Prion disease
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Dura mater from cows used in brain surgery caused CJD case
Blood test in live sheep, elk
Beef-on-bone risk is tiny - Medical Officer
Sewage sludge confirmed in cattle feed
Companies throw in the towel on Frankenstein foods
Billboards linking beef to impotence won't go up in Idaho
Portugal says EU lifting bull ban not enough
EU considers risk assessment studies for beef hormones
Blood Supply worries overblown?
Movement disorders in kuru -- the film

Capillary electrophoresis and fluorescent labeled peptides detect abnormal prion protein in the blood of animals infected with TSE

Thu, 16 Sep 1999 J Chromatogr A 1999 Aug 20;853(1-2):207-14
Schmerr MJ , Jenny AL, Bulgin MS, Miller JM, Hamir AN, Cutlip RC, Goodwin KR
National Animal Disease Center, MWA, ARS, US Department of Agriculture, Ames, IA 50010, USA.
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in humans and in animals are fatal neuro-degenerative diseases with long incubation times. The putative cause of these diseases is a normal host protein, the prion protein, that becomes altered. This abnormal prion protein is found mostly in the brains of infected individuals in later stages of the disease, but also can be found in lymphoid and other tissues in lower amounts. In order to eradicate this disease in animals, it is important to develop a system that can concentrate the abnormal prion protein and an assay that is very sensitive.

The sensitivity that can be achieved with capillary electrophoresis makes it possible to detect the abnormal protein in blood. A peptide from the carboxyl terminal region, amino acid positions 218-232, was labeled at the amino terminus with fluorescein during the synthesis of the peptide. Antibodies that have been produced to this peptide were affinity purified and used in a capillary electrophoresis immunoassay. The amount of fluorescein labeled peptide in the capillary was 50 amol.

Blood was obtained from normal sheep and elk, from sheep infected with scrapie and elk infected with chronic wasting disease. Buffy coats and plasma were prepared by a conventional method. After treatment with proteinase K, which destroys the normal protein but not the altered one, the blood fractions were extracted and tested in the capillary electrophoresis immunoassay for the abnormal prion protein.

The abnormal prion protein was detected in fractions from blood from infected animals but not from normal animals. This assay makes a pre-clinical assay possible for these diseases and could be adapted to test for the abnormal prion protein in process materials that are used for manufacture of pharmaceuticals and products for human consumption.

Comment (webmaster): A rapid, sensitive, and specific blood test for TSE in living animals (and reportedly humans) is a major advance in this field. The test uses off-the-shelf equipment available from Beckman Instruments and standard buffy coat from blood, making it suitable for automation. The paper itself is limited in scope and the method for re-solubilizing prion protein is kept proprietary; Dr. Schmerr has given much broader details at various seminars. However, it is important to have published details in a peer-reviewed journal.

Note that the method will give false negatives (fail to detect infectious prions) in situations where the carboxy terminal residue is not part of the final amyloid due to proteolysis or early termination. The conditions used for protease K digestion, 1 hr at 37 degrees C, may also make some fragile strains of TSE undetectable by this method. However, other epitopes and antibodies and milder conditions could easily extend the assay system.

Now the question is, even though a blood test is available, will it ever be used? And when results are positive, will they ever be announced? Who will conduct the tests, an agency or industry with massive conflicts of interest? While the test is cheap, rapid, and sensitive, confirmation of contamination could be extremely unwelcome. For example, a sample of Doug McEwen's blood was taken prior to death but was not analyzed prior to the decision was made in Dec 98 to allow his prior donations to be distributed worldwide (121 products, 20 countries). Apparently the technology was available to do the test in December 1998 but testing was not ordered by health officials.

If McEwen's blood should test positive for CJD, will this ever be announced? Will millions of recipients be notified and given counseling and follow-up? Will large volumes of blood products be discarded in other cases if _any_ amount of protease K resistant prion is found or must an arbitrary threshold be exceeded? The latter requirement places the burden of proof upon the victim rather than the manufacturer.

These same questions come up for the livestock industry. Scrapie is very widely distributed in the United States though its incidence has never been reliably estimated. Despite government assurances, no one in their right mind would eat tissue from any animal with a confirmed transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. (Those same hollow assurances were given in the early days of BSE.) Yet what is happening today with sheep with preclinical but confirmable scrape -- are they being sold into the human food chain?

The game farm industry also faces a difficult future. Individual animals can be extremely expensive to cull and some herds and premises are apparently seriously contaminated. The South Dakota state veterinarian recently said that CWD seems "not a disease that you can test your way out of." This means that although the blood test allows identification [and incineration] of some preclinical animals, these may have already infected others or contaminated facilities by the time the blood test first can detect illness.

Will Colorado begin a blood screening program any time soon for hunters exposed to CWD?

While it seems that very large numbers of cows could be tested without finding a single case of (any strain) of BSE in US cattle, there is still a substantial concern with older downer dairy cattle (given the Stetsonville episode and USDA estimates) or over encountering the one in a million cow expected from the Gibbs Principle to have sporadic or familial BSE. Even if no connection existed between US strains of bovine TSE and human disease, the public might react negatively and irrationally with catastrophic economic consequences for the industry.

England is placed in a quandry by the availability of the test. Should they test blood from cows selected for export, potentially jeoparizing the whole program? Should they test cows at random to see if BSE has become an established endemic disease? Should they test blood donors or determine the extent of the nvCJD epidemic?

This is the central paradox of CJD -- despite its horrific consequences, no one wants to know its true extent. Without knowing the true extent, funding for research is too low. No government is going to use a test until its outcome is mooted by a therapy.

IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. and Caprion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Announce Collaboration On Development of Proprietary Reagents for Diagnosis of Mad Cow Disease

BW HealthWire Aug. 30, 1999  corporate press release
IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. and Caprion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced today that they will collaborate on the development of Caprion's proprietary reagents for the diagnosis of Mad Cow Disease and other Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs).

IDEXX will receive exclusive global rights for veterinary applications in diagnostics and therapeutics, while Caprion retains all rights to human diagnostic and therapeutic applications. IDEXX has made an equity investment in Caprion, and will support research at Caprion's Montreal-based laboratories. IDEXX will also conduct development work in its laboratory in Westbrook, Maine, contributing expertise in diagnostic test development. IDEXX will market veterinary products resulting from the collaboration and pay Caprion royalties on product sales.

The goal of the collaboration is development of a rapid diagnostic for detecting Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, in live cattle. Current detection methods require brain tissue samples from slaughtered animals. A live animal diagnostic would allow governments and producers to implement cost-effective surveillance programs to protect and validate disease-free status. ...

"BSE and other TSEs are important health concerns," stated Dr. Erwin Workman, executive vice president and chief scientific officer of IDEXX. "The veterinary market currently has no proven diagnostic for BSE in live cattle. Caprion's reagents and skills in the prion field position us well to take on this important challenge in veterinary health care." ...

IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. is a world leader in providing diagnostic, detection and information systems for veterinary, food and water testing applications. The Company also operates an international network of veterinary reference laboratories and is a leader in the veterinary software and informatics market. IDEXX entered the veterinary pharmaceuticals market with its acquisition of Blue Ridge Pharmaceuticals in October 1998. Headquartered in Westbrook, Maine, IDEXX employs more than 2,000 people and offers over 350 products to customers in more than 50 countries.

Caprion Pharmaceuticals Inc. is a privately held Montreal-based biopharmaceutical company exploiting "shape-shifting" proteins as targets for diagnostics and therapeutic intervention. Prion proteins are the best-known shape-shifters and are the focus of Caprion's earliest products. Caprion is using its expertise in protein conformational change as a key interventional target in the development of neurological and immunological therapies.

Comment (webmaster): These companies would surely be aware of the Schmerr method. Whether there is any further connection is not known.

Beef-on-bone risk is tiny - Medical Officer

Tue, Sep 21, 1999 By Michael Clarke, Deputy Political Editor, PA News
The health risk from eating beef-on-the-bone is "tiny and unquantifiable in any meaningful way", England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson said in a report published today. His findings - released by the Ministry of Agriculture tonight, seven weeks after he submitted them - will fuel the row over the refusal of his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to lift the ban on the food.

