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Two new mad cow cases surface in France
New British cow cull ordered in fight against BSE
Pre-clinical and sub-clinical BSE: what is the differance?
Gene therapy soon for familial CJD?
Students paid to eat organo-phosphates
Trembling Mountain: A Personal Account of Kuru
Health chief warns against rare burgers


Two new mad cow cases surface in France

 Reuters World Report Mon, Aug 10, 1998
PARIS - Two new cases of mad cow disease have surfaced in France, bringing the number of cases discovered in the country so far this year to nine, the Agriculture Ministry said on Monday. A total of 40 cases of the brain-wasting disease -- officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE -- have been reported in France since it first appeared in 1990, the ministry said.

Both of the latest infected animals were dairy cows. One, born in September 1991, turned up in a herd of 149 cattle in the Aisne region near France's border with Belgium, while the second, born in March 1989, was part of a herd of 74 in the Finistere area of Brittany. Both herds were destroyed over the weekend, the ministry said.

Britain has been the country hardest hit by the disease. The European Union slapped a ban on British beef exports after the government in March 1996 acknowledged a possible link between BSE and its fatal human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Comment [webmaster]: Did France test all animals in these herds for BSE? My understanding is that, like the other affected French herds, they were slaughtered and incinerated without testing or saving of material for later testing. This is just to be on the safe side, there has been no indications that the other animals in the herd were affected or high risk, but it would have been a good opportunity for the Prionics test and others. There has been no announcement of trace-back slaughter of antecedent dams and bulls nor calves, which might well be on other far by now. The replacement herd might be at risk from shed agent in soil etc. but no program for intensified future monitoring has been announced though there could be one. This amounts to ann intermediate policy of damage containment overall.

New British cow cull ordered in fight against BSE

Wed, Jul 29, 1998 Reuters North America
LONDON - Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said on Wednesday that a European Union ban on exports of British beef imposed two years ago because of mad cow disease would remain in force through the summer, and he announced a new cull of cattle to help hasten its lifting.

In his first major statement since taking over the ministerial post earlier this week, Brown said some progress had been made in discussions on a proposal by the European Commission, the EU's Brussels-based ad

ministrative arm, to allow the exports to resume. But he told parliament in a written answer to a member's question: "Agreement will not now be possible before the summer break."

Brown, who represents an urban constituency in northeastern England, took over the agriculture portfolio from Jack Cunningham, who was promoted to a key policy coordination role in a cabinet reshuffle on Monday. He said that Brussels had demanded a cull of the offspring of cattle with mad cow disease, known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), before it agreed to allow export of mainland British beef from cattle born since August 1, 1996, to resume.

Exports from the British-ruled province of Northern Ireland, which maintains a long-standing and a sophisticated system of tracking cattle movements, have been allowed since June 1 this year.

Brown said he was agreeing to the EU's request for an offspring cull, although this would at first be voluntary for farmers, and would become compulsory only when the lifting of the export ban was agreed in principle. He said farmers would be paid compensation at market value.

An Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman said the new cull would be small relative to the almost 150,000 cattle already killed in Britain in an effort to convince Brussels that mad cow disease -- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) -- was being eliminated. She said an estimated 3,000 cattle would be slaughtered in the current financial year which ends next April.

Brussels slapped the worldwide export ban on Britain in March, 1996 after scientists claimed to have discovered a link between BSE and a new version of the human brain-wasting ailment, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Britain's National Audit Office said in a report earlier this month that tackling mad cow disease would cost British and European taxpayers some 3.5 billion pounds ($5.8 billion).

Pre-clinical and sub-clinical BSE: what is the differance?

# 24 (July) issue of the MAFF BSE Enforcement Bulletin.
Public Summary" of the SEAC meeting of 15 June:
"The Committee reviewed a proposal for research into the possibility that a hitherto unrecognised strain of BSE could exist in a sub-clinical form, i.e. cattle could be infected with BSE without ever showing clinical signs of the disease. They considered a number of methods of detecting a sub-clinical strain of BSE and the difficulty of distinguishing such an infection from pre-clinical BSE, i.e. BSE that had not yet reached the stage at which clinical signs of the disease were apparent. SEAC concluded that this area of research should be given high priority but noted that further refinements to the diagnostic tests and to the design of possible studies were necessary".

Comment: By sub-clinical BSE they mean an infected animal that leads out its normal lifespan without ever exhibiting overt symptoms of disease (though it might have plaques etc. upon autopsy); by pre-clinical BSE they mean a cow that will eventually display behavioral symptoms but does not at the present time because it is in an early stage of disease. Both types of animals could be infectious to humans; the titre of infectivity could even be higher than in a 'terminal' animal.

Gene therapy soon for familial CJD?

