisted the information vacuum between London and Edinburgh still exists.

Similar tensions surfaced earlier this year after it emerged that Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, knew for a month that crops sown in Scotland were contaminated with genetically modified seed before he told Ross Finnie, his Scottish counterpart.

Sir Michael Forsyth, former Scottish secretary, said the lack of communication was not a deliberate policy. He told the inquiry: "Forgetting about the Scots was thoughtlessness - it was not malicious." But he added: "I felt every minister in Whitehall, should have on their desk: 'Do not forget Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales'."

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29 Oct 00 - CJD - Youngest CJD victim dies at 14

Jonathon Carr-Brown

Sunday Times ... Sunday 29 October 2000


Britain's youngest victim of CJD, 14-year-old Zoe Jeffries, died yesterday as scientists began to increase estimates of the possible death toll from the illness.

Jeffries, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, contracted the disease two years ago. She became the country's 81st person confirmed to have died from CJD, the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease.

Her death coincided with a series of predictions and discoveries by government advisers and scientists. These include:

- A death rate of one person a week by next September, rising to one a day by 2003.

- A rise in the minimum number of deaths in Britain to 1,000, 10 times higher than previously forecast.

- The emergence of two potential new clusters of the disease - in Glasgow, where so far five people have died from new variant CJD (nvCJD), and in Doncaster where there have been two CJD deaths. Regarded as statistically significant, these follow the discovery of a cluster in Queniborough, Leicestershire, where five have died.

- The death of a 79-year-old American woman from CJD who spent part of the 1970s in the same area of Leicestershire, and the death of a 74-year-old from nvCJD.

- Deaths among older people from nvCJD raise the possibility that the disease may have a longer incubation period than previously thought, which would indicate a higher death toll than previously forecast.

- Scientists had believed that most people were infected in the late 1980s but there is now evidence from the Phillips inquiry into BSE, published last week, that the disease may have entered the food chain in the 1970s.

The latest developments have led Professor John Collinge, a member of the government's advisory body on BSE and CJD, to revise the minimum number of expected deaths from 100 - which will be reached early next year - to 1,000. "The longer the incubation period, the more potentially worrying it could be ." said Collinge.

However, he emphasised that accurate predictions are impossible because of uncertainty over key causal factors including the dose of BSE-tainted meat that is needed to infect a victim, the route of exposure, the incubation period, genetic susceptibility and the extent of species barrier.

Research by Professor Roy Anderson, another advisory committee member, initially put the range of deaths between 100 and 136,000 . In August he said the most likely number was about 6,000 and predicted that deaths of hundreds of thousands of people were unlikely.

These figures have, however, been criticised by scientists including Dr Stephen Deallar, a pathologist at Burnley hospital, Lancashire, who in the 1970s was one of the first to guess how BSE entered the food chain. "I think Collinge's revision is on the optimistic side," he said. "This is going to keep doubling for a number of years to come."

The death of the 74-year-old, believed to be from North Yorkshire, could have significant implications , he said. "If this man ate hamburgers in the 1970s and has been incubating it for 30 years, the doubling process is going to go on longer with a much bigger pool of people."

The death of Jeffries highlights the difficulties of diagnosing nvCJD four years after the government acknowledged both its existence and the poor standard of care that victims have received.

Her symptoms emerged in June 1998. Her mother, Helen Jeffries, said: "One morning Zoe got up and just didn't do anything. She just cried.

"It was as though she went to bed one person and got up a different one."

It was not until June 1999 that doctors from the CJD Surveillance Unit diagnosed her illness as nvCJD.

Although her mother said she was filled with remorse because she had fed her daughter cheap beef burgers, she criticised the lack of information and knowledge about BSE and CJD.

"It's just as if someone had stuck a knife into Zoe's body," she said. "I really do think she has been murdered."


29 Oct 00 - CJD - A culture of secrecy that risked our lives

Jonathon Carr-Brown and Senay Boztas

Sunday Times ... Sunday 29 October 2000


As the story of the BSE fiasco is revealed in Lord Phillips's report, we lay bare the patronising, bureaucratic world of Whitehall that repeatedly led ministers to hold back the truth

Lethal disease: Pamela Bayliss died of the human form of BSE aged 24

'I used to think that life was all about getting married, having children and growing old. But it's not; it is being able to love and, most importantly, being loved."

Pamela Beyless wrote these lines in her diary shortly before she died of the human form of BSE in October 1998. She was only 24.

During her terrible two-year decline from a healthy, bubbly girl to a shrunken wreck, her parents proved their devotion. Tenderly, they made her tea even when she could no longer drink and moved her eyelashes to stop her eyes drying up because she could not blink.

When Pamela's brain was finally eaten away by this lethal disease and her parents said their last goodbyes, it was the first time she had been left alone for two years.

Last week, the report by Lord Phillips into the BSE crisis revealed that a patronising bureaucratic culture of secrecy driven by the fear of provoking a food scare caused the government to mislead the public over the safety of British meat for 10 years .

The 4,000-page report reveals a catalogue of delays , departmental infighting , scientific censorship and inadequate policing of measures to prevent the spread of new variant CJD to humans. But despite unearthing a terrible tale of obfuscation and deceit, Phillips allowed most of the key 26 civil servants and ministers responsible to remain unrebuked .

This lack of criticism is sometimes baffling . The discovery, for instance, that BSE had been transferred to mice and cats, early proof that the disease could be a threat to human life, was dismissed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) as evidence to the contrary. Of this grave error, Phillips says only "we do not criticise Maff's officials for the cautious stance they took".

Phillips puts the blame on the "Rolls-Royce" civil service where "the best became the enemy of the good". An emollient critique of an ineffective system. Phillips, however, sees their failures as "human failings".

The detail of his report belies his conclusions.

Many junior civil servants and scientists - who thought that BSE threatened humans as early as 1986 - believe Phillips has been unforgivably charitable. Evidence is now emerging that the scale of the BSE epidemic in humans may be even greater than feared.

Yesterday it was revealed that a 74-year-old man had died of human BSE - the oldest victim by 20 years - and that the youngest victim so far, 14-year-old Zoe Jeffries, had also died .

The elderly man's death means guestimates of how many of us will be affected must be recalibrated upwards. Already the possible death toll has increased from a minimum of "around 100" to "more than 1,000". The top range is more than 100,000, but we will not know which is accurate for another two years.

Beyless, doted on by her two elder brothers and her father, was a toddler when the BSE crisis began. The Phillips report contends that at some time in the 1970s a genetic mutation occurred in a cow somewhere in Britain.

Since 1926 British cows have been fed the mashed-up remains of their relatives. Infected corpses were being ground up and fed back to cattle so BSE "spread like a chain letter" throughout Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s. Due to BSE's long incubation period, thousands of cows were infected before the first one was diagnosed.

Throughout this time, Beyless loved going to school - "Probably more for meeting her friends than her work," commented one teacher. Her favourite foods were saveloy sausages and her mother's Sunday roast beef. The Beylesses also ate burgers and chips about twice a week.

Cheap beef burgers are often made from what is known as "mechanically recovered meat" - these are the remnants on the carcass once the normal cuts have been removed. They contained large amounts of the spleen, offal and nerve tissue holding the deadly prions which cause vCJD.

The known BSE saga begins in September 1985 - just as Beyless was starting at Soar Valley secondary school and had got her first bank account. The brain of a cow was delivered to Maff's Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL).

Cow number 133 became unsteady on its legs at Pitsham Farm near Midhurst, West Sussex, towards the end of 1984. Some other cows had similar symptoms. Until then only individual cows had been struck down.

Tests on 133's brain showed the tell-tale pattern that we now know is the hallmark of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), although its significance went unremarked.

It was not until the end of 1986 - a year later - that Raymond Bradley, head of CVL's pathology department, said: "If the disease turned out to be bovine scrapie it would have severe repercussions to the export trade and possibly for humans." He was prophetic .

Bradley's work was not sent immediately to the Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU) in Edinburgh, as Phillips says it should have been. It was delayed by Dr William Watson, the director of CVL, for six crucial months.

The department was not only tardy but covered up what had been found. "A policy of total suppression of all information on the subject" was operated, according to the Phillips report. Vets and veterinary investigators were not informed or warned to look out for the disease. Why? Watson did not want to tell Maff about this new disease until he was sure.

It is clear now that from 1984 to 1988 - the period of peak infection - nothing was done because nothing was known. Even so, efforts were limited. The precautionary principle - act first, find the evidence later - was not employed. More contaminated beef entered the food chain.