Professor Donaldson recommends that the use of beef-on-the-bone in manufactured foods should still be outlawed, because of the possibility that bone marrow is infective, and to give consumers the choice of avoiding all beef-on-the-bone if they wished. His report, written at the end of July, said: "A decision to lift the bone-in-beef ban should in my assessment be informed by the fact that the additional risk to human health created would at this stage of the cattle epidemic be tiny and unquantifiable in nature."

In his report, Prof Donaldson said the six months since his last review of the situation had been "vital", due to the combined effect of two bans -- the August 1996 ban on using animal protein in cattle food (the "clean feed watershed") and the ban on eating cattle older than 30 months. He said when the beef-on-the-bone ban was imposed in December 1997, possibly infected cattle were still entering the human food chain. But "currently the oldest animals eligible for human consumption would have been born in February 1997, a full six months after the `clean feed watershed'". [This is a new expression. Many people had thought the feed ban took places in the 1980's. Not so. -- webmaster]

He said in the past six months the clean feed watershed and the 30-month rule combined to "largely cut off the threat to human food chain from cattle that had acquired BSE from infected feed". Tough security regulations at slaughterhouses were being enforced and, with new cattle passports and tagging "appear to prevent older cattle `slipping through the net' and entering the food chain illegally".

[Other news accounts have Prof Donaldson saying in this same report that cases of nvCJD could run into thousands, with the true scale of the problem not known for 15 years, the number of cases could range from a few hundred to many thousand. He reportedly said: "What is absolutely certain is that the present relatively low number of cases of vCJD should not lead anyone to conclude that the worst is over. There can be no room for complacency in maintaining precautionary measures necessary to eradicate BSE in cattle, to make sure that it does not recur and to reduce any risk of transmission to people. The human disease, vCJD, should continue to be monitored and studied very closely. The high level of past exposure to BSE infection through the human food chain coupled with the uncertainty about the range of the incubation period of vCJD means that the human epidemic could still be quite large in years to come."]

The other possibility of infection coming from cows who inherited BSE from their mothers was being tackled by cattle offspring culls, introduced in January this year. These involved many male calves being killed at a few weeks old, further reducing the number of potentially dangerous cows being eaten.

Publication of the report will intensify pressure from farmers and the Opposition to lift the ban and see T-bone steak and beef ribs back in the shops. Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said he would not act to lift the ban until chief medical officers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agreed with Prof Donaldson that it was safe to do so. The Tories have leapt on the row as clear evidence of the problems caused by devolution.

Shadow constitutional affairs spokesman Sir George Young said English farmers and consumers were being penalised because the Welsh and the Scots were "dragging their feet". In a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair today, Sir George said: "It is, I think, now clear that the Government's ill-thought out devolution plans have given the Scots and Welsh a veto over how England runs its affairs. "This has meant that, rather than helping farmers, the Government now spends its time squabbling with ministers in Cardiff and Edinburgh. "I hope you will be able to end this muddle as soon as possible. English farmers and consumers deserve nothing less."

Mr Brown, however, insisted England would not go it alone as he wanted to proceed in an "orderly" fashion. He told BBC Radio: "I am allowing some time for discussion and decision-making in the devolved authorities so that we can try to arrive at a common approach." He added: "We could just lift the ban in England, but it makes more sense to proceed in an orderly way to lift the ban across the whole of the United Kingdom."

Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish chief medical officers want to wait for a specialist report on lifting the beef-on-the-bone ban due out in November. The row comes as the Government's 150 million aid package for farmers announced on Monday appeared to be defusing anger in rural areas at falling farm incomes. Mr Brown said tonight he was planning to meet pig farmers to see whether additional aid could be found for them.

His concessions led the National Farmers' Union to consider calling off a planned protest at the Labour Party Conference next week. NFU president Ben Gill said members were "seriously re-considering" whether to go ahead with the demonstration in which more than 10,000 members had been expected to march past the conference hall in Bournemouth next Monday. "It is a recognition of the Government's efforts in attempting to deal with the short term problems facing farmers," he said. The package was aimed at helping hill farmers and tackling the costs of red tape.

Britain Ready To Lift Beef Ban

21 Sep 1999 The Associated Press
LONDON - The British government is ready to lift a ban on selling beef on the bone after concluding there is no further danger of spreading ``mad cow'' disease. But it has hit resistance from regional medical officers. ``We could just lift the ban in England, but it makes more sense to proceed in an orderly way to lift the ban across the whole of the United Kingdom,'' Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said Tuesday. Professor Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer in England, reportedly has recommended that the ban could be safely lifted.

Chief medical officers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, think the ban should continue for now.

The government banned the sale of beef on the bone - including rib roasts and T-bone steaks - in December 1997 based on scientific advice that a slight chance existed bone marrow could transmit the lethal brain disease to humans. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee said at the time that there was a low risk of infection from beef on the bone. It estimated a 5 percent chance of a single case arising in one year.

A new strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has been linked to the British outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. The spongiform diseases eat holes in the brains of victims, and no cure has been discovered. Forty-three people have died of the new variant in Britain since 1995, including four this year, according to the Department of Health. Other forms of CJD not related to mad cow disease have claimed 22 victims this year. Last month, the European Union lifted a ban on British beef exports that had been imposed in 1996 because of fears of disease.

The new Welsh National Assembly has called for the ban to be lifted as soon as possible, but Alun Michael, the head of the Welsh regional government, says it should not be done until new scientific reports are received. The delay in lifting the ban is one of the first practical problems to arise from the government's decision to return some powers to new regional governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

England `won't act alone' in lifting beef ban

Tue, Sep 21, 1999 By Martin Evans, Political Staff, PA News 
England will not go it alone in lifting the ban on beef on the bone in the wake of opposition from health officials in the rest of the UK, agriculture minister Nick Brown said today. The Chief Medical Officer for England believes the ban could be safely lifted now - but officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland want to wait for further scientific evidence, due to be published in November.

Mr Brown said: "What I want us to do is to proceed in an orderly way across the whole of the United Kingdom and I am allowing some time for discussion and decision making in the devolved authorities so that we can try and arrive at a common approach." Mr Brown told BBC Radio Four's Today Programme: "We could just lift the ban in England but it makes more sense to proceed in an orderly way to lift the ban across the whole of the United Kingdom."

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive denied there was a split between ministers in Scotland and England over lifting the ban. He said: "There is all this rubbish about Scotland holding things up. "Scottish ministers act on independent advice, English ministers can do the same. "That has always been the case - you always listen to your own chief medical officer, he knows the situation on the ground in his territory."

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish medical officers wanted to await the report of an expert working group based in Oxford, he said. He said Scotland's chief medical officer Sir David Carter did not think anything had changed to warrant the lifting of the ban until then. "Our Chief Medical Officer wants to wait and see the report. He will consider the position once he sees it." He added: "There is no split between ministers. No decision has been taken. "Nick Brown is minded to lift the ban. Clearly it should be lifted in all four areas together, that is what we would prefer. The three medical officers want to wait for the report from Oxford."

Tory constitutional affairs spokesman Sir George Young said Wales and Scotland now had a "veto" over decisions that affected England. English farmers and consumers were being penalised because the Welsh and the Scots were "dragging their feet", he said. "I think what we now have is an inequitable and rather unstable position on devolution," he told BBC Radio Four's The World At One.

Ministers had "recoiled" at a predictable consequence of devolution because it created a "political embarrassment" and England was losing out as a result. "That is manifestly inequitable," he said. "What they should do is lift the ban now on the sale of beef on the bone in England because that is what the English politicians have accepted to be right, fair and safe - they won't do that because that would create an anomaly with Wales and Scotland. "

If you are going to have devolution, you have to accept there will be differences between the three parts of the United Kingdom," he added.

Germany may lift beef ban by Christmas

PA News Wed, Sep 22, 1999  By Chris Hamilton, Political Staff, PA News
The German ban on British beef could be lifted by Christmas, the Berlin government's health minister Andrea Fischer said today. The welcome news for British farmers emerged after Agriculture Minister Nick Brown invited her to London to emphasise the tough measures being taken to ensure British beef is safe.

