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BSE publicity officials' only concern
New variant CJD `could claim thousands of lives'
Britain's Famous Cattle Market Closes down
Patient advocacy influencing NIH grants
Northern Ireland beef exports given all-clear
E.U. Official To Seek Easing Of U.K. Beef Export Ban
Hogg admits excessive industry bailout
Vitamin E, microglia, free radicals, and CJD

BSE crisis publicity `was government officials' primary concern

Mon, Jun 1, 1998 PA News  By John von Radowitz, PA News
Fears of public alarm over mad cow disease preoccupied government officials at the time ministers were first informed of the problem, the BSE inquiry heard today. A confidential memo to a junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture in July 1987 warned that ill-informed publicity could lead to "hysterical demands for immediate draconian government measures".

The memo from the head of the ministry's Animal Health Division, J C Suich, and addressed to the then parliamentary secretary Donald Thompson, added: "This in turn could alarm other countries and lead them to prohibit imports of cattle, semen and embryos from this country."

The note from Mr Suich, who has since died, said the disease might be "the result of a genetic disorder" and added there was "no evidence that it is transmissible to humans". Ministers were advised that "it would be inappropriate and premature to consider imposing restrictions in the herds where affected cattle have been identified".

Sir Michael Franklin, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture from 1983 to 1987, had no criticism of government scientists for failing to inform ministers about BSE earlier. "It seems to me the scientists were wrestling with trying to understand what it was," he said.

The note said officials thought the best plan was to acknowledge the existence of BSE and emphasise that it was being thoroughly investigated.

Until more was known about the disease, "no action by MAFF is recommended beyond attempting to ensure that publicity is well-informed and not unduly alarmist" said the memo, which was submitted to the inquiry. Ministers were first informed of the existence of BSE a short time earlier, on June 5 1987, in a note to Mr Thompson .

Former top civil servant to appear at BSE Inquiry

 PA News  Sun, May 31, 1998  By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News
A senior civil servant who played a central role at the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s will give evidence at the BSE inquiry today. Sir Michael Franklin, permanent secretary at MAFF until October 1987, will be questioned along with a number of Government scientists and research administrators today. He is expected to give an overview of what life was like at the ministry at the start of the BSE crisis.

Sir Michael is now retired and therefore free to speak his mind about what went on behind the scenes during this crucial period. On Wednesday two scientists who helped identify the new form of CJD thought to be triggered by BSE will give evidence. Dr Robert Will and Dr James Ironside are both from the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, where Dr Will is director.

Nobel prize winning scientist Professor Stanley Prusiner, who first suggested the theory that BSE, CJD and similar diseases were spread by abnormal prion proteins, will give evidence on Saturday, June 6.

Staff attached to the inquiry have scoured about 1,000 files from Government officials and scientists and extracted 50,000 documents. A total of 150 past ministers have been contacted, some of whom are expected to give evidence during stage seven of the inquiry in late November.

The BSE Inquiry website, which won an award from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, has been accessed from 73 different countries. So far a total of 19,000 transcripts of the hearings have been downloaded.

Lawyers hunt for BSE clues in files of Whitehall

May 28 1998 BRITAIN  by Valerie Elliott Whitehall Editor
A WHITEHALL hunt is under way for the "smoking gun" that might implicate officials or former ministers over the BSE crisis. A team of legal troubleshooters has been hired to search for memorandums, correspondence and other documents that could provide the key to the Conservative Government's handling of the issue.

While the Scott inquiry into arms for Iraq was virtually stalled for a year as civil servants trailed their own documents, the BSE inquiry, headed by Lord Justice Phillips, has insisted on an independent search of files. About 20 lawyers have been sent to government departments to conduct the trawl, with most information coming from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Health. Material has also been retrieved in the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland offices.

So far the team has scoured 1,000 files containing about 150,000 sheets of paper to work out the chronology and the role of various officials, scientists, veterinary surgeons and ministers. A total of 60,000 documents has been collated as "of interest." The findings will govern the line of questioning over the next two months when officials will be called to give evidence for the first time.