Uncertain findings were suppressed by scientists and ministers while a propaganda campaign to "sedate " the public's fears and protect the beef industry continued.

At the heart of this was the deadly dual role of Maff - responsible for public health from food and also the protector of British beef .

Phillips claims the criticism that Maff favoured farmers over consumers is unfounded. This is a view unlikely to be shared by parents of the victims who dealt with a Maff fixated by the beef industry.

In 1988 Beyless was 14. She was allowed to go and stay with a friend on the other side of town, and even ventured out to the local pub. She was boy mad and kept a diary. "She would be in love with one boy one week and another the next," said her father.

Meanwhile John Wilesmith, the CVL's only qualified epidemiologist, had an insight which saved many other Pamela Beylesses. In April 1988 he deduced, accurately, that cannibal feed was the source of BSE infection .

Although Wilesmith's findings were tentative, John MacGregor, then agriculture minister, acted immediately to ban the feeding of sheep to cattle. Fortunately, the order was modified to ban the feeding of all ruminants to other ruminants .

Unfortunately, farmers were given a five-week period to clear their feed stocks.

Given an inch, Phillips claims the farmers and suppliers took a mile. Thousands of cattle were infected after the ban took effect as old feed stocks were used up.

However, the ban was primarily responsible for reducing the rate of infection by 80% overnight.

During Beyless's teenage years, the crisis was deepening. She went fell walking with her father, a milkman, and would run ahead, teasing him for "being out of puff".

By February 1988, 264 cases of BSE from 223 farms had been confirmed. Derek Andrews, permanent secretary at Maff, aware of the looming crisis , proposed a policy of compulsory slaughter with compensation to stop BSE-infected animals entering the food chain.

MacGregor demurred, referring the matter to the Department of Health; the first time Sir Donald Acheson, the chief medical officer, knew anything about BSE.

Phillips praises Maff's suggestion. But it fell foul of Acheson. He was worried that this was a disproportionate response and feared a food scare. In a classic example of BSE - Blame Someone Else - he suggested referring the matter to a working party of "experts" chaired by Sir Richard Southwood, the zoologist.

This was a dark day. The Southwood working party's principle remit was to explore the implications of BSE for human health. At its first meeting on June 20, 1988 its members were "horrified to hear sick animals were getting into the food chain". They immediately supported Maff's ban.

Despite the three-month delay in setting up the group, Phillips once again refuses to criticise Acheson: "He was put in an invidious position being asked for advice without notice." Some might think this surprisingly lenient.

The final order preventing diseased animals getting into the human food chain was not given until August 8, 1988 - six months after Maff suggested it. Phillips is again understanding.

Unfortunately, a decision to give farmers only 50% compensation per animal led inevitably to diseased cows slipping under the wire. Later Gummer increased the compensation to 100%.

That summer of 1988, Beyless went away on holiday with her parents where she met Andrew, her first long-term boyfriend. The couple wrote to each other devotedly.

In February 1989, as the Southwood report was submitted to ministers, Beyless was revising hard for her GCSEs and still writing to Andrew. "She got seven," says her father proudly. "She was bright as a button. She seemed to live twice as fast as the rest of us."

The Southwood report, a dire episode in a terrible saga, concluded that it was "most unlikely that BSE would have any implications for human health". Inconsistently , however, it advised that offal should be removed from baby food and said that animals not showing signs of BSE were safe to eat.

The report predicated an assumption that BSE was bovine scrapie and therefore unlikely to transfer to humans. The Southwood working party did not contain a single expert in prions. Phillips declines to comment on this glaring omission.Yet Southwood still judged the risk to humans "remote".

Only one civil servant, Elizabeth Attridge, head of the emergencies, food quality and pest control group, asked the obvious question. If action needed to be taken on baby food, why not on other food? She was ignored.

In the following months, as Beyless stepped up her GCSE revision timetable in 1989, voices outside Maff emerged with differing views of the Southwood report.

Then Pedigree Master Foods , the dog and cat food manufacturer, revealed that it was removing offal from pet food because it was a BSE risk according to a survey it had done . The findings were given to Keith Meldrum, chief veterinary officer, who agreed to ban offal. Ironically the pet food industry banned beef products long before they were banned for human consumption .

It was not until November 1989 that the ban on offal for human consumption was brought in. By 1990, Beyless had left school and moved to Southampton to be with Andrew. She was happy and worked in a series of office jobs. The news broke that BSE had been transmitted to a number of different species, including a puma, a cheetah and an oryx . But government officials said no implication of a risk to humans should be drawn .

Many scientists, including Professor Richard Lacey, a professor of clinical microbiology at Leeds University, disagreed. He was already warning in 1990 of hospital wards full of "thousands of people going slowly and painfully mad before dying" .

The biggest challenge to government credibility came in May 1990 when a siamese cat called Max was diagnosed by Bristol University as having BSE; 57 other cats died .

Rather than tackling the growing risk to human health, Gummer called a meeting to quash speculation. Meldrum "confirmed the minister's assumption that there was no likely connection between this case and BSE". Phillips notes: "There was no basis for this degree of reassurance ."

Humberside Education Authority added to the government's problems by justifiably banning beef in school canteens. At this point, Gummer attempted to feed his daughter Cordelia, 4, a beef burger. This, according to Phillips, "is not a matter for which he ought to be criticised".

Acheson added: "There is no risk associated with eating British beef."

These assurances were apparently based on the notion that BSE-infected material was not entering the food chain. In fact, in 1990, contaminated feed was still being fed to cattle and contaminated meat was being fed to humans. This was because the slaughterhouse workers paid scant attention to the ban as the risks to human health had been played down.

Meanwhile, more and more people were infected and in March 1993 came the news in The Lancet that a dairy farmer with a CJD herd had died the previous October. A few days after the report, Dr Kenneth Calman, the new chief medical officer, unwisely repeated the claim that beef was safe after pressure from Maff.

A year later in 1994, while Beyless was still living happily in Southampton with Andrew, where the couple had bought a house and got engaged, the press seized upon the case of Vicky Rimmer, a 15-year-old who later died in 1998 after four years in a coma. The CJD Surveillance Unit now believes she was an vCJD victim.

Calman rebutted press claims about Rimmer by stating: "There is not the slightest evidence that eating beef or hamburgers causes CJD". Phillips claims this was "somewhat more emphatic than desirable". A less charitable observer would say Calman was wrong.

There was mounting evidence of a link - but the authorities were still in denial.

Beyless's personal catastrophe was just beginning. Things began to go badly with Andrew and they split up. She moved in with a friend in Basingstoke. When she spoke to her father he noticed she had a nervous laugh like a budgie. She complained that she could not assimilate information at work (she was now working for Barclays Bank) and kept being told off. Her brain was beginning to decay.

At around the same time, the public learnt of the death of two more dairy farmers . SEAC held a meeting and decided this was worrying but concluded that the cases were unrelated to BSE in beef. Phillips says mildly that conclusion is now not easy to accept.

More worrying were the growing number of cases in young people , despite ever more government reassurance. By January 1996, when Beyless was starting to deteriorate but had not been diagnosed, SEAC was investigating four cases of suspected CJD in people under 30.

The unprecedented cluster of cases was not relayed to the chief medical officer . Phillips dubs this "inadequate". SEAC met again on March 8 and concluded that exposure to BSE in the 1980s was a likely explanation.

Activity at Maff and the health department became frantic. By March 16, 1996 there were nine confirmed vCJD cases. On March 19, 1996 there were a further frantic 24 hours of meetings with and the cabinet and SEAC.

The next day SEAC concluded that the only plausible cause for the acknowledged 10 cases of CJD was exposure to BSE. Stephen Dorrell, the minister, made a statement in the Commons that day.

The reaction to the revelation was so strong that the only way to restore public confidence was a wholesale cull. To date 4.4m cattle have been slaughtered at a cost of £3.4 billion.

Dorrell's admission of the link between BSE and vCJD in humans came far too late for Beyless.

It was in June 1996 that her family realised something was very wrong. On a visit to her grandmother she banged on a wardrobe, shouting at her father, "I just don't get it". In the six months before her disease was finally diagnosed, Beyless lost her co-ordination, could not walk and became anxious if she was left alone. She became incontinent and crawled around the floor.

Her parents nursed her constantly and fought to get her the right diagnosis and care. There was no co-ordination between the London hospitals that referred Beyless, and the GPs. At least as a result of the Phillips inquiry the government has promised a care package to help future victims.