"Frau Fischer said the ban in Germany could be lifted by Christmas," an agriculture ministry spokesman said after the meeting. "Both ministers said it was then up to the industry to convince consumers to buy British beef. "It was a very constructive meeting and there was basic agreement on both sides that the ban should be lifted."

Although the European Union lifted the ban - imposed in the wake of the BSE crisis - in August, Germany has resisted implementing the decision, saying EU regulations are not tight enough. The German health minister is now due to meet EU health commissioner David Byrne before reporting back to the German parliament's lower house in October. Mr Brown has also invited representatives of the German government and regional `Laender' to visit the UK and tour beef production from farm to processing.

Sewage sludge confirmed in cattle feed

Tue, Sep 21, 1999 By RAF CASERT Associated Press Writer 
Alarmed by growing evidence that sewage sludge was routinely mixed into livestock fodder, the European Commission said Tuesday it will seek to tighten animal foodstuff regulations to keep toilet residue and cleaning chemicals out of the human food chain.

European Union Health Commissioner David Byrne will press a meeting of the 15 EU farm ministers next Monday to impose a stricter definition of what can enter the food chain. Member states now interpret the existing legislation differently, allowing for loopholes.

Late Monday, the Belgian government confirmed reports that toilet and animal waste sludge had been mixed into animal fodder for years. Belgian Farm Minister Jaak Gabriels insisted the practice was stopped in June. Commission spokeswoman Thea Emmerling said reports on similar abuses had come from France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Pressure for the EU to tighten controls on animal feed has intensified since the outbreak of Britain's "mad cow" crisis in 1996. Belgium's recent scare over cancer-causing dioxin in poultry, pigs and other foodstuffs was caused by the contamination of feed with motor oil.

Belgium's sewage sludge report comes at an especially bad time, since the nation is still reeling from the dioxin crisis that led to a wide range of Belgian food products being pulled from supermarkets around the world. The government has said the dioxin crisis is under control and it is working to improve the image of Belgian food. Gabriels also said the government would investigate why it took so long to curtail the illegal use of such sludge in fodder. "These practices that existed in the past will not exist in the future," he said.

Belgium knew food controls inadequate in 1998 paper

Reuters World Report Tue, Sep 21, 1999
Belgian health and farms ministeries have sat on a damning report on the food industry since the end of 1998 -- well before the country's crisis over dioxin contamination in food broke in May this year, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

French-language daily Le Soir said it had obtained a copy of a 400-page report produced by management consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers detailing the shortcomings of Belgium's food inspection systems. Le Soir said the report had been held by the ministries for some three months before being presented to the cabinet of former Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene in March this year, but no action was taken ahead of the elections in June.

A spokesman for Health Minister Magda Aelvoet confirmed the existence of a Price Waterhouse Coopers report, but told Reuters it was designed for internal government use and that he could not confirm its contents. The spokesman could not say when it was given to Dehaene's ministers. Dehaene's centre-left coalition was defeated in the elections, partly over its handling of the crisis in which cancer-causing dioxins were found in eggs, chicken and pig meat. The chemicals were eventually traced to animal feed made with a batch of recycled fats contaminated with motor oil.

Le Soir said the 1998 report noted weaknesses in the country's food control systems, which were the shared responsibility of four separate ministries. It criticised food standards authorities for being inconsistent and failing to use effectively the tools and sanctions at their disposal. It also highlighted the lack of transparency in the animal feed industry, noting that there was no clear picture of who was supplying fat to feed producers. Firms in the industry had not been made aware of their responsibilities, the report said.

The need to restore the confidence of foreign consumers in Belgian food is crucial given that Belgium exports almost half its food production. The damaging claim that Belgium knew of the threats to its food industry follows the revelation on Monday that a waste disposal firm used polluted sludge to make animal feed, including waste water from showers and toilets, as well as cleaning effluent from abbatoirs.

The practices, banned since 1987, were uncovered by a Flemish regional farms ministry report published on Monday. The European Commission is investigating reports that animal feed in some member states including France, Germany and the Netherlands had been tainted with sewage sludge, dangerous pesticides and heavy metals.

New European Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne is due to raise the problem at a meeting of EU farm ministers next week. In a separate move, the European Commission said member state veterinary experts would consider a proposal to exempt Belgium's beef production from stringent tests to prove them dioxin-free. Similar tests would continue for the country's pork and poultry production.

Dioxin seen costing Belgium $899 million

Reuters World Report Tue, Sep 14, 1999 By Alistair Thomson
Belgium's crisis over dioxin contamination in food is set to cost the country's Treasury an estimated 35 billion Belgian francs ($898.8 million), a government source said on Tuesday.

Budget Minister Johan Vande Lanotte said earlier this month that measures taken to resolve the problems caused by contamination of animal feed with the carcinogenic chemical dioxin had cost nearly 26 billion francs. But a government source told Reuters on Tuesday that the government had made provisional estimates for additional costs amounting to some nine billion francs.

These included six billion francs in lost income tax revenues, one billion francs in lost social security income, and two billion francs for chemical testing and fees paid to veterinarians and accountants. That would bring the total cost to around 35 billion francs, confirmed the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that these figures were still "very provisional."

These latest estimates are, however, still way below initial forecasts made at the time of the crisis in May. In June the government predicted the scare could cost the state up to 60 billion francs. The crisis prompted scores of countries to ban Belgian food imports, hit farms and food producers and contributed to the defeat of the previous centre-left government in June elections.

It has also threatened to derail Belgium's debt-cutting programme which forms part of its commitment to European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), launched this year. Belgium has one of the highest debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratios in the European Union. In late June, outgoing Budget Minister Herman Van Rompuy said early measures taken to resolve the dioxin crisis had already eroded four billion francs off an expected 2000 budget surplus of 10 billion francs.

Belgium Admits Waste in Animal Feed

19 Sep 99 The Associated Press By RAF CASERT
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The government admitted Monday that residents did not realize the kind of ``filth'' that was put into the food chain after a report showed that toilet and animal waste sludge had been mixed into Belgian animal fodder. The VRT television network confronted Farm Minister Jaak Gabriels with a report showing that sludge from slaughterhouses, tainted with waste from toilets showers and cleaning products, regularly ended up in Belgium's food chain.

``Often we didn't realize what kind of filth was mixed into fodder,'' said Gabriels late Monday. ``It is incredible how people used to be duped.'' The minister stressed that the practice had come to an end at the time the dioxin food crisis broke in late May, when inspection of Belgium's food chain was intensified.

The food inspection report was likely to worsen the reputation of Belgian gastronomic produce, following the worldwide scare this spring when the government announced high levels of the cancer-causing chemical dioxin had been discovered in eggs, meat and dairy products. The fear led to a wide range of Belgian food products being pulled from supermarkets around the world, causing the biggest food safety scandal in Europe since the 1996 British Mad Cow crisis. The government has said the dioxin crisis is under control and is working on improving the image of the Belgian food across the globe.

Gabriels said the government would investigate why it took so long to curtail the illegal use of such sludge in fodder. ``These practices that existed in the past will not exist in the future,'' he said. ``Measures have been taken.''

Belgium is not alone with such problems. Last month, European Union health officials have asked French authorities to clarify a German news report alleging French companies have been putting residue from septic tanks and other banned substances into animal feed. The French government later acknowledged the sludge was found ``in raw material to be used in the fabrication of meal'' at three slaughterhouses and a gelatin production plant at the end of 1998 and early this year, but action by the authorities had stopped its use.

Pressure for the EU to tighten controls on animal feed has intensified since the outbreak of Britain's ``mad cow'' crisis 1996 when the practice of feeding cattle the ground-up remains of diseased sheep.

Dioxin unlikely to harm Belgian health

Reuters World Report Thu, Sep 16, 1999
BRUSSELS, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Belgian scientists have played down the long-term health effects of cancer-causing dioxins that were found in May to have entered the food chain through contaminated animal feed. "It is very unlikely that the isolated episode of contamination in Belgium will cause adverse health effects on the general population," a group of scientists wrote in this week's edition of the scientific journal Nature.