About 300 administrators and 30 scientists have been asked for written evidence, but only about 50 are likely to be questioned in public. Richard Packer, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, has made clear to his staff that they should speak freely to the inquiry. He is among senior civil servants who are to appear before the inquiry in September. About 150 former ministers are scheduled for November and December.

Last night a senior Whitehall source made clear that Lord Justice Phillips did not wish to be "judgmental" in his inquiry, and that all actions were governed in the context of the knowledge of BSE at the time.

Good week shaping up at Inquiry

2nd June -- 6th June:
Sir Michael Franklin, Professor Ingrid Allen , Dr Anne-Marie Coriat, Katherine Levy, Prof. Ken Murray, Prof. George Radda, Sir Dai Rees, Dr Moira Bruce, Dr Hugh Fraser, Dr Jim Hope, Dr Nora Hunter, Dr James Ironside, Dr Robert Will, Dr Simon Cousens, Prof J Collinge, Dr M Jeffrey, Mr Ray Bradley (Day 1 of 2), Prof Stanley Prusiner (Saturday afternoon only).

The process of awarding NIH Grants research grants

May 30, 1998 By MICHAEL WOODS, Toledo Blade.
SEATTLE -- Patient advocacy groups have quietly become a factor in the fiercely competitive process that the National Institutes of Health uses to select recipients of research grants, an official with the group acknowledged this week.

The organization's budget, which totaled $13.6 billion in 1998, funds most biomedical research in the United States. Despite increased congressional funding, only 1 in 3 grant applications is approved for funding each year.

The group portrays the process of selecting winning applications as based on scientific merit of the proposed project, its significance in advancing medical knowledge, the researcher's credentials, and other objective factors.

Dr. David Badman said those remain the only criteria at the initial stage of the review process used for roughly 10,000 applications submitted each year. He spoke here at the national meeting of the American Society for Gene Therapy. The session, "NIH Grantsmanship and Funding," gave scientists tips on how to get government money for their research. Badman is with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, an NIH component.

The initial review is done by "Study Sections." These are panels of scientists, sometimes consisting of 18 to 20 individuals, who read, evaluate, and discuss each application. They assign applications a priority score, a numerical ranking that reflects the quality of the application and helps determine its chances of getting funded.

Nonscience considerations enter at the next major stage in the organization's review process, according to Badman. The Study Section rankings for applications involving each NIH institute go to a National Advisory Council composed of scientist and nonscientist members. By law, each grant application needs to be approved by the council to be eligible for funding.

"There are a lot of public advocacy issues that enter at this stage," Badman said. "Advocacy groups put pressure on NIH and on Congress, and those things are taken into consideration by the advisory council. They consider not just the science, the merit, but public interest, advocacy, a lot of other issues."

Badman said the advisory council's recommendation may mean that an application with a lower priority score is bumped ahead of others with a higher score because it involves a disease supported by a strong advocacy group.

"That's really not fair," huffed a young California scientist after the session. He asked not to be named, noting that the organization had rejected one of his grant applications. "Nothing in the NIH grant application rules say that picking a 'politically correct' disease increases your chances of being funded. It's not fair to people with diseases without strong advocacy groups, either," he added.

Several other scientists expressed surprise that an advisory council could alter a study section's recommendations on priority score and scientific merit. Badman noted that grant applications reaching the advisory council stage all represent good science, proposed by competent researchers.

"I would say that the chances of a patient advocacy group getting an initiative going that is not well based on science is pretty small. "Usually they are very aware of scientific issues and the initiatives they push usually are based on science. So they don't necessarily conflict with the scientific process. What they do is result in a different emphasis."

Badman said many patient advocacy groups are active and effective in pushing the agendas of their members. He specifically cited those devoted to juvenile diabetes and leukemia. "Patient advocacy groups have their most visible impact in testifying at congressional hearings and urging additional funding for their diseases," Badman said.

Northern Ireland beef exports given all-clear

Wed, May 27, 1998  By Geoff Meade, Europe Editor, PA News
Northern Ireland's beef exports can resume next Monday, the Brussels Commission announced today -- sparking a new drive to get the trade ban lifted in the rest of the UK as soon as possible. The first breakthrough came more than two years after the ban was imposed in a bid to allay consumer fears over mad cow disease.