Beyless died on October 11, 1998 . Her father had stayed overnight with her at the hospital and at 7am woke and washed her face. She opened her eyes and looked at him - he is sure she recognised him. A few hours later, she stopped breathing.

Beyless is now seen as part of the Queniborough cluster, where she had been a frequent visitor during her childhood and teens. This village links a cluster of four CJD victims, three of whom died within 12 months of each other in 1988. Such tragedies will become more common.

There may be a worse scenario if new research, which suggests that sheep, pigs and poultry could be contaminated with a new form of mad cow disease, is correct. This has worrying implications for human-to-human transfer through blood.

Maff says "steps were put in place in 1996 to stop species-to-species transfer". One of the most damaging legacies of this saga is the cynicism with which such statements are now greeted.


29 Oct 00 - CJD - After years of inquiry no-one knows how many lives vCJD will claim

By Robert Matthews and Lorraine Fraser

Telegraph ... Sunday 29 October 2000


As epidemics go, it could have been worse: a sudden outbreak of media coverage, a rash of unpleasant headlines, some feverish editorials.

Now, just three days after the publication of the Phillips report into government's role in the BSE crisis, those who seemed likely to succumb to its effects appear well on the road to recovery. Some will return to work tomorrow after following spin doctor's orders and staying at home, and avoiding stress - and all media contact.

Yet while the former ministers and civil servants named - and almost blamed - last week have moved on, up or out, one group involved in the BSE debacle has no such obvious escape route. It is that of the scientists, still struggling to understand what went wrong with Britain's cattle, and what might now be in store for humans.

Despite the blanket coverage that it received last week, the Phillips report was really just an exercise in bureaucratic archaeology . It was a study of the BSE epidemic and the response of ministers up to March 1996, when the Conservative government of the day finally conceded a possible link between eating meat and contracting new-variant CJD, the human version of BSE.

Anyone scouring the report will look in vain for definitive answers to such questions as how cattle came to acquire BSE, the origins of vCJD and the likely human toll: no one knows. Indeed, anyone who reads the scientific parts of the Phillips report is likely to be stunned by how little is known even now, four years after the government announcement what so many had feared.

At the centre of the mystery of BSE and vCJD is a microscopic bundle of chemicals known as prion protein. Found in the brains and nerve tissue of animals ranging from mice to men, this protein plays an important role in the nervous system - but what that role is has yet to be ascertained.

In cattle and humans affected by these diseases, healthy prion protein is somehow altered into another, rogue form, with the deadly ability to corrupt other healthy protein around it. The result is damage to the nervous system, first subtle, then progressively more severe. Within as little as a few months, the rogue protein has turned the brain into a spongy mass of dense-looking "plaques", surrounded by holes.

It is this characteristic appearance that first led scientists to link vCJD to eating infected meat. Neurologists had identified several different forms of CJD over the years - ranging from genetic cases passed down families to cases that seem to strike out of the blue. But, under the microscope, none looked exactly like this new variant of CJD.

After finding 10 patients with brain tissue showing the vCJD pattern, scientists at the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh tried to find a common link. Unable to find any obvious risk factors such as connections with BSE-blighted farms, the team was forced to conclude that the most likely explanation for the vCJD of these patients was exposure to infected meat products .

The link was strengthened by a search of medical archives for brain tissue showing the vCJD pattern. Not a single case has been found dating before 1994 - as would have been expected if human vCJD had followed the emergence of BSE in cattle. Detailed comparisons of the prion protein in BSE and that in vCJD have since confirmed that the two are, indeed, very closely related.

Yet even now - four years after the government's announcement - there is still no definitive proof that eating infected meat causes the human disease. If anything, as more vCJD cases emerge, the picture has become cloudier. Scientists remain baffled by the fact that most of the 85 cases of vCJD identified so far have occurred in people under 45 years old, with about a third of them under 25 . The youngest victim was struck down at the age of just 12 .

Classic CJD, in contrast, is chiefly a disease of the old. Yesterday's identification of a 74-year-old man with vCJD has led to suggestions that many cases in old people had been misdiagnosed as other dementia . However, scientists believe that the surveillance systems in place since 1990 are unlikely to have missed large numbers of cases among the elderly.

Equally perplexing is the emergence of a cluster of five vCJD cases around the small Leicestershire village of Queniborough. While chance cannot be ruled out, scientists are trying to find a common factor linking the disease to the village. The growing suspicion is that there is more to the BSE-vCJD link than just eating meat: that some other factor may be involved.

Genetic susceptibility is one possibility. Every case of vCJD so far has occurred among people carrying two copies of part of a gene linked to an amino acid called methionine. The suspicion is that such people are more susceptible to vCJD. As 37 per cent of the population falls into the same genetic class, that means that vast numbers will eventually die of vCJD, unless some other risk factor is involved.

What that factor might be has prompted the most disturbing line of research now under way: that the apparent link between vCJD and meat eating is a coincidence, caused by an environmental factor that struck humans and cattle at the same time.

One potential culprit is organophosphates (OPs), chemicals with potent biochemical action that are widely used in Britain to treat warble fly infection. Since the 1980s, the role of OPs in the BSE-vCJD link has been doggedly pursued by Mark Purdey, an organic farmer in Taunton. Long derided or ignored by establishment scientists, Mr Purdey's research was finally taken seriously by the Phillips inquiry, which conceded that exposure to OPs could boost susceptibility to vCJD .

Mr Purdey has recently uncovered a link between CJD-like diseases and levels of trace metals in the environment. This follows his discovery that CJD-like diseases in animals are more prevalent in areas with low levels of copper but high levels of manganese.

Again, the Phillips inquiry conceded that Mr Purdey's findings might be significant, and pointed to new research by scientists at Cambridge University into the mystery of what healthy prion protein actually does.

Dr David Brown and his colleagues at the university's department of biochemistry have found evidence that healthy prion protein affects the use of copper by the body. The protein also seems to play a role in protecting nerve cells from so-called free radicals, extremely reactive fragments of molecules that can damage DNA.

Dr Brown and his team have discovered that, to perform this protective role, healthy prion protein needs to be bound to copper atoms. If, instead, it is exposed to manganese, the prion protein changes - giving the protein some of the characteristics of the rogue protein that causes BSE and vCJD.

These new findings all support the possibility that the link between vCJD and eating infected meat is an illusion. What might have happened instead is that changes in farming practice subtly altered trace element levels that - perhaps when combined with OP use - led to both BSE and vCJD emerging at about the same time.

While mainstream opinion insists that eating infected meat is the most likely cause of vCJD, even the scientific establishment is now suggesting that it might not be enough by itself .

Professor John Collinge, of Imperial College, and one of the Government's independent scientific advisers, has conceded that the bizarre pattern of vCJD cases so far points to the existence of other risk factors. He has suggested that mouth ulcers and infections of the tonsils or gastro-intestinal tract may increase vulnerability .

As scientists struggle to fill the vast holes in their understanding of vCJD, the truth is unfolding month by month, as new cases are added to the toll. In August, researchers at Oxford University produced the best estimate yet of the figure that everyone now wants to know: how many people will die of vCJD?

With so many unknowns - from the numbers of infected cattle that entered the food chain to the incubation period of vCJD - the task would seem hopeless. Yet the team believes that it has arrived at a fairly reliable overall picture, after checking five million permutations of the various possibilities. According to their computer model, the worst-case scenario is that 136,000 people will eventually succumb - a figure based on the assumption that vCJD has an incubation period of at least 60 years.

While so long an incubation period cannot be ruled out, evidence from other forms of CJD suggests that it could be too pessimistic. Kuru, a form of CJD that appeared in New Guinea in the 1920s among tribesmen who ate the brains of dead relatives, had an incubation period of about 15 years. A similar figure emerged from studies of patients who died from a CJD-type disease after being given human growth hormone.

Assuming that the incubation period of vCJD is between 20 and 30 years, the Oxford University computer model estimates that the number of deaths from vCJD will be a few thousand.

Even that figure could prove too pessimistic, if the growing suspicions about the involvement of other risk factors for vCJD prove correct. What scientists now need to establish is how important those other risks are. The disturbing fact is that some of those scientists are starting to wonder if the link between eating meat and vCJD is an illusion, and that the whole BSE debacle was based on a misconception.


29 Oct 00 - CJD - Millions watched Zoe's final hours

By Lorraine Fraser

Telegraph ... Sunday 29 October 2000


A Girl of 14 whose terrible suffering was shown on television last week died yesterday of variant CJD.