A similar message was given by experts testifying before a Belgian parliamentary committee of inquiry into the dioxin scare which began public hearings on Wednesday. The discovery in May that dioxins and toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) had entered the food chain from animal feed contaminated with motor oil sparked an international health scare.

Supermarket shelves were stripped of many home-produced staples and countries around the world imposed restrictions or bans on food imports from Belgium. The scientists, from the toxicology unit of Leuven University near Brussels and Belgium's Agriculture Ministry, wrote in a letter to Nature that tests had shown that chickens and eggs had been contaminated with up to 250 times the normal tolerance level for PCBs -- 200 nanograms per gram of fat. Pig meat was less affected, with up to 75 times the tolerance level, while beef was effectively free of contamination.

However, the scientists said these contamination levels were much less than those recorded in incidents in Yusho, Japan, in 1968 and Seveso, Italy, in 1976. In the first incident, contaminated rice oil poisoned 2,000 people. In the second, nearly 450 people suffered skin injuries after an explosion at a chemical plant in Seveso released a cloud of smoke containing dioxin.

"It would require the consumption of 30 to 40 meals of highly contaminated chicken or eggs to double the body's PCB and dioxin burden. Even in such an extreme case, the maximum body burden would still be at least a factor of one hundred less than the victims of the Yusho accident, and in the Seveso residents," the scientists said.

They estimated the total amount of contamination in the Belgian incident at about one gram of dioxin and 50 kilograms of PCBs.

Belgian Health Minister Magda Aelvoet said in an interview published on Thursday that she planned to bring animal feed and other agricultural supplies under a planned food agency to ensure there was no repeat of the episode. She told newspaper Le Soir the government would support sanctions against firms supplying sub-standard products.

EU ends dioxin tests for Belgian beef

Reuters World Report Wed, Sep 22, 1999
European Union veterinary experts have lifted the obligation on Belgium to test its beef products for signs of dioxin contamination, EU officials said on Wednesday. The EU's Standing Veterinary Committee approved the move after Belgium submitted the results of scientific tests done so far on its beef which showed that one percent had indications of high dioxin levels.

And of the one percent, there were only two cases of a very high level -- and these could be attributed to contamination from sources other than the tainted animal feed which sparked Belgium's health scare earlier this year, officials said.

But the scientific tests, which detect PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and indicate dioxin contamination, would continue on the country's poultry and pork products, they added.

Companies throw in the towel on Frankenstein foods

Fri, 17 Sep 1999 Guardian 16/9/99 David Teather and Julia Finch
Drugs firm Novartis last night said it was considering spinning off its ailing agribusiness division which includes the company's controversial research into genetically modified foods. Novartis, which is the world's number two pharmaceuticals company and the biggest maker of crop protection products, is considering "a number of options" for the troubled agribusiness division including separating it from the main company or seeking an alliance.

The Swiss company's decision to rethink its involvement in GM foods comes just one month after Britain's AstraZeneca warned that it too might sell its agrichemicals business. AstraZeneca is a high profile GM company which has already put genetically engineered products on British supermarket shelves. It has also been the target of high profile demonstrations by environmental campaigners.

At the same time Monsanto, the large US company has seen its share price fall from $62 (#163#38) to $40 in the past 12 months ($37 dollars today). Analysts increasingly believe the GM foods research has the potential to inflict serious damage on the lucrative global pharmaceuticals business and are keen to see the controversial division put at arms length. "The market would like to see the life sciences business separate from the agribusiness," one analyst said. "There is little synergy."

But they also believe that agribusinesses are unlikely to attract buyers in the current climate. The business has been hit by a slump in the price of commodities, decreasing subsidies for farmers and a drop in the number of acres under crop production worldwide. It is also suffering from the growing backlash against so-called "frankenfood".

Agribusiness chief Heinz Imhof also called called on European authorities to set up a body similar to the US food and drug administration to reassure consumers that genetically modified products are safe. He also suggested that clearer labelling laws would help quell the growing controversy around the products such as modified seeds, which some critics say may be unsafe or may damage the environment.

"We are convinced that GM crops in the future will bring tangible benefits to the consumer," Mr Imhof said. Earlier this year Novartis announced that 1,100 jobs were to be axed in its agricultural division after the drop in sales which make up 25% of the company's revenue. Half of the sales come from North and South America. Yesterday Mr Imhof said that the job losses would now exceed the previous estimate. GM foods have become a battleground for British supermarket companies, with each struggling to establish their GM-free credentials.

Iceland and Waitrose have recently reported Sainsbury to the Advertising Standards Authority over its claims to be the first major supermarket to have eradicated all GM products from its own-label products. Marks & Spencer has become the latest to join the skirmish with its own advertising campaign. Food giants like Unilever and Nestle have now also pledged to remove GM ingredients from their products. A spokeswoman for Novartis admitted that GM foods had failed to win widespread public acceptance but insisted the decision to review the future of the agribusiness division was not connected.

USDA urged to support GM crop segregation

Tue, Sep 21, 1999 By Eric Onstad
The U.S. government should actively support industry efforts to segregate genetically modified (GM) crops to diffuse consumer opposition in Europe, the head of a Dutch grain trade group said. Once consumers face sharply higher prices for foods without GM inputs, most are likely to opt for foods not specified as GM free, said Rudolf Hoeffelman, chairman of the Royal Dutch Grain and Feed Trade Association.

Hoeffelman, former president of the Benelux division of U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill, said he recently told U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Cynthia Schneider that current U.S. policy on GM foods was not working. It was unclear what premiums would be demanded for large volumes of non-GM supplies but some people have mentioned 10-20 percent, he added in an interview.

Trying to convince European consumers that GM foods were safe would be very difficult, Hoeffelman told Schneider during an informal session about the GM issue about two weeks ago in Rotterdam. "Basically what I said was winning your way is almost impossible and puts trade and industry in a very difficult position," he said.

Officials in the United States, where GM crops are widely accepted, argue that research supports the safety of GM crops and any moves by Europeans to put the brakes on such foods amount to unfair trade practices. But Europeans' confidence in food safety has been severely undermined following the mad cow crisis in Britain and the dioxin affair in Belgium this year.

Earlier this month, agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co surprised the trade and farmers by warning grain suppliers to begin segregating GM modified corn, soybeans and other crops from conventional ones. This year GM crops are estimated to account for about 35 percent of U.S. corn and 55 percent of soybeans. Europe imported about 16 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans last year.

"You can't ram it down peoples' throats. If people don't want it, if they say we want it segregated, let the consumer make the choice, that's a very reasonable argument," Hoeffelman said. Favouring segregation of GM crops does not translate into opposition to GM crops, but is a practical reaction to the stalemate between the United States and Europe, he added.

The grain and shipping industries would struggle on their own to create viable systems to separate GM and non-GM crops and might not gain the confidence of consumers without official cooperation, Hoeffelman said. "So the best thing would be if the USDA, directed by Washington, would cooperate with this," he said. Any move to segregate non-GM crops throws up a host of problems, such as proving that crops had not been inadvertently cross-pollinated by GM crops. Coming up with quick and economic testing methods was another challenge in the move to satisfy consumers' demand for non-GM foods.

In the long run, the EU must create a single food safety agency along the lines of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Hoeffelman said. There must be a broad-based scientific review of all the evidence on GM crops, with testing coordinated between Washington and Brussels, he added.

EU food fears "irrational and collective" - Daley

Reuters Financial Report Wed, Sep 15, 1999
U.S. food is safe and worries to the contrary among European Union consumers and policymakers stem from "an irrational and collective fear," U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley said Wednesday. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Daley defended U.S. food, saying it had been scientifically proven that there were no problems with genetically modified crops or hormone-treated beef.

"The problems that people feel about hormone-treated beef or GM organisms are not based on scientic results. Rather, it has to do with an irrational and collective fear," Daley was quoted as saying. Daley also turned the spotlight on European food, which he said had been beset by problems such as mad cow disease and dioxin in animal feed.

"We're perhaps not as preoccupied by this question as Europeans because it is in Europe that there have been difficulties -- with European food, not American food," he said. "American food is safe. We don't have any worries about that."