31 Jul 1998 Health & Science section Newsday
Bar Harbor, Maine --- By exploiting a natural repair mechanism to correct tiny errors in mutant genes, it may be possible to cure many inherited diseases that have always been untreatable, scientists said yesterday. A way has been found to precisely reliably "re-write" the genetic code inside living cells, according to Dr. Clifford Steer. This now makes it possible to correct mutations, make new mutations or even knock specific genes out of action.

Tests are now beginning in dogs, he said, to see whether the gene-mending technique is as safe and reliable as it seems. If the trials are successful, the first targets for human therapy will probably be those with hemophilia and familial hypercholesterolemia. Hemophilia leads to uncontrolled bleedin, while hypercholesterolemia leads to fat-clogges arteries, and heart attacks even in children. Each inherited syndrome is caused ay a small "misspelling"error in a specific gene.

"We'll be doing about 2 dogs in the next year," Steer said, testing the gene- mending technique that is "a potential cure for disease." The dogs were selected because they have an inherited form of hemophilia, and this offers the potential for curing them.

The idea is to find a permanent solution for genetic diseases, Steer emphasized. "This is not therapy; it is curing" he said. "These (genetic) changes are stable for life." Steer, from the University of Minesota Medical School, discussed his new work yesterday at a mammalian genetics meeting here at the Jackson Laboratory.

Ailments that might be curable through gene-mending also include sickle cell anemia, the blood disorders called thalassemias and sisorders that lead to severe mental retardation such as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, PKU and many more.

The gene-mending technique was invented about two yeas ago by Dr. Eric Kmiec, at Thomas Jefferson University, in Philadelphia. Kmiec constructed a circular chunk of genetic material -- DNA interspersed with small amounts of RNA -- that has the ability to find and attach itself to a specific part of a given gene. It can, for example, be tailored so it glues itself to the gene that makes blood clotting Factor VIII.

This small genetic vehicle is also designed to trigger the living cell's normal DNA repair mechanism into action. Like a road crew that comes along to fill in potholes, the repair mechanism scans the DNA looking for any mismatches, rough spots or two strands of DNA that don't jibe. When it finds a mismatch, the repair system removes one of the DNA chemical bases, replacing it with one that fits better.

Thus, the scientists can use the natural, inborn repair mechanism as a tool to correct a bad mutation, or make a new mutation so an animal exhibits a genetic disease, or to disable a gene to see what happens when it doesn't work. This precise ability to do fine "surgery" on genes opens extraordinarily important new avenues for biomedical research. In fact, in time it may also offr a way to attack viral infections, including AIDS, hepatitis and the parasitic ailment malaria.

Steer and his colleagues combine Kmiec's idea with a mechanism of their own, which involves replacing their repair vehicles inside small balls of fat. These, in turn, are targeted so they are only taken up by cells in the liver. As a result, the corrective action occurs only inside the liver, where it is needed, while leaving other cells untouched. This accounts is part for the technique's exquisite specificity.

Dr. David Valle, a specialist in genetic diseases, said Steer's report was "extremely provacative and exciting", but "I'd like to se some additional data before I'll say it's going to revolutionize evrything. It looked very good, but many of the experiments one would like to see done to see if it is reproducable and effective are still in progress, or haven't yet been done." So Valle is going to reserve judgment until more data become available. Valle is a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore.

Dr. Huntington Willard, from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland, called it "a wonderfully creative idea. I think the notion of repairing DNA defects is wonderful." But Willard, too, said he'd like to see more information."

Students paid to eat organo-phosphates

Thursday July 30, 1998 Guardian (London) By John Vidal
Foreign chemical companies have been paying British students and others #600 to take highly toxic pesticides normally tested on rats. They were fed an organo-phosphate poison called dichlorvos, sold as "Doom" and used in fly strips and pet collars, according to US government documents. [One theory of BSE has the organophosphate Phosmet stimulation prion productin -- webmaster]

Three experiments were conducted last year by the Medeval Laboratories in Manchester for the Amval Chemical Corporation of Commerce in California. They showed depressed levels of an enzyme that plays a crucial role in human nervous systems. One reported nausea and another nosebleeds. In another test, the French Rhone Poulenc chemical company commissioned the Inveresk Research Laboratory in Scotland to give an extremely toxic pesticide to humans.

Nine women and 38 men were paid to drink orange juice containing doses of the pesticide aldicarb. One man experienced "diffuse and profuse" sweating for four hours, another became "light-headed" and others reported headaches.

The US government's Environmental Protection Agency is increasingly concerned that other tests on humans may be conducted in the future to beat tougher rules in the new Food Quality Protection Act.

"The human tests [in Britain] may be a way for pesticide makers to try to weaken new US laws requiring extra protection to shield children from the unknown effects of certain toxic chemicals," said an agency spokesman.