Zoe Jeffries, who would have been 15 next month, died at her family home in Wigan, Lancashire,two days after the publication of the two and a half year inquiry by Lord Phillips into the BSE crisis. On the eve of the report's publication, millions of viewers saw the effects of the devastating illness on Zoe, as her mother Helen, 39, allowed television cameras into her home. Harrowing images of the teenager lying almost motionless in bed were shown on Channel 4 news.

Her mother described a catalogue of delays in diagnosing her daughter's illness and criticised the help the family had received from social services. Mrs Jeffries, a widow with three younger children, said that she wished she had never fed her daughter cheap beefburgers. Zoe ate then at least three times a week from the age of two and a half until five, she said. The family, now vegetarian, also ate mince and meat pies.

Mrs Jeffries said how her daughter had been a popular girl with a passion for sport before showing the first symptoms of the illness in May 1998, two months after her father, Derek, died. Mrs Jeffries said: "One morning she got up and just didn't do anything. She just cried. It was as though she went to bed one person and got up a different person." Zoe cried solidly for two weeks and then began to scream all the time and refused to leave the house.

At first doctors believed she was reacting to the death of her father, who died of a heart attack, and she was prescribed anti-depressants. But by the end of the year her mobility was affected. Mrs Jeffries said: "It was about October when I noticed that she wasn't walking properly. She held her arms out and dragged one foot behind. She kept her balance most of the time but you could tell she was making an effort to do that.'

She took Zoe, who was her eldest child, to a neurologist who immediately diagnosed vCJD. Last week she said that she was angry that she was not warned of the dangers of beef. She said: "They told us beef was safe and to carry on eating it. If they had said there had been any risk I would have stopped eating it years ago."

Zoe's death, after a two- year illness, brings the number of deaths from vCJD in Britain to 79 . The Government announced a new care fund last week to ensure that families and victims get immediate help and faster diagnosis. Discussions with families are to begin this week but Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, promised that £1 million would be made available through the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh.

The announcement came as the 16-volume report by Lord Phillips revealed the full extent of errors by Government officials, ministers and scientists in handling the BSE outbreak. Although the report failed to lay the blame at the door of any one person or group of individuals, it says mistakes were made and revealed a lack of urgency and understanding of the serious implications of the BSE epidemic for public health.

Although the Government did not lie to the public about BSE, it says it was pre-occupied with preventing public alarm and its campaign of reassurance was wrong. Earlier fears increased that there could be many more incidences of the disease among the older population after a 74-year-old man was confirmed to have died from vCJD.

The Health Department urged doctors and scientists to be "more vigilant" about the possible causes of death among the elderly as a result of the case. A spokesman said: "In light of this case some others involving elderly people may need to be reassessed. It reiterates the need for vigilance among health professionals; cases which may have been seen as senile dementia [may have] to be reassessed."

The man, believed to be from North Yorkshire, was 20 years older than previously confirmed vCJD victims. He died last year, but his case was only reassessed after doctors became worried that his death may have been triggered by vCJD. The case was referred to the CJD Surveillance Unit where examinations of material from his brain confirmed vCJD. The case will be discussed by the Food Standards Agency later this week. Victims of vCJD have previously been between 14 and 54, with a third of them under 25.

Scientists have struggled to understand why this might be. While the report accepted a link between BSE in cattle and vCJD, it said the precise route of transmission is so far unproven .


29 Oct 00 - CJD - The cost of taking nature out of farming

Anthony Browne

Telegraph ... Sunday 29 October 2000


As the wide door swings open, the nostril-clenching stench almost knocks you over. Sunlight slices through the windowless gloom, across a jostling carpet of chickens stretching from wall to wall.

Packed so tightly they can barely move, 80,000 birds squeal deafeningly as they wallow in droppings and urine . Scores have toppled over dead from heart attacks . Others have splayed legs , unable to support their unnaturally swollen bodies. The putrid air is thick with ammonia and feathers.

This is the result of 50 years of industrialisation in British agriculture.

Farmers boast that industrialisation has boosted output and cut prices. But critics say it led to food scandals, from salmonella and E.coli to BSE, and damaged the countryside. Reported cases of food poisoning have risen sevenfold since the early Eighties to more than 100,000 cases a year.

After 50 years of rapid advance, industrialised farming has come under siege from health officials, consumers and environmentalists. Genetically modified foods - the latest step in the process - had to beat a hasty retreat in the UK after comprehensive consumer rejection. Demand for organic foods grows by 40 per cent a year. Marks and Spencer now stocks free-range eggs only.

Animal welfare was the first casualty of higher productivity. From veal crates to battery hens, animals have been kept in as small a space as possible. In the UK, veal crates were banned in 1990, and sow stalls were banned last year. By 2012, battery cages for chickens will also be banned.

'The tide has turned. The days of intensification are over ,' says Jackie Turner, chief research officer of the charity Compassion in World Farming. But industrialisation has produced lasting gains - and lingering problems.

Shortages during World War II scared the Government into making secure food supplies a priority. The 1947 Agriculture Act required farmers to produce enough food for the nation. With subsidies and technological innovation, advances have been startling.

Before the war, one hectare of land produced on average just over 2 tonnes of wheat. This had risen to more than 8 tonnes by 1996. Selectively-bred dairy cows now produce 50 litres of milk a day, 10 times what a calf needs . In 1936, average hens produced 150 eggs a year. Selective breeding and intensive farming have boosted that to 310 .

Mechanisation has advanced, and employment has fallen. The average farm worker produces three times as much food as 25 years ago.

In 30 years, the amount of time it takes a chicken to reach slaughter age has halved to about 39 days, requiring 40 per cent less feed than previously. Now a farmer needs only give a chicken 3.6kg of feed to reach 2kg of body weight.

'It's a sign of tremendous success and development. Cheaper food means we have more money to spend on other things. It's improved prosperity,' argues Professor Allan Buckwell, policy director at the Country Landowners Association. 'Farmers are shell-shocked they've done all this and instead of acknowledgement, they are heaped with criticism.'

But cheap and plentiful food has not come without cost. Intensive agriculture meant the destruction of hedgerows and ploughing up of pastures, as fields and farms grew. Water sources have been polluted with nitrates from fertilisers.

Animals are selectively bred to produce more meat more quickly, while eating less. Broiler hens now grow so fast their legs buckle, and they are often ill . 'The animals are bred like Olympic athletes to do one job. Dairy cows are now basically a skeleton with a big udder,' says Turner.

Animals are given antibiotic growth promoters , mixed into the feed, to kill the bacteria in their guts and let them grow faster. To support such growth, they need cheap, high protein, high energy food. One solution was to recycle animals, grinding their remains into feed for younger ones.

'The idea of feeding one species to itself is astonishing, but it's entirely logical,' Turner says.

Farmers have fed recycled animal remains to the same species since early last century. But its industry-wide practice ensured that BSE spread rapidly. It is still legal to feed poultry offal or blood to cows. Chickens can still be fed their own offal meal and ground-up feathers.

The use of antibiotics in agriculture has risen 15-fold in 30 years, and now more antibiotics are used on farm animals than on people.

The World Health Organisation has warned that as a result, bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella are more resistant to treatment.


28 Oct 00 - CJD - Fears over CJD risk to elderly

Staff reporter

Evening Standard ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Government scientists are reassessing predictions about the CJD death toll after a 74-year-old man died from the disease.

The man, believed to be from North Yorkshire, was 20 years older than previous known victims of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of "mad cow" disease.

His death has triggered questions over whether a larger section of society than initially thought could be vulnerable to the disease , as the majority of previous known victims were under 30.

Scientists from the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh have confirmed the man died from the brain disease.

He died last year but his case was only revealed after it was referred to the unit.

Previous studies had suggested that younger people were either more vulnerable to infection from vCJD or had been more exposed to meat infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy during the 1980s.

Government advisor Professor Roy Anderson says the death of an older man had triggered a rethink about the size of a possible epidemic .

He told The Independent: "This one case somewhat changes that view so we are in the process of taking into account the rise of the numbers in the light of a considerably broader age range ."

It is still not known how long the disease can incubate in humans and diagnosis can only be confirmed after death.

Computer predictions by Prof Anderson's team had suggested that around 6,000 people had been infected between 1980 and 1996, but if the incubation period was up to 60 years then that figure could increase to around 130,000 .