He said that with regard to the conflict over hormone-treated beef, U.S. producers were willing to accept a system that would label U.S. beef as "Born in the United States" but Europeans felt this was insufficient.

Europe has mainatined a decade-old ban on imports of hormone-treated beef from North America, and opposition to GM crops has escalated in recent months. Earlier this year the U.S. imposed tariffs on select EU products after the World Trade Organisation ruled the EU was illegally restricting imports of hormone-treated beef.

Anti-Biotech Activists Plan Lawsuits

Sept. 13, 1999 The Associated Press By PHILIP BRASHER
Opponents of genetic engineering have come up with a new tactic to stop the spread of altered crops: antitrust lawsuits against the companies responsible for the technology. The lawsuits, to be filed in 30 countries later this year, will accuse the companies of using the technology to gain control of world agriculture, said antibiotech activist Jeremy Rifkin, director of the Foundation on Economic Trends. Major grain traders and processors also will be named in the lawsuits.

Until now, biotech opponents have focused their efforts on persuading food manufacturers not to buy genetically modified crops and getting governments to require the labeling of altered foods. The antitrust actions will force governments to consider curbing the power of a shrinking number of giant agribusiness companies, Rifkin predicted Monday.

Eight major antitrust law firms have agreed so far to handle the lawsuits, he said. In addition to Rifkin, the plaintiffs will include individual farmers and the National Family Farm Coalition. Biotech companies are genetically manipulating plants to make fruits and vegetables more attractive, speed the growth of crops or make them resistant to insects, disease and weedkillers.

The companies control the spread of the technology by patenting the seeds and then leasing them to growers, rather than selling them, to prevent the farmers from reproducing the seeds. While the crops have grown quickly in popularity with American farmers, the technology has had trouble getting accepted by consumers in Asia and Europe. Defenders of the technology say it can increase yields while reducing the need for pesticides and eventually will lead to nutritionally enhanced crops.

``Biotechnology is being adopted at an unprecedented rate by American farmers because it's giving them more choices than ever before in how they grow their crops. It's producing benefits for them in terms of higher yields and less use of pesticides,'' said Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

But critics say the technology raises a number of environmental concerns in addition to giving giant agribusiness companies, such as St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and Novartis AG of Switzerland, new power over farmers. ``In less than five, six years from now virtually no farmer in the world will own any seed again,'' Rifkin said.

A third of the nation's corn crop and about 55 percent of the soybeans U.S. farmers are growing this year have been genetically engineered. The soybean seeds are sold by Monsanto for use with its popular Roundup weedkiller.

Rifkin said the lawsuits would be filed before the next round of negotiations by the World Trade Organization starts in November. Biotechnology is expected to be a major issue of the global trade talks.

The U.S. lawsuit will seek billions of dollars in damages from all major seed companies including Monsanto Co, DuPont Co, Zeneca Group, Novartis, as well as agribusiness giants Archer Daniels Midland and privately owned Cargill Inc., Rifkin said.

But seed companies have already abandoned that approach in favour of another way to recoup their millions of dollars invested in GM seeds, according to Per Pinstrup-Andersen, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Companies are developing GM seeds that can ``turn on'' a special characteristic -- the ability to repel pests or drought -- only if a farmer buys a special chemical to treat the seeds, Pinstrup-Andersen said.

``If the seed it not treated, it will revert back to its original characteristics. That means the farmer is no worse off, but can choose to pay to become better off,'' he said.

``We don't go after bigness just because it's there,'' said Michael Hausfeld, an antitrust lawyer representing the groups. ``It's only a problem when it has the inherent potential for abuse, like with these seed companies.''

The filing of the antitrust lawsuit will be timed to coincide with the World Trade Organisation gathering in Seattle in late November. Heads of government and agricultural ministers are scheduled to launch a new round of trade talks aimed at phasing out government crop subsidies, improving food safety standards and discussing the impact of biotechnology.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, is drafting a bill to call for a one-year halt to all mergers among agribusinesses with net revenues of more than $50 million. Wellstone, speaking in an interview, said he was concerned about ``the potential for abuse'' amid rapid consolidation in the grain, livestock and seed sectors of agribusiness.

``This is an area of concern for many farmers, who don't want to be able to buy seeds from just one company, much like they don't want to market their livestock to a single company, and sell their grain to one company,'' said Richard Stuckey, vice president of Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.

Planned lawsuit to further debate on biotech crop

By Julie Vorman 13 Sep 99
Two U.S. farm and environmental groups said Monday they would file a lawsuit seeking billions of dollars in damages from major agribusiness companies that have allegedly amassed too much control over genetically-modified (GM) seeds.

The planned antitrust lawsuit, to be filed in a federal court by December 1, would raise a fresh issue in the growing international debate over bio-engineered crops.

Consumer groups throughout Europe have demanded labels on U.S. food made with GM soybeans, corn and other crops.

U.S. growers, who eagerly embraced GM crops to improve yields and pest resistance, are beginning to worry about a consumer backlash to bio-engineered foods. And farmers in less-developed nations have complained that patents on GM seeds unfairly bar them from re-using seed the following season.

``We're moving from the GM food labelling issue to an even broader issue of GM seeds and concentration in world agriculture,'' Jeremy Rifkin, an environmental activist and head of the Washington-based Foundation on Economic Trends, said in a telephone interview from London.

Billboards linking beef to impotence won't go up in Idaho

Lewiston Tribune, August 23, 1999 Kathy Hedberg 
An animal rights' group that claims eating beef causes sexual impotence in men has gotten a rise out of the cattle industry, which maintains beef is "the natural Viagra." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been turned down in Idaho and other cattle states on plans to erect billboards promoting vegetarianism.

The ads feature a curvaceous, bikini-clad vegetarian declaring, "I threw a party -- but the cattlemen couldn't come. Eating meat can cause impotence." Dangling a string of suggestive sausages from her hand, she encourages consumers to "call my hotline at 1-900-GET-ON-UP" for more information.

The ad campaign has been turned down in cattle states across the country. Advertisers have refused to lease space for the billboard, claiming it is too racy to run. "I think it's in very poor taste," said Leah M. Clark of the Idaho Beef Council. "I think the claim is ridiculous and is not based on fact. ... The bottom line is PETA kind of has been out to ruin our good time, whether it's in the dining room or the bedroom. It's unfortunate they've had to stoop to this level."

The Idaho Beef Council has put together a press release in response to PETA's claim, calling beef "the natural Viagra." In contrast to the PETA claim that fat and cholesterol in meat clog up the arteries going to all organs, not just the heart, Clark said lean beef is interchangeable with chicken in lowering serum cholesterol. She also said beef is a source of key nutrients that are important to sexual function. Zinc, which is an important nutrient in beef, is necessary for sexual maturation and reproduction. Beef also contains an amino acid called L-arginine, which is an element that helps men get an erection. "I think what people need to realize is any food, whether it's a white meat, vegetarian or a red meat diet, can contain cholesterol," Clark said. "There are many vegetarian diets that are extremely high in fat. We have to look at an entire diet, not one food."

John J. Keizur, a urologist at Moscow, Idaho, said the PETA claim is "kind of true, but not fully true. "A diet that's rich in red meat puts you at a higher risk for cholesterol and heart disease. That in turn can be a problem causing erections," Keizur said. However, "being a vegetarian doesn't prevent you from getting erectile dysfunction and eating red meat doesn't guarantee you'll get erectile dysfunction. It gives you a slightly higher risk." Keizur said a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol can cause hardening of the arteries and that is a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and erectile dysfunction.

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk urges people to "choose a veggie burger in the kitchen for a whopper in the bedroom. Most vegetarians are far slimmer than meat-eaters, so they're more active and attractive, in and out of the bedroom."

Clark disagrees. "It's disgusting and it's very suggestive. I would think that most people would be appalled that a national group would stoop to this type of very tasteless advertising."