Organo-phosphates work on the nervous system. They have been proven to cause brain damage among British sheep farmers using them for sheep dips and are widely believed to be the cause of Gulf war syndrome.

Pesticides and insecticides are usually tested on rats and mice. Dichlorvos was tested on humans in 1981 but experiments were terminated after five days when dramatic decreases in plasma were noted. Other pesticides were tested on prisoners in US jails during the 1960s and on workers for the Dow Chemical Company 25 years ago.

The EPA's science advisory committee, comprising independent experts and academics, is to meet tomorrow and is expected to formally refuse to accept any future data which is drawn from experiments on humans. The human tests are not illegal under British or US law. A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said yesterday that the tests "seemed to be along the right lines ethically".

But environment groups on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to condemn the tests. "They are not being conducted to see if they are therapeutic. They're testing on people to see how high the exposure can be without causing licensing problems," said Ken Cook of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group which found the documents under the US Freedom of Information Act.

Dr Stephen Toon, a spokesman for Medeval which runs medical trials and regularly advertises for volunteers, said: "The volunteers were all in a dedicated medical facility with full-time doctors there all the time. It's an intensively-observed and monitored environment, far safer than if it was undertaken in a general hospital ward." No one from the Inveresk laboratories was available for comment.

Environmentalists worry that the use of humans could increase as pesticide companies seek new ways to win greater latitude from US regulators. They are under increasing pressure to reduce or eliminate insecticide use. In the complicated world of pesticide regulation, chemicals tested on animals must add a tenfold safety margin to extrapolate the results from animals to humans. By skipping the animal tests, companies could save money and persuade regulators to approve a lower safety level for a pesticide.

"In effect, by substituting people for lab rats, pesticide companies have been able to increase the amounts of pesticide that legally could be used on crops, or be detected on foods, in water, or in air," said the report, The English Patients, by the Environment Working Group.

No students or other people involved in the tests were available for comment.

The Trembling Mountain: A Personal Account of Kuru, Cannibals and Mad Cow Disease

Robert Klitzman, M.D.
Assistant Professor
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University
Plenum, 1998
Several reviews are posted at www.amazon.com under the book's page. Discover magazine just reviewed the book in its July issue. The Associated Press is also now running a review.

Health chief warns against rare burgers

August 1 1998 Times BY IAN MURRAY AND ROBIN YOUNG
WAITERS in restaurants and cooks in fast-food outlets will in future have to warn customers who ask for their hamburgers rare that they are running a health risk.

The growing danger of E. Coli poisoning - especially in restaurants - has prompted Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, to issue updated instructions for cooking and, for the first time, serving Britain's most popular fast-food meal.

People cooking burgers on home barbecues are warned to take particular care to ensure that they are "piping hot" throughout. In future, if customers ask for a burger to be cooked rare, the waiter will have a duty to warn that them that they could end up in hospital. Evoking the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1005, regulation 4(3), Sir Kenneth has told wholesale and retail butchers selling minced meat products that they must ensure that burgers carry precise instructions as to how they should be cooked to minimise the risk of food poisoning.

It must be clear that, unless the meat is cooked for a minimum of two minutes at a temperature of 70C, there is a danger of feeding the customer E. Coli bacteria between the sesame bun. The updated instructions coincide with Public Health Service Laboratory figures showing that the number of recorded cases of E. Coli almost doubled from 660 to 1087 last year. At the same time, fast-food chains expanded rapidly and supermarket sales of meats for home barbecues hit record levels.

Seven years ago Sir Donald Acheson, the previous Chief Medical Officer, said minced meat needed to be "thoroughly cooked throughout ... until the juices run clear and there are no pink bits inside".

Sir Kenneth recommends that cooks go further than that. "The absence of pink meat in a burger after cooking is not, in itself, a guarantee that the burger has been adequately cooked but despite its limitations it may provide an additional safety check for consumers," his guidelines say. "It is therefore recommended that the advice to cook burgers until the juices run clear and there are no pink bits inside may be used where appropriate (eg when a burger contains only beef and no added salt), but it should always be accompanied by the other cooking instructions that achieve a minimum temperature of 70C for two minutes or equivalent."

The thickness of the mince and source of heat can alter the time needed. Thick burgers obviously take longer. Last night one of the largest burger chains said its waiters would warn customers only if the Government made it a legal requirement.

Steve Burns, operations director of Rank's Hard Rock Cafés, said that, if customers specified rare or underdone, "we do not then give them a health warning. As I understand it, these government guidelines do not say we must. Unless there is legislation that says we have to do it, I do not think we will."

McDonald's said: "In our restaurants an undercooked burger is not a possibility. You could not have it even if you asked for it. Our double-sided grills cook the product to a very precise specification from both sides simultaneously so that it ensures it is cooked right through. In fact we cannot cook them for two minutes because, with our equipment, that would reduce them to charcoal."


 

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