28 Oct 00 - CJD - Teenager dies from vCJD

Staff Reporter

Evening Standard ... Saturday 28 October 2000


A 14-year-old girl has become the latest victim of new variant CJD, the human form of mad cow disease.

The plight of Zoe Jeffries, who would have been 15 next month, was highlighted this week when her mother Helen, 39, allowed television cameras and the press into her home in Wigan to film her slow painful death.

Harrowing images of Zoe lying almost motionless in her bed while she was tended to by her mother and sisters were broadcast to the nation by Channel 4 News on the eve of the long-awaited publication of the report into the BSE crisis.

Mrs Jeffries described in an interview how her daughter had been a popular girl with a passion for sport before showing the first symptoms of the illness in May, 1998, two months after the death from a heart attack of her father Derek.

She said: "One morning she got up and just didn't do anything. She just cried. It was as though she went to bed one person and got up a different person. "

Zoe cried solidly for two weeks and then began to scream all the time and refused to leave the house, Mrs Jeffries said. At first, doctors believed the youngster was reacting to the death of her father and she was prescribed anti-depressants. But by the end of the year, her mobility was affected and she was later diagnosed as having vCJD.

Her death follows that of a 74-year-old man, the oldest known victim of vCJD, which has sparked further fears about the extent of the fatal illness, which had been thought to affect mainly the young.

The number of vCJD victims could rise as doctors and scientists are urged to be "more vigilant" about the possible causes of death among the elderly.

The man in question is believed to be from North Yorkshire and is at least 20 years older than previously confirmed vCJD victims. He died last year, but his case was only reassessed after doctors became worried that his death may have been triggered by vCJD.

If his death is linked to the food chain, one possibility that scientists could investigate is that he may have been infected by an earlier wave of infected meat in the 1970s .


28 Oct 00 - CJD - After BSE: a crisis for science

James Meek, science correspondent

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Lord Pitkerro drew the curtains to block out the press pack camped outside his house. He had said enough yesterday, and the era of the mobile phone was over.

For the hundredth time, he thought over what he and his fellow scientists had told the government. Had they taken caution too far? Had it been right, on virtually no evidence, to recommend banning mobile phone use for the under-18s and setting a five minute a day limit for adults? Had it been right to call for the dismantling of all phone antennae within a kilometre of inhabited buildings, rendering mobiles all but useless? True, nobody knew if they were safe, but nobody knew they weren't - yet.

The Today programme said something about a financial crash brought about by the collapse in telecoms shares. In Finland, home of Nokia, the government had resigned. The papers were calling the Pitkerro report "the safety culture gone mad". The US and EU were denouncing him, even as skipfuls of British mobiles headed for the scrapheap.

Well, one day they would thank him. Perhaps.

It hasn't happened that way, of course. The real report this year into mobile phone safety, chaired by the former government chief scientist Sir William Stewart, hedged its bets on mobiles and masts by saying there was a faint risk of a risk, but did not call for any serious curbs on their use.

Yet as the public asks in the wake of the BSE inquiry whether they can trust scientists to give it to them straight, fast and accurate on what is safe and what is not, it is worth considering how great the shock would have been if, in the late 1980s, the government's scientific advisers had recommended taking all the anti-BSE measures taken after 1996.

Now we have come to terms with the vast pyres of cattle and the devastation of the British beef industry, because now we know BSE kills people. But how would a scientific panel's recommendation to slaughter hundreds of thousands of cows have gone down in, say, 1989, when cartoonists were still joshing about mad cows thinking they were Napoleon, and the right wing press was railing against European attempts to ban "our beef"?

John Adams, professor of geography at University College London and a specialist in risk, pointed out just how thin the scientific evidence was in the early days for a risk to humans from BSE.

He said there were three categories of risk: directly perceptible risk, such as when food smells off; risks perceived through science, such as when scientists warn of a danger of HIV being spread through blood transfusion; and virtual risk. "Virtual risk is where scientists confess ignorance or reputable scientists are disputing with each other about what's going on," he said. "These are where you find the most acrimonious, longest running debates. BSE, for much of the controversy, was in this category."

"What, with the benefit of foresight, looked like a risk worth taking looks with hindsight and a clever lawyer like culpability. We have to make decisions about what to do on the basis of all this very unsatisfactory evidence. When something does go wrong, the mist clears and all other variables we were worried about drop away and leave a clear trail back to the culprit."

All very well, but it does not let scientists off the hook. What they are under fire for in the BSE case is less their pure scientific method, or even their conclusions, than the way they allowed themselves and their opinions to be manipulated by civil servants .

Why did they not push harder and shout louder to get more research funds to fill in the blank spots in our knowledge of BSE? Why did they not state more clearly the limits of their knowledge in the fields concerned and draw in experts from elsewhere?

Alan Dickinson, now retired, was director of the neuropathogenesis unit in Edinburgh from 1981 to 1987 and is a top specialist in the family of diseases to which BSE belongs. He was never asked to join the government's advisory teams.

"The public should be wary of what the civil servants call experts," he said. "Almost all the plethora of committees set up were populated by people who had no more idea than the man in the moon about the subject."

Scientists and politicians had one thing in common: they stood or fell by their deeds. Bureaucrats did not. "Politicians are just pawns in the hands of any civil servant who wishes to manipulate them. Science's strength is that people stick their names to what they believe to be the truth, and the whole design of democracy is dependent on named politicians... If we don't design a system where civil servants have to put their names to what they do, we'll never get to the heart of this. "

As the Tory government's chief scientific adviser from 1990 to 1995, Sir William Stewart escaped with light burns from the BSE debacle, but in his report on the safety of mobile phones this year he was careful. "We conclude," the key passage of the report said, "that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to [mobile phone radiation], even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach."

In other words, we don't know whether mobiles are dangerous. Frustrating for the public, confusing; but honest, accurate and true to science. It is this message, say scientists, that should have emerged from science advisers in the early years of the BSE crisis - and would have, had they not allowed themselves to be used.

"Policymakers can't always assume scientists can give them precise advice," said Roy Anderson, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College and a relatively recent recruit to the government's ranks of BSE advisers. "Scientists have to be prepared to say: 'We do not know.'"

Why are British scientists apparently ready to let Whitehall turn their uncertainty into certainty - as in the BSE case, where the Southwood committee's "remote risk" of harm to humans from eating beef turned into the government's "beef is perfectly safe" ?

David Tyrell, former head of the government's second set of BSE science advisers, Seac, admitted to the inquiry: "We'd given up the idea of trying to stand back and evaluate science from a distance and impartially. I think that's part of what we got ourselves into, willy nilly."

Prof Adams said that when scientists began to cohabit with bureaucrats and politicians they started to adopt their ways. They "start thinking about how to form advice in the way that will actually make something happen. If they thought that going one step further would be dismissed, they back off."

Ah, the fear of not being asked back - the carrot and stick of patronage. Many scientists mutter that political control over research funds, greatly strengthened in the 1980s, gives government an instrument to intimidate scientists into telling them what they want to hear.

Nor are research funds and jobs the only form of patronage. Britain offers scientists the politically directed honour of a knighthood or a peerage.

"If you're regarded as a safe pair of hands and not one to rock the boat you're more likely to get public honours," said a scientist who asked not to be named. "That's the perception... There can be penalties for being very open and honest. "

One of the most damning criticisms of the Southwood committee and the bureaucrats who worked with it is that they failed to acknowledge the limits of their expertise. They did not submit their work to a review by other scientists.

If you look at the research papers being published in the scientific journals today, two things strike you. One is that, as the targets of our understanding become more ambitious, it takes ever more resources to make each tiny incremental advance towards them; the other is how often institutes from more than one country are involved in the breakthroughs. It is not just that these are bad times for lone scientific geniuses: they are bad times for flagwaving about "our" scientists.

In a sense there are no scientists any more, only specialists in different, narrowing branches of science. The lessons of the scientific response to the BSE crisis are that scientists have to do more to acknowledge publicly the fragmented, international nature of their profession, and not to let governments get away with glib phrases such as "our top scientists."

It would help - the Phillips report makes this point - if the government had a single chief scientific officer, with a contingency budget, to knock the heads together of in-house scientists from rival ministries, send out for the right advisers, and fund fast-track research.

Scientists complain that the media distort their message or play scientists off against each other. Certainly the media like to jump out of the cupboard and shout "Boo!" at the public. Who can forget the Sun's miracle of front page compression a few days after the Chernobyl disaster? "Six million red babes may die" - horror, pity, anti-communism and bad science, all in eight syllables.