"Mad cow" to attack American Medical Association

 PETA News July 9, 1999
Beneath a banner proclaiming, "It's Mad to Eat Meat," a "mad cow" will pummel a giant "brain" as members of Illinois Animal Action and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest the American Medical Association's (AMA's) downplaying of the threat of mad cow disease:
Date Time Place 
Monday, July 12 11:00 a.m. AMA Headquarters at 515 N. State St. 
Americans who eat meat and drink milk were given a false sense of security by the AMA's recent statement that mad cow disease poses little threat in the United States, despite similarities between farming practices in the U.S. and Great Britain, where 44 people have already died of the disease, and many more are expected to. As the AMA stands by its statement, a 27-year-old lies dying in an Oklahoma hospital diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

Until recently, cattle ranchers in the U.S. were allowed to feed the remains of animals to cows, who are herbivores by nature. The FDA still allows animal tissues, including those from sick cows, to be fed to pigs and chickens. Cow remains, under current laws, can even be fed to calves. Two studies reported that up to 13 percent of U.S. Alzheimer's patients, examined after death, had been misdiagnosed and actually died of CJD.

"Mad cow can lie dormant in your body for ten years," says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. "The government and American consumers need to know the risk and how to avoid it."

Comment (webmaster): This protest was evidently in response to an odd piece published in JAMA some time back. The 'review article' was written in mid 1998, approved by the AMA house of delegates in Oct 1998 and timed to be released shortly after the FDA committee voted to defer donors who had been in England 6 months cumulatively.

The authors, none of whom work in CJD research, state that they did not consult the medical or scientific literature on CJD but instead looked at newsclipping services, government reports, and journal abstracts. (Members of the AMA would be adversely affected if fewer elective surgeries took place in the US or heroic measures were not undertaken in the elderly.)

Various blood fractions have been since been shown to be infectious and a blood assay is available for the first time. The FDA was not sway by public relations pressure and made the recommendation final.

"Mad cow" asks CDC to recognize threat to humans. Mascot warns Alzheimer's misdiagnoses may hide U.S. epidemic

PETA press release June 23, 1999
Atlanta -- PETA's prancing "mad cow" mascot will attack a giant "brain" filled with holes outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), calling on the agency to add Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)-the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease-to its list of "reportable diseases" as evidence mounts that many cases of CJD may be going undiagnosed.

Recent American research shows up to 13 percent of patients studied had been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, when in fact they died of CJD, an always fatal ailment that causes dementia as victims' brains gradually shrink and become full of holes. PETA is urging the CDC to heighten surveillance for CJD by making it a "reportable disease" to track possible or confirmed cases of CJD.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow" disease) appeared in British cattle after infectious tissue from sheep was included in their feed. Although the United Kingdom finally enacted a ban on feeding the rendered remains of animals to ruminants (who are herbivores by nature), the United States has only partially curtailed this practice, leaving the door wide open for tragedy, PETA contends.

The most likely cause of a new strain of CJD, known as nvCJD, is the consumption of BSE-tainted meat, according to the World Health Organization and researchers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"If the CDC won't recognize the possibility of a problem by making CJD a reportable disease, it's lost its mind," says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk.

Comment (webmaster): While the Manuelidis study did show a 13% figure, the sample size was small. The best available study is that of Boller et al at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital that showed 7.5% of Alzheimer in the Pittsburgh region was actually CJD. Other diseases were also found to have been misdiagnosed.

Portugal says EU lifting bull ban not enough

Wed, Sep 22, 1999 Reuters World Report By David Brough
Portugal said on Wednesday an EU decision to lift an embargo on Portuguese exports of bulls for bullfighting was inadequate and urged the end of a global ban on its beef sales as soon as possible. The embargo, part of a blanket ban on beef exports imposed over mad cow disease, was lifted by the EU's Standing Veterinary Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Portugal exports some 500 of the highly prized bulls to Spain per year, officials said. The rest of the global ban remains in force until February 2000. "This decision, even though it is insufficient and late, represents a positive step that deserves to be noted," the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement posted on its Internet site .

"It is in line with the position of the government which always considered the embargo on the export of beef and live cattle an unjust, discriminatory and disproportionate measure." The ministry said that in view of the tough controls Portugal had imposed to halt the spread of mad cow disease, the EU should move as swiftly as possible to end the rest of the global ban.

"The agriculture ministry hopes that, faced with the strong measures taken by Portugal in the battle against BSE (mad cow disease), whose rigour has been recognised by the EU's own experts, the total lifting of the embargo against remaining live cattle and beef produced in Portugal will be decided as soon as possible," it said. The bulls exported to Spain for bullfights are bred mainly in the agricultural regions of the Alentejo south of Lisbon and the Ribatejo in central Portugal. They are allowed to roam in large areas of land while they are fattened before export.

In professional competitions a bullfighter faces fully-grown bulls often weighing more than 500 kilos (1,100 pounds). Earlier this month, Portugal's Under-Secretary for Agriculture and Food Quality, Luis Vieira, told Reuters the country had made great efforts to eradicate BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) at slaughterhouse and factory level and at its borders with Spain. He was optimistic that the EU would lift a global ban on Portugal's beef exports by next year.

Last September Portugal's Socialist government issued a decree banning the use of meat and bone meal in animal feed in order to stamp out the spread of BSE. At the time, France and Britain were the only other countries in the EU that had formally banned the use of potentially harmful feed in the animal food chain. The practice of feeding cattle meat and bone meal is widely believed to have been responsible for spreading the BSE epidemic in Britain.

Portugal, which has so far reported 298 cases of mad cow disease, one of the highest incidences in the EU after Britain, is not a major beef exporter. Before the ban, Portugal exported between 1,000 and 3,000 tonnes per year on average, much of it to Spain, officials said. The country imports 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes of beef per year.

EU Considers Risk Assessment Studies For Beef Hormones

Wed, Sep 22, 1999 Dow Jones
A European Union Commission spokeswoman said Wednesday the E.U. is considering new risk assessment studies regarding growth-promoting hormones used by U.S. and Canadian beef producers. Thea Emmerling, spokeswoman for Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne, said the E.U. will sponsor the studies depending on the results of 17 ongoing scientific studies.

The E.U. is waiting for the outcome of the studies before deciding on its next move in an ongoing trade war with the U.S. and Canada. The E.U. has previously said the studies will be ready in early 2000, but now they're not expected until mid-2000, Emmerling said.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that the E.U.'s ban on hormone-treated beef imports is illegal and has allowed the U.S. and Canada to slap about $124 million a year in retaliation on E.U. goods for beef producers' loss of trade. The E.U. has publicly stated that the studies are expected to present additional evidence that hormone-treated beef poses a health risk. Emmerling said the studies will give a scientific assessment of the impact of the hormones on humans, as well as a risk management assessment - such as controls involving the use of hormones.

However, the E.U.'s ban on hormone-treated beef imports is unlikely to be supported by the scientific studies, according to an internal document obtained by Dow Jones Newswires. The document says the scientific studies commissioned by the E.U. "have not been conceived to respond to the gaps in knowledge which have been identified in the opinion of the Scientific Committee for Veterinary Measures."

The document confirms E.U. officials' comments made last week to Dow Jones Newswires. The officials said the studies aren't likely to support the E.U.'s 10-year-old ban on imports of hormone-treated beef. "Legally we don't have a leg to stand on," one official said. "There is no international support for the ban."

E.U. spokesman Gerry Kiely added that the studies aren't expected to clarify what an acceptable risk level would be for residues of hormone-treated beef. In order to have the sanctions lifted, the E.U. will have to convince the WTO that the ban conforms to WTO rules and is based on a "qualified and respected risk assessment," according to the E.U. document.

Regardless of the outcome of the studies, the E.U. is expected to maintain the ban because of the current atmosphere of European consumer health fears sparked by the U.K.'s bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow" disease, scare and the recent dioxin-contaminated food scare in Belgium. That means the E.U.'s next move is to challenge the level of the U.S. and Canadian sanctions under WTO arbitration rules, according to Kiely.

EU says no hormone beef studies before mid-2000

Reuters Business Report Wed, Sep 22, 1999 By David Evans
The European Commission said on Wednesday its studies into the safety of hormone-treated beef would not be finished before the middle of next year, prolonging a trade spat with the United States which has left $117 million of sanctions on EU gourmet foods. The Commission had previously said the scientific studies, designed to evaluate the risk to human health from eating meat from cattle reared on artificial growth hormones, would be ready by the end of this year.