The Commission announced that Northern Ireland's anti-BSE safeguards were sufficient to justify the full restoration of beef exports from the province. The National Farmers' Union welcomed the decision as "fantastic" and president Ben Gill declared: "We are confident that in the near future we will also be celebrating the resumption of beet exports from England and Wales." The Scottish NFU is also battling to open up Scotland's exports within months.

But Brussels has made it clear that only Northern Ireland currently qualifies because of its long-established computerised checking system which monitors cattle movements and BSE-free herds. Similar sophisticated monitoring arrangements are not due in place in the rest of the UK for many months. But hopes of an end to the worldwide ban now rest on a separate scheme under consideration by Eurocrats, which would allow the export of meat from cattle born after August 1, 1996.

"We have a top quality product and there is no scientific reason whatsoever why the ban should not be completely lifted," insisted Mr Gill. He warned: "Nothing but the complete lifting of the ban will begin to alleviate the crisis being faced by the livestock sector." Today's unanimous Commission decision allows the resumption of exports of de-boned beef and "derived products" from Northern Ireland from June 1.

Now the race is on in the province to win back lucrative export orders which have been lost to rival suppliers since the worldwide ban was imposed by the Commission in March 1996. About 80% of Ulster's beef is exported and the trade generates 180 million a year.

Holland is likely to be one of the first of Ulster's traditional beef markets to start placing orders, with the province's beef producers confident that valuable customers in Italy, France, Spain and other key outlets will soon be placing large orders.

The Commission emphasised today that beef exports must derive solely from Northern Ireland: "Exports may only take place if they have been derived from animals which were born, raised and have remained in certified herds during their entire life.

"In addition, the entire production chain from slaughtering, cutting, further processing, storing and final despatch should take place in Northern Ireland in establishments reserved for the handling of eligible products. "To date, only two establishments in Northern Ireland are participating in this scheme."

EU lifts ulster beef exports ban

 Wed, May 27, 1998 By Geoff Meade, European Editor, PA News, in Brussels
Northern Ireland's beef exports can resume next Monday, the European Commission confirmed today. The restoration of trade comes more than two years after the mad cow scare prompted the Commission to impose a worldwide export blockade - and the rest of the UK's beef export market remains closed for the time being.

Ulster has been cleared because it has a computerised cattle monitoring system which Brussels says provides sufficient safeguards against the transmission of BSE. But similar checking systems guaranteeing that cattle from certified herds are disease-free have not yet been introduced in England, Scotland and Wales.

A Commission statement said exports of deboned beef and "derived products" from Northern Ireland could recommence from June 1. It went on: "Exports may only take place for these products if they have been derived from animals which were born, raised and have remained in certified herds during their entire life. "In addition, the entire production chain from slaughtering, cutting, further processing, storing and final dispatch should taker place in Northern Ireland in establishments reserved for the handling of eligible products. To date only two establishments in Northern Ireland are participating in the scheme".

The battle now begins in earnest to win back lucrative markets which have been lost to rival suppliers during the beef blockade. Ulster's export market is worth about 180 million a year, and rival suppliers have stepped in during the UK trade blockade to absorb the province's traditional outlets. It will take months to win back customers, but the Dutch are expected to be the first knocking on Ulster's door, with confidence gradually returning in other reliable buying countries like France, Italy and Spain.

A worldwide promotion of Ulster beef is likely if the export trade fails to take off quickly enough, as the province strives to restore in full outlets abroad which take 80% of the province's beef. A lifting of the ban in Ulster was agreed earlier this year by EU farm ministers but was put on hold until the Commission completed final checks on the anti-BSE measures.

Months before the BSE crisis destroyed Ulster exports of beef, the province had been celebrating a rise in exports, particularly to Scandinavian countries. More than 20,000 jobs depend on beef production in Northern Ireland - eight per cent of the workforce - and the British government has spent 1.5 billion in aid to farmers and slaughterhouses during the two-year ban. Despite the fact that 97% of Ulster beef herds have never had a case of BSE, the EU-wide ban, imposed on March 27 1996, still applied to the province.