Yet note the "may". Even the tabloid's tabloid was prepared to embrace the precautionary principle . Perhaps the scientists could get their message across better, if only they spoke the media's language.

"In the education of scientists, there should be a stronger emphasis on presenting complex information simply," said Prof Anderson.

British scientists have warned us that smoking kills since the 1950s, but people are still buying cigarettes, getting lung cancer, and dying. Prof Adams pointed out that the public wanted scientific clarity on beef or mobiles or long distance air travel not to see these things removed from society, but so they could choose whether to use them. It was the sense of risk concealed that gave offence.

"The effect has been devastating," he said. "That loss of public confidence is likely to be the most significant cost of this affair."

The British science journal Nature said this week that it was not surprising that many scientists in agriculture kept their heads down in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fearing financial reprisals from a cutting government. They had been wrong.

"We now know the dangers of keeping silent," the journal said. "Of course the main victims are those whose lives have been tragically cut short by a horrific disease. But science, too, has suffered. With ministers having consistently claimed that they were following the best scientific advice, even while subtly misrepresenting its message, scientists have come to be seen by the public as part of the problem. It will take much work to regain public trust. "


28 Oct 00 - CJD - After BSE: future safety issues

James Meek

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Xenotransplantation

Using organs from specially bred animals - probably pigs - for transplant into humans, to overcome the shortage of donors. At the moment, it is scientifically impractical. The fear is that diseases currently confined to pigs could find a new host in human beings.

GM animals

GM plants are already here. The next wave is GM animals. First up for the supermarket shelf - GM salmon, genetically modified to grow four times as fast as their traditionally bred cousins. Fear one: that they could escape and breed with wild fish, corrupting the wild gene pool and even wiping out the original species. Fear two: that genetic modification could accidentally make them toxic.

Germ line engineering

Currently outlawed, this involves genetically altering human beings. In the related technique of gene therapy, "good" genes are introduced into the bodies of sufferers from genetic diseases. But this only affects the person treated. Germ-line engineering means treating a patient's reproductive cells so that they pass on genetic modifications to their children. Proponents say this could wipe out inherited diseases. Opposition is mainly on ethical grounds.

Legalising cannabis

Part of any legalising argument will be over how safe it is - how its smoke and addictive qualities compare to cigarettes, how its effects on the brain compare to alcohol, and whether it could lead a user to other more harmful drugs.

Nanotechnology

The engineering of the very small. Within our lifetimes we may see the creation of tiny, molecule-sized machines capable of reproducing themselves from readily available raw materials - that is, atoms. Some foresee a danger of this process getting out of control, with the world being smothered in "grey goo".


28 Oct 00 - CJD - After BSE: other scare stories

Keith Perry

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Mobile phones

Initial scientific evidence has found exposure to radio frequency radiation might have subtle effects on biological functions, including the brain. Children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system. The tiny pulses of microwaves emitted by mobile phones are of the same type as the radiation used in microwave ovens.

But the safety message is mixed. A DTI report suggested hands-free kits reduce radiation entering the brain. But the Consumers' Association said the kits act like aerials, increasing the radiation.

GM foods

Some scientists fear the artificial nature of modern genetic technologies could damage our environment and health. Ecologists are worried about the danger of herbicide-resistant genes spreading to wild flowers and plants. There is little evidence so far on the dangers but other scientists welcome the development, which could lead to a reduction in the use of pesticides.

Fluoride in water

Opponents claim fluoride causes bone disease, cancer, hyperactive behaviour and impaired intellect, and argue that adding it to water amounts to enforced medication.

Supporters say adding it to water supplies would be the single most effective way of improving dental health.

Nuclear power stations

In April, research suggested women living downwind of mudflats that contain discharges from Hinkley Point in Somerset have twice the risk of breast cancer. Leukaemia clusters have been found near all three nuclear reprocessing plants. So far scientists have failed to agree on the cause.

Antibiotics in foods

Growth promoters have been used extensively in animals' feed and water in British farming for 40 years, especially in the poultry and pig industries. Proponents argue that chickens grow faster and the saving on feed costs is vital in keeping businesses viable and producing birds of the quality required by supermarkets. But there are worries that humans who eat them will become immune to antibiotic medicines.


28 Oct 00 - CJD - BSE nightmare takes new twist

James Meikle

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Pensioner's vCJD death raises spectre of 25-year incubation and far more victims Even as Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, and health minister Alan Milburn were preparing to make their apologies for the failures of successive governments in getting to grips with BSE and its nightmare human form, revealed in the devastating Phillips report into the catastrophe on Thursday, more bad news was being passed on to their officials.

Investigations into the death of a 74-year-old man last year had concluded that he, too, was a victim of vCJD - news that could lead to a fundamental reassessment of the disease .

No wonder then that Mr Brown announced that the government was already "commissioning an independent assessment of current scientific understanding of the disease, including emerging findings, on the origins of the BSE epidemic".

Behind that flat matter-of-fact announcement was a worrying realisation that the Phillips inquiry belief that BSE could have been in cows since the early 1970s - at least three cycles of the infection before it burst in its full horror on to Britain's dairy farms - would mean scientists would have to think yet again about all the potential risks to human health .

Vaccine

Volume eight of the 16-volume report advises the government it may have to check all vaccines made during the 1970s . Bovine material sourced from Britain in the 1980s is now banned but previous, allegedly inadequate checks by medicine control officials between 1988 and 1992 failed to establish the source of bovine ingredients used in the 1970s to develop the master stocks of batches that could have remained in circulation for years.

Now, said Phillips, "batches of vaccines manufactured during the 1970s cannot therefore be ruled out as a source of infection merely because of their date of manufacture. Patients with vCJD born before 1960 are unlikely to have been infected by childhood vaccination, but the possibility of infection by vaccination in adulthood may merit consideration ."

The Phillips team, of course, did not know of the 74-year-old. Now people are wondering just how exposed people were to eating infected meat in the 1970s - long before there were any control mea sures to combat the hidden BSE that can exist in infected cattle well in advance of when they display the classic "mad" signs.

Lord Phillips has made clear that however quickly the government had reacted to the cattle epidemic in the 1980s - and it was sometimes painfully slow - it could not have stopped thousands of diseased and infectious cows entering the food chain and infecting unknown members of the population.

Iceberg

That situation is still far from clear in the population. Is this old man just an unusual aberration in the normal profile of vCJD victims? One of the first reasons early cases of the disease came to attention was their relative youth compared to other sufferers of debilitating and fatal neurological conditions.

Analysis of the ages of the first 77 deaths revealed earlier this month indicates that since 1995, a dozen teenagers have succumbed, three dozen aged between 20 and 29, about 20 between 30 and 39, and about 10 others up to the age of 54. The assumption until now has been they were exposed to poisoned bovine material as the epidemic in cattle began to spiral, perhaps between 1984 and 1989. That would suggest relatively short incubation periods for some, around 10 years.

Zoe Williams, still alive at 14, but a known victim of vCJD at 12 , would have been just four when the main anti-BSE measures were introduced.

Yet such vCJD-like diseases can have incubation periods running to 25 or even 35 years. Just suppose the new victim was exposed to BSE in the mid-1970s. But would he be the herald of a new "iceberg" or was he just unlucky?

The truth is that no-one yet knows . So much about the disease is still a mystery despite the huge advances of recent years. No-one knows what the level of an infective "dose" is for a human - BSE-infected material the size of a peppercorn was enough for big cows - or the length of incubation; whether genetic make-up makes people more susceptible (all confirmed cases so far have been from the same group that makes up just under 40% of the population) and whether other factors such as youth, illness, sores or even new teeth increase the risk.

The Phillips team also recommends further investigation of the consumption of cheap beefburgers and other meat products made from mechanically recovered meat which, unlike other risky parts of cows, was not banned until 1995. These are now among prime candidates for carrying infectivity, even if no-one knows how much.

Now, the potential exposure to infected meat spreads more than 20 years - from the mid-1970s and mid-1990s.


28 Oct 00 - CJD - Dorrell says he regrets giving 'no risk' advice

Michael White Political editor

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Stephen Dorrell, health secretary when human vulnerability to the BSE crisis was finally confirmed in 1996, yesterday became the first Conservative minister to express regret for mistaken assurances he had given beforehand.

Months before the link between BSE and human vCJD was admitted, when ministers were still trying to sustain confidence in the beef industry, Mr Dorrell had said there was "no conceivable risk " from eating British beef.