"The studies are ongoing and we will probably have the results by the middle of 2000," Commission spokeswoman Thea Emmerling told journalists. She said there were 17 separate scientific investigations being carried out, most on specific substances. Most focused on risk assessment, but four involved risk management, or how to minimise any potential risks should hormone beef be alllowed.

The EU agreed to the evaluations after a World Trade Organisation ruling that its decade-old ban on hormone-treated beef was illegal in a case brought by the United States and Canada. Washington argued the WTO decision meant the embargo should be lifted immediately and won approval to slap 100 percent duties on EU exports of mustard, foie gras and hams, which took effect at the end of July. Canada has also imposed sanctions worth $7.5 million.

But the EU is sticking to its line that the WTO ruling merely obliged it to undertake a scientific assessment of the risks, and following a preliminary report released in May which pointed to possible health dangers from hormone beef, says its ban is totally justified.

It is also seeking to have the so-called "precautionary principle," whereby countries can unilaterally put up trade blocks if they can prove health concerns, enshrined in the new global trade agreement due to be launched later this year.

Most beef in the United States is produced from cattle reared with artificial growth promoters, a practice that has long been authorised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. cattle industry claims it is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of the EU ban.

The EU has called the sanctions an "economic own goal" and offered the United States compensation in the form of increased access for other goods. This was rejected by Washington, which pressed ahead with sanctions.

French farmers in particular have reacted angrily to the duties, which have hit also sales of roquefort cheese. Fast food chain McDonalds has borne the brunt of their fury, with manure and rotting fruit dumped outside its restaurants across France.

Blood Supply worries overblown?

Wed, Sep 22, 1999 Associated Press  By LAURAN NEERGAARD  AP Medical Writer
The availability of blood for transfusions is tightening as fewer Americans give blood, and it's unclear how much it could worsen because of a new ban on donations by frequent travelers to Britain, says a congressional study. But a prediction of nationwide blood shortages striking next year is exaggerated, the General Accounting Office concluded.

"While there is cause for concern about shortages of certain blood types or in certain regions, the blood supply as a whole is not in crisis," says the GAO report, scheduled to be released Thursday at a House Commerce subcommittee hearing.

Only 8 million Americans donate blood -- just 5 percent of eligible donors, the GAO said. But the amount of blood donations has decreased over the last decade, at the same time transfusion demand has increased. The National Blood Data Resource Center has predicted that next year, Americans will donate just under 11.7 million units of blood, while hospitals will need 11.9 million units.

That prediction came before the Food and Drug Administration's recent ban on blood donations by anyone who has spent six months or more in Britain since 1980, when that country's "mad cow disease" crisis began. The FDA anticipates that ban will cut the blood supply by 2.2 percent.

But the GAO's investigation says the prediction of a crisis next year is overblown. "The blood supply has declined more slowly" than previous studies suggested, it concluded. Also, it said, blood banks "may be able to increase collections."

Experts can disagree on how soon the demand for blood will outstrip supply, but the nation needs to prepare now, responded Marian Sullivan, executive director of the National Blood Data Resource Center. "Certainly action needs to be sooner rather than later," she said. The GAO acknowledged that shortages, usually of Type O or Type B blood, already occur in certain regions, particularly around holidays.

Almost 9 percent of hospitals in a recent survey said they had canceled elective surgeries due to blood shortages at least once in 1997 -- the latest year data is available. Also, the "mad cow" donation ban promises to hit hardest in major cities, home to more affluent blood donors who can afford frequent travel, the GAO said.

"The GAO's findings give us many reasons to be concerned," said Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., who requested the GAO probe as part of his House Commerce Committee's investigation of blood safety and availability. The most up-to-date count of donated blood is due in November, when Sullivan's center completes a survey of whether the supply improved or worsened this year. X-From_: Thu Sep 23 23:37:28 1999 From: Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1999 02:36:51 EDT Subject: To: MIME-Version: 1.0

U.S. Unveils System For Hormone-Free Beef Shipments

Meat Industry Insights web page  2 Sep 99
Washington - The U.S. Agriculture Department unveiled a new certification system to ensure that American beef or veal shipped to the European Union did not contain growth hormones.

Last month, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service suspended exports of hormone-free beef to the EU because it was concerned that American meat companies were not delivering what they promised. The Europeans complained that some meat labeled as hormone-free actually contained hormone residues.

The spat erupted at a time when Washington was separately battling the EU to win the right to export beef from American cattle treated with growth hormones.

A new certification system means EU buyers will be assured that the meat is free of hormones, the USDA said. The third-party certification system will restore credibility to the non- hormone treated cattle program, said Catherine Woteki, USDA undersecretary for food safety. [It is unclear how this certification system would improve over the earlier leaky certification system. -- webmaster]

Under the new system, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service or an accredited third-party must audit and verify every step in the beef production chain to guarantee that the meat is free of hormones, the USDA said. Details of the certification procedures will be released at a Sept. 9 public meeting in Omaha, the USDA said.

The EU buys a relatively modest 25 million pounds annually of American beef and veal that is certified to be free of hormones. Overall U.S. beef exports total more than 2.2 billion pounds.

In July, the Clinton Administration slapped 100-percent tariffs on a variety of European gourmet foods to punish the EU for blocking U.S. shipments of hormone-treated beef. About 90% of American cattle are given artificial hormones to make them grow faster and produce less-fatty meat.

Movement disorders in kuru -- the film

 Fri, 24 Sep 1999 Medline abstract
Comment (webmaster):
The abstract does not make clear whether either raw film or summary videotape is available and if so to whom nor how a copy is obtained.

Movement disorders in Kuru

Mov Disord 1999 Sep;14(5):800-4
Kompoliti K, Goetz CG, Gajdusek DC, Cubo E
To describe the gamut of movement disorders seen during the clinical course of kuru. Kuru is a subacute spongiform encephalopathy that was confined to several adjacent cultures in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea and resulted from contamination with brain tissue during the ritual endocannibalism practiced in those societies. This unique neurologic disease was recorded extensively with film between 1957 and 1976, and these comprehensive research documents have been donated to the American Academy of Neurology archives by one of the authors (DCG).

The comprehensive assembly of film record of kuru, which was collected by one of the authors (DCG) was reviewed. This comprised two parts: The first were films from 1957-1964 and included 17,397 ft of 16-mm film featuring 204 patients (children and adults); the second is assembled from films made from 1967-1976 and includes 9,138 ft. of film featuring 47 adult patients. Two movement disorders specialists categorized all movement disorders s observed and a representative videotape was produced.

Tremor is the most frequently encountered movement disorders in kuru and is typically of the action/intention type, which appears early in the disease and is soon associated with other clinical signs of cerebellar dysfunction. Widespread clonus is characteristic of advanced disease and can be difficult to differentiate from tremor. Dystonia/athetosis and choreiform jerks also appear as the disease progresses. Dystonia can involve the torso, distal limbs, neck, or jaw.

Myoclonic jerks can be superimposed on the cerebellar or dystonic features usually with an enhanced startle response. Parkinsonian symptomatology, other than resting tremor is frequent among the filmed subjects especially in the second stage of the disease. The clinical manifestations of kuru involved a wide array of movement disorders during all three stages of the degenerative illness.

Mad cow disease fear for brain patients

The Telegraph August 1991 [8 years ago]  By DAVID FLETCHER, Health Services Correspondent
Several people may have been infected with the human form of mad cow disease after bovine membranes later thought to be infected were grafted on to their brains during operations, it was disclosed yesterday. The alarm was raised after an inquest heard that a woman had died after suffering from Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease following a transplant of infected membrane into her skull. The operation was carried out on Mrs Pauline Nuttall, 45, of Burnt Ash Hill, Lee, south London, at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Bloomsbury, in 1983.

Mr Ralph Collins, senior hospital manager, said that records were being searched to try to trace the batch of material which was used and to confirm that it was of bovine origin. He added: 'At this stage we do not know the size of the batch or whether it was used to treat other people. If we find it was used on other people we shall try to trace them, although it may not be easy as this all happened eight years ago.'