Yesterday he said: "The question about conceivable risk was that it was my phrase. I have responsibility for that and I regret having made that statement. But the broader scientific advice coming to the government at that time was advice made in good faith by the relevant advisory body."

As the contrite Mr Dorrell surfaced on Radio 4's Today programme, ministers signalled their determination to use Lord Phillips's report on the BSE crisis to create a far more open climate for "mature debate" on policy options and scientific advice in Whitehall.

But their aims are doomed to disappoint freedom of information campaigners as not going far enough in giving electors the full picture.

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, has asked for the names of officials involved in the policy-making . But he regards institutional failures as being more important than the "blame game" mistakes of individuals. His priority in the months ahead is to replace the old paternalism which allowed officials to decide what should be put in the public domain with a system which gives voters and the media the facts and lets them make their own assessments of the risk.

Mr Brown is afraid that Lord Phillips's relatively gentle strictures on ministers and officials who made bad judgments on BSE/ vCJD will allow "a sigh of relief to go through Whitehall and prevent progress being as fast as it should be".

Had scientific advice flowing in to ministerial offices been available earlier, it is argued, many more people would have stopped eating beef to be on the safe side.

However, the government was given a boost from an unlikely source yesterday.

In one of the Anglo-French beef war's rare gestures of conciliation, the authoritative daily Le Monde heaped praise on the Phillips report, saying it represented a level of government transparency and accountability all but inconceivable in France.

"What a lesson in democracy Britain has given the rest of Europe, and particularly France," the paper said in an editorial headlined the British Example. "It should be hailed as a model for an investigation by a state that has committed errors and recognises it - without trying to wriggle out of its responsibilities."

Such a report, accusing government officials of misleading the public for years, would be a long time coming in France, Le Monde said.


28 Oct 00 - CJD - Render bender: Jeremy Hardy on the BSE Inquiry

Jeremy Hardy

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


In the future, archaeologists will hand fossilised cow-pats to micro-biologists, who will find that cows were not only carnivorous but cannibalistic. This will lead to the conclusion that the extinct beast was a vicious predator that walked on its hind legs and bit heads off after mating. Whereas we think of the cow as being a vegetarian mammal, it will be decided that it was in fact related to the praying mantis.

Today, scientists broadly concur with the homespun wisdom of the casual observer that cows, if left alone, eat grass . Lots of grass, all day long. They don't say much or even stampede unless spooked by a rattler. But they sure eat grass. They can be induced to eat other things, but as with humans, they can be squeamish if they can see what they are eating. The commercial feed known as MBM, which sounds like a sweetie but, disappointingly, stands for meat and bone meal, is heavily disguised.

I was listening to a farmer on the radio who said: "We don't just scrape up diseased sheep offal and feed it to cows."But obviously they would if they thought Daisy would eat it and no one would see . Instead it is ground up nice and small. Then, I imagine, it is pumped into sausage skins and served in a bun smothered in ketchup and mustard. Perhaps the farmer even herds the cows into intensive cinema seating and shows them bovine action movies to take their minds off what they are eating.

At one time it would have been thought that if renderers were going to do this, they should at least make sure they brought the mixture to a certain temperature. Then along came the deregulation of business. Thenceforth, industry could pollute with a vengeance, force untrained teenagers to be mangled by machinery, crash any means of transportation you can name and imagine that the many-stomached cow likes its MBM rare.

However, the mild mannered Lord Phillips has concluded that slack rendering practices were not to blame for BSE, because no amount of rendering would kill it. But if feed manufacturers feel vindicated, I can only say, without wishing to give them ideas, my arse .

The key conclusion of the report does, however, point the finger at the practice of turning cows into cannibals . Many of us were unaware that, as the farmers now tell us, they have been doing it for more than a hundred years. Indeed during the second world war, it was actually recommended, although I would imagine that, with Hitler to think about, government was under a lot of stress. One has to remember that, at that time, we also developed nuclear weapons.

But these are different times. Whereas at one time there was an understandable wish to bend nature to the needs of production, most of us are worried that we have bent it completely out of shape. We might not be sure what "organic" labelling means or what the long-term effects of genetic modification are, but our gut fear that the planet is all going a bit wrong is constantly shown to be an articulate response.

What we do know is that the world's food problems are not caused by weather, weeds or weevils, and certainly not by "over- population". Most of us blame the way food is produced and distributed. It is perfectly possible, with proper planning, for the whole world to enjoy a healthy diet.

But such considerations were not the function of the BSE inquiry.

The point of it, one assumes, was to hold people and practice accountable, and this is what it has done, in a terribly forgiving way. The Times's Simon Jenkins, who has in the past refused to believe the link between BSE and nvCJD, is equally sceptical about inquiries. "A judicial inquiry is administrative terrorism", he writes eccentrically. Well, this was one inquiry that was on ceasefire.

I am inclined to agree with Mr Jenkins that the vindication of renderers is a little odd , but his main complaint is the very existence of the "Temple of Blame". He finds especially obnoxious the idea that Phillips might be expected to "blame the Tories". How one could do otherwise, I don't quite see. The Tories are certainly avoiding interviews, which suggests that the kindly criticism dealt to them by Lord Phillips is the way they would prefer to be remembered.

Andrew Hoskin of the Today programme rang John Gummer's mobile and managed to track down a man who said he was "speaking on Mr Gummer's behalf", but would not confirm or deny that he was John Gummer. He didn't force the phone on to his daughter, but she is older and probably less easy to manipulate now.

The fact that the Tories went out of their way to encourage us to eat as much beef as possible is the key to all this . When ideology is bent to the needs of business, politicians believe what they want to believe about science. So they told us the big threat to our young was homosexuality in the classroom - and didn't care what the meat industry was doing to their brains.


28 Oct 00 - CJD - The diseased herd

Roy Hattersley

Guardian ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Neither the grieving relatives, who hoped for retribution, nor the ministers and civil servants, who feared exposure and humiliation, should have expected Lord Phillips's CJD report to set Whitehall ablaze with avenging fire. Official inquiries never have that sort of vulgar result.

Everyone knew that the withdrawal of the Royal Navy's survey ship from the South Atlantic convinced the Argentine junta that Britain no longer cared about the Falkland Islands. But Lord Franks absolved the government, which had saved £3m by bringing HMS Endurance home and spent £1.6bn on the war which that decision provoked, from all blame.

Sir Richard Scott judged that "parliament and public were designedly led to believe that a stricter policy towards non-lethal defence exports and double-use exports to Iraq was being adopted than was, in fact, the case." Then he concluded - with fine disregard for dictionary definitions of "designedly" - that ministers had "not acted with any duplicitous intention". The establishment rarely condemns its own .

There is nothing dishonest nor discreditable in the basic instinct to believe the best about men and women who devote their lives to public service. The great and the good take it for granted that other members of that elite group are (like themselves) doing their honest best. They may make mistakes. But error is not an automatic reason for severe blame.

Indeed, wherever possible, blame is to be avoided completely . A marginal overstatement of legitimate criticism might convince the tabloid-reading public that ministers are either profoundly incompetent or deeply corrupt . Then the stability of the whole system would be imperilled . And stability is the establishment's primary pre-occupation. Politicians can abuse each other without serious people taking very much notice. But if a high court judge, master of an Oxbridge college or retired senior civil servant exposed the processes of government as rotten, our comfortable world would never be the same again.

So it was no more reasonable to expect Lord Phillips to denounce and condemn the BSE ministers than it would have been to expect his participation in a street demonstration against global capitalism. He did his job in strict conformity with the precedents - a rigorous analysis of what went wrong but a determination not to allocate an iota more blame than the most generous interpretation of responsibility allowed . When, earlier this week, Mr John Gummer refused to acknowledge that he was the man on the end of the mobile telephone, he should have told the assiduous reporter who had discovered his number that he was too busy sighing with relief to speak.

Lord Phillips conceded that two ministers of agriculture (John Gummer and Douglas Hogg) and Stephen Dorrell (when he was secretary of state for health) underplayed the risk of eating infected meat. "The public," the report says, "was repeatedly assured that it was safe to eat beef." Eighty families now know that not to be true . But at least it can be said in the government's defence that, for a time, it actually believed its own propaganda. Then ministers realised that transmission to humans was possible. But "believing that the risks... were remote", it played them down because it was "preoccupied with preventing an alarmist over- reaction".

Lord Phillips concludes that "the campaign of reassurance was a mistake".