Records of transplants of human or bovine material formerly used after brain tumour operations were incomplete, making it difficult to assess the scale of the problem. The Westminster inquest heard last Tuesday that Mrs Nuttall made a good recovery after surgery to remove a brain tumour. But last year she began suffering from distorted vision, slurred speech and difficulties in standing. She died on May 18.

Mr Collins said that the hole resulting from the operation was repaired using a membrane from a medical supplies company pre-packaged in what surgeons thought was a sterilised state. It was now feared that the sample was infected with a virus which led to Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, the human equivalent of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

Since 1986 hospitals have avoided the use of membrane from cows or bulls in brain operations and now use artificial material. Mr Collins said: 'The hospital was not at fault. We believed the material was sterilised by the manufacturers and safe to use. 'It has since emerged that the sterilisation was ineffective., Although efforts would be made to contact anyone else who might have been affected, he said it was likely that any symptoms which were going to develop would have done so by now. Comment (webmaster):
This gets us back to the question of why the German medical doctor was collecting sheep dura mater on behalf or the Lyodura company. This 1991 CJD death was from an operation carried out in 1983. While it was apparently never resolved whether this patient had mad cow disease, mad sheep disease, nvCJD, or ordinary CJD, the article does establish that both bovine and human dura mater were routinely used in brain surgery at that time and through 1986. (Did they go over to use sheep dura mater after that?) Trans-species use was evidently so routine that the hospital didn't bother to record the species or company; the surgeon evidently did not know either.

Medline abstracts

Comparative study of lyophilized human dura mater and lyophilized bovine pericardium as dural substitutes in neurosurgery.

Acta Neurochir (Wien) 1990;107(1-2):16-21  Laun A, Tonn JC, Jerusalem C
In a prospective, controlled randomized study either lyophilized bovine pericardium or lyophilized human dura mater have been used as a patch for the closure of the dura in 102 patients. The aim of this investigation was to compare both materials in terms of immunogenic response of the patients. The rate of post-operative complications was comparably low in both groups (wound infection in 1/51 patients each). In regard of workability, thickness of the material and flexibility the pericardium patches were judged to be by far superior. Neither signs of a cellular nor of an intesified humoral response could be detected in patients who received the pericardium implants. Thus, lyophilized bovine pericardium seems to be a superior alternative for the surgical repair of dural defects.

Ovine [sheep] pericardium: a new material for duraplasty.

J Neurosurg 1996 Mar;84(3):508-13  Parizek J, Husek Z, Mericka P, Tera J, Nemecek S,  Spacek J, Nemeckova J, Suba P 
The authors report on their 2 1/2-year clinical experience using a dural substitute, ovine pericardium, stabilized with 0.3% glutaraldehyde, flat freeze-dried, and sterilized with gamma-irradiation. Packaging of the ovine pericardium in double-plastic transparent bags allows simple storage in operating rooms and the opportunity for the surgeon to choose an ideal graft according to its shape, size, and plasticity. The ovine pericardia were examined histologically and by transmission and scanning electron microscopy in their native, freeze-dried, and irradiated forms. The final product is composed solely of pericardium fibrosum interwoven with artificially formed extracellular microcavities that serve as natural pores for the ingrowth of host tissue. ... As a new dural substitute, ovine pericardium proved to be superior to bovine and allogeneic pericardia because of its workability, flexibility, and reduced thickness. In a study of 120 grafts, all but one healed without complications.

Bovine pericardium for dural grafts: clinical results in 35 patients.

Neurosurgery 1996 Oct;39(4):764-8  Anson JA, Marchand EP .
The United States FDA has recently approved the marketing of bovine pericardium as a dural graft material, but literature reports of this use are limited. Bovine pericardium has been widely used for grafts in cardiac surgery and seems to have suitable properties for use as a dural graft. We report the use of glutaraldehyde-processed bovine pericardium for dural grafts in 35 patients undergoing cranial and craniospinal operations with the objective of providing a clinical assessment of this material and technique..... The material is relatively inexpensive and requires no additional incision. It has low antigenicity and toxicity, good strength, and minimal elasticity. :In this clinical assessment, bovine pericardium was found to be an excellent dural graft material.

The use of Vicryl Collagen as a dura substitute: a clinical review of 78 surgical cases.

Acta Neurochir (Wien) 1997;139(2):120-3   Van Calenbergh F, Quintens E, Sciot R, Van Loon J,  Goffin J, Plets C 
We performed a retrospective review of 78 consecutive neurosurgical procedures using Vicryl Collagen, a resorbable mesh of polyglactin 910 coated with bovine collagen, for dural substitution. The complications we encountered were infrequent and mostly minor.... We conclude that Vicryl Collagen is a valuable alternative to the patient's own fibrous tissues when dural substitution is necessary.

Experimental evaluation of collagen sponge as a dural graft

Br J Neurosurg 1993;7(6):635-41   Narotam PK, Van Dellen JR, Bhoola K, Raidoo D 
Early collagen products,when used as dural substitutes, promoted severe inflammatory responses and fell into disrepute. A more recent advance, collagen sponge, which is derived from bovine flexor tendons was used in this experimental study. Collagen sponge was surgically implanted as an onlay dural replacement graft following skull trephination and dural excision in 12 primates. Macroscopic, histological and electron-microscopical evaluations were performed at periods of 1, 3 and 9 months. This preliminary animal study indicated that collagen sponge is suitable to use as a graft since it does not induce any inflammatory response or adhesions in the absence of pia arachnoid injury. If forms an ideal scaffold for the early ingrowth of fibroblasts to effect dural repair.

Detailed evaluation of 2959 allogeneic and xenogeneic dense connective tissue grafts (fascia lata, pericardium, and dura mater) used in the course of 20 years for duraplasty in neurosurgery.

Parizek J, Mericka P, Husek Z, Suba P, Spacek J,  Nemecek S, Nemeckova J, Sercl M, Elias P [Czech  Republic]  Acta Neurochir (Wien) 1997;139(9):827-38  
Surgical experience with 2959 allogeneic and xenogeneic dense connective tissue grafts (1767 of fascia lata, 909 of pericardium, and 283 of dura mater), used in 2665 neurosurgical operations performed in the course of 20 years (1976 to 1995) is reported. Duraplasty using either allogeneic or xenogeneic grafts has had a similar, and favourable clinical outcome. Nevertheless, the pliable deep frozen fascia lata grafts, which could be used in any location, have been reserved for sella turcica plugging, anterior cranial base plasty, aneurysmal wrapping, and surgery of lipomyelomeningocele. Pericardium and dura mater grafts were in the majority of cases used over the brain convexity and posterior cranial fossa. Ovine pericardium proved to be superior to bovine and allogeneic pericardia because of its workability, flexibility, reduced thickness, and better transparency.

Xenogeneic pericardium as a dural substitute in reconstruction of suboccipital dura mater in children.

J Neurosurg 1989 Jun;70(6):905-9  Parizek J, Mericka P, Spacek J, Nemecek S, Elias P,  Sercl M [Czechoslovakia]
A 5-year experience with the glutaraldehyde-stabilized freeze-dried radiation-sterilized calf pericardium used as a dural substitute is reported. The structure of pericardium xenograft is compared with other collagenous materials used for duraplasty (allogeneic fascia lata and dura mater) by light and electron microscopy. The special neurosurgical techniques involved in using pericardium xenografts in the reconstruction of suboccipital dura mater in children are presented in detail.

Dura mater for soft-tissue augmentation. Evaluation in a rabbit model.

Nordstrom MR, Wang TD, Neel HB 3d   
Irradiated human dura mater, a commercially available preparation of dura mater (Tutoplast), and irradiated rabbit dura mater were implanted in subcutaneous pockets in the pinna and forehead of New Zealand white rabbits

[Xenoplasty of the dura mater by means of formalinized grafts]

Zh Vopr Neirokhir 1985 Jul-Aug;(3):49-54  Beloded VG, Ryvniak VV
The possibility of using as plastic material animal (neat cattle, pig) dura mater stored in 0.5% formaldehyde solution was studied. The structure of the dura ...

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