Amen to that. But it is less easy to endorse his judgment that "the government did not lie". It was certainly - to use the latest phrase to be added to the establishment lexicon - "economical with the truth". Lord Phillips observes, with magnificent judicial restraint, that, when the risk of death and infection was confirmed, "the possibility of a risk to humans was not communicated to the general public or to those whose job it was to enforce precautionary measures ". That sounds to me like the intention to deceive - the best definition of a lie which is available to us.

The lie was collective . But individuals - both civil servants and ministers - were, even by the judgment of the Phillips report, individually guilty of confusing public understanding . Sir Donald Acheson, the chief medical officer, gave unsustainable assurances about beef safety - and later attributed them to a slip of the tongue. Douglas Hogg, the minister of agriculture, tried to persuade members of the government's BSE advisory committee to back his public statements on the remote possibility of infection .

That, Lord Phillips says, was "not a desirable exercise". Even John Selwyn Gummer, excoriated at the time for publicly feeding his daughter a hamburger as part of the reassurance campaign, is said to have been put in an impossible position by the media. The BSE report does not excuse or exonerate the guilty. It just treats them very gently.

That does not mean that the report has failed in its task. It has identified crucial shortcomings in the machinery of government - most of them associated with the Ministry of Agriculture, which has long been recognised as little more than a client of the industry which it blatantly represents rather than supervises . A blow of sorts has been struck against secrecy, the enemy of good government and the ally of inadequate administration down the ages.

But will a new generation of ministers and administrators take any notice of that admirable advice if, after reading Lord Phillips's conclusions, they are confronted by the belief that, even when they transgress, they will not be held up either to contempt or ridicule?

I doubt if Lord Phillips would argue with my judgment that, after identifying innumerable errors and mistakes, his report leaves readers with the feeling that, for most of the time, both ministers and civil servants were doing their best. Perhaps they were. But if that was the case their best was woefully inadequate - not least because their behaviour was dominated by the belief that avoiding trouble and maintaining good order and discipline was the first duty of government .

It has been a good week for Douglas Hogg , John MacGregor , John Gummer and their Ministry of Agriculture civil servants , but a bad one for publicly accountable government.


28 Oct 00 - CJD - 'We have to be prepared to deal with a major epidemic'

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 28 October 2000


Government scientists are reviewing their assessment of the scale of the vCJD epidemic after a man of 74 died of the disease.

The victim, believed to be from North Yorkshire, was 20 years older than the previously known oldest person to die from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Scientists had believed that older people were not vulnerable. But now they fear that a broader section of society was susceptible to infection when the agent responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle was contaminating the human food chain.

The case came to light after doctors referred details to scientists at the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh who confirmed the cause of death. A spokesman for the Department of Health said last night: "This has led to a reappraisal of the possible size of the epidemic." He said the Government had commissioned scientists to re-examine diagnoses of dementia in a sample number of older people to ensure none of them had been victims of vCJD.

The 85 previous victims of the disease have been aged between 15 and 54 , with the exception of a 14 -year-old girl who became ill two years ago and is still alive. The latest case was revealed as Prof John Collinge of St Mary's Hospital, London, and a member of the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, warned yesterday that there was a strong possibility of a major epidemic of variant CJD

He said that he would be "very surprised" if there were not at least 1,000 cases . He said the suggestion in the BSE inquiry report by Lord Phillips that the first human cases of vCJD could have been infected in the Seventies was "worrying". He said that it was possible that they were infected before BSE itself was recognised in 1986, adding that the 82 cases to date could presage far greater numbers.

He said: "The longer the incubation period, the more potentially worrying it could be . There is still an awful lot of denial and wishful thinking around. We have to face up to the possibility of a major epidemic and be prepared for it." He said the scale of any possible epidemic was hard to predict because of uncertainty over many key factors, including: dose, route of exposure, incubation period, genetic susceptibility and the extent of the "species barrier", which inhibits the spread of BSE to humans from cows.

The report said the likely scale of the epidemic ranged from many dozens to 150,000 vCJD cases . It argued that BSE was born three decades ago in an animal of unknown species, probably a cow in south-west England, which suffered a mutation that created the infectious BSE protein. If this led to the first CJD cases - reported in the mid-Nineties - then it is conceivable that an epidemic is imminent because human exposure to BSE peaked in the late Eighties or later.

About 50,000 infected cattle were eaten before BSE was first detected. The report referred to how vCJD had tended to affect young people. Anne McVey said she felt lucky when her daughter, Claire, still recognised her at the end of her decline, even though she had lost the use of her legs and much of her sight and speech.

She said: "I've talked to some of the other families and their children stopped being able to recognise them. That must be hard." At her inquest, a coroner concluded that Claire contracted the disease after eating meat contaminated with BSE. She was probably infected a decade ago , showing the first signs of unsteadiness 20 months ago. She died in January, aged 15.

Prof Collinge said that dating of the first possible human exposure to the disease to three decades ago was consistent with what is known about other human spongiform diseases. One, called kuru, has an average incubation period of 12 years, but varies from five years to more than 40 .

Kuru was spread by cannibalism so there was no species barrier and animal experiments have shown that in the creation of vCJD, the incubation time will be longer. If the species barrier between cows and humans is the same as between cows and mice, for example, the shortest incubation period of BSE might be about 15 years .

Given the high exposure of Britain's population to BSE at the end of the Eighties, the country may be still be five years away from the peak of the epidemic. Genetic factors may also shape the epidemic. If the first cases are in a few people with genes that make them particularly susceptible to BSE, there could be several separate epidemics of CJD, as people with different susceptibilities succumb.

Other clues to the origins of CJD will come from the village of Queniborough, Leics, where there has been a cluster of four cases of variant CJD. Dr Philip Monk, a consultant in communicable diseases, has investigated the cluster and believes that it was due to a combination of factors involved in the production of meat between 1980 and 1986.

He has also warned that the epidemic could be at an early stage . Prof Collinge said that the spongiform committee would discuss the cluster at its next meeting, which he said should be held in public. He said: "As the Phillips report has emphasised, Whitehall secrecy is at the crux of the whole problem ."


28 Oct 00 - CJD - French mad cowandal greater than first thought

By Harry de Quetteville in Paris

Telegraph ... Saturday 28 October 2000


The BSE scare that caused a collapse of consumer confidence in French beef is more serious than at first thought, officials admitted yesterday.

Rather than one ton of potentially infected meat going to supermarkets, as reported last weekend, the French consumer fraud agency said that the true amount was eight tons . The scale of the crisis was revealed as another food scandal swept the country . Veterinary officials in the Dordogne seized 23 ton of rotten duck intended for gourmet conserves labelled "1st choice".

The duck, enough to fill 14,000 tins, was described as "feathered and decomposing" . Health inspectors found 6,000 tins ready for distribution. The public outcry over French beef has made it a highly charged political issue . President Jacques Chirac has called for BSE testing on every animal slaughtered for food.

But Jean Glavany, the French agriculture minister, said it was not a realistic option as there were not enough vets to carry out BSE tests on the six million cows slaughtered each year. Carrefour, the supermarket chain worst hit by the beef scare, said it would conduct its own tests on all meat it put on sale. The scandal broke when a cattle trader tried to pass off an animal with mad cow disease at an abattoir in Normandy.

When vets spotted the sick animal they learned that the rest of its herd had already been sold for food. French law requires the slaughter of the whole herd if one cow has BSE. The authoritative newspaper Le Monde described Britain's damning BSE inquiry report as a mea culpa over mad cow disease. But it applauded "the British example" of accountability which had led to the report's far-reaching conclusions.

It said in an editorial: "Britain has given a lesson about democracy to the rest of Europe, and notably France. And what a lesson - it will be a long time in France before the state sheds light on its own blunders." That was illustrated yesterday when the French government was summoned to court after refusing to explain why it had delayed banning bonemeal in cattle feed, thought to be one of the main causes of the spread of BSE.

Until now, state customs and health officials had blocked an inquiry into the question led by Prof Gilbert Mouthon. "These officials have not deigned to reply to Prof Mouthon after he asked why health authorities had waited more than a year after Britain banned bonemeal in cattle feed to enforce a ban in France," the summons said.

Britain banned bonemeal in domestic cattle feed from 1988, but continued to export it to France until 1989, when it also issued a ban. The French ministry of agriculture, which yesterday announced a further seven cases of mad cow disease, said it would answer any questions that experts had to ask. So far this year 78 cases of BSE have been discovered in France, more than twice last year's total.

Two people have died of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow disease.