Northern Ireland has only had 1,769 cases of Mad Cow Disease since 1988, compared to 170,677 cases in the UK as a whole, and Ulster farmers are bitter about the way they have been treated. President of the Ulster Farmers Union, Walter Elliott said: "Our real regret is that this whole ban has been a political rather that scientific or commercial exercise and it is our farmers who are the victims. "Even when this ban is lifted we will demand help from the British government who have done very little to help farmers during this time."

Meanwhile hopes are rising of a reprieve for beef farmers elsewhere in the EU, even before computerised systems to monitor animal health are in place. The Commission is pressing EU member states to allow the export of UK beef from cattle born after August 1 1996, the date when feeding meat and bonemeal to livestock first became a criminal offence. If continuing fears about BSE in countries like Germany can be overcome, the "date-based" scheme could be approved within a few months.

Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham said: "This is excellent news and an important day for the United Kingdom's beef industry. It is what we have worked for. We are making sustained efforts to win a wider lifting of the ban to benefit exporters throughout the United Kingdom.

"The next step is a proposal for a Date Based Export Scheme, under which meat from animals born after 1 August 1996 from all parts of the UK could be exported. This has been put to the Commission by the Agriculture Departments and comprehensively discussed with them."

Hogg rejects `too high bse payouts' claim

 Sat, May 23, 1998 By Alison Little, Political Correspondent, PA News
Tory former Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg today conceded that his Government may have paid higher fees than it need have done to slaughterers during the BSE crisis. But he denied it had "squandered" public money, insisting the need for swift action had not left time to put the process out to tender. According to the BBC, a National Audit Office report is to claim that the last Government squandered public money to protect the beef industry, paying too much compensation to farmers and abattoirs.

Former Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Paul Tyler, who has met the report's authors, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Government allowed the industry to run itself. "The renderers and big abattoirs made very handsome profits out of everyone else's misery. "They must have squandered millions of pounds of public money and I fear in the process did huge damage to the smaller abattoirs, who were frozen out, while lots of farmers were going to the wall."

Hogg told Today he rejected the claim of squandered money. He admitted: "It's probably true that we paid the abattoirs and renderers in the early stages a sum in excess of that which we would have done had we gone out to tender. "We didn't, for reasons of time, go out to tender."

The announcement of a probable link between BSE in beef and the human form of BSE, CJD, had led to "panic" among consumers, he said, and the beef market had "come to a standstill". The Government had introduced the scheme to slaughter cattle over 30 months old to reassure consumers by making sure only younger animals went onto the market. "We had to get that in place in a few weeks. We didn't have time to go out to tender."

Mr Hogg added that getting the slaughter programme in place quickly had been "absolutely imperative. I don't think the public will be critical". He believed that in this aspect of the BSE crisis, "we acted properly. "The measures I took then are still in force. "The present Government broadly has not changed the policy I put in place, although compensation payments have been reduced and the fees paid to renderers and abattoirs have changed through the tendering process, which we were in the process of doing anyway."

On compensation levels - farmers were able to get 87.50 per animal slaughtered - Mr Hogg conceded some farmers may have abused the scheme. But he believed the level of payments had been right. The Government had acted reasonably in the circumstances of the time.

A spokesman for the National Audit Office later confirmed that it was due to publish a report on the cost of the BSE crisis some time before Parliament's summer recess. The report examined the various schemes put in place to tackle the crisis, he said. But he declined to indicate the report's contents or conclusions.

Mr Tyler later told PA News, in response to Mr Hogg's comment: "It is quite unprecedented for a minister after leaving office to admit that his department were behaving like headless chickens - my words, not his - when the crisis first hit them." He added that Mr Hogg's explanation may have been a good excuse of the first few weeks of emergency, "but you can't pretend you're in an emergency situation for nine months".

He predicted the NAO report would provide important lessons for the future: "I hope there will never be another BSE crisis but I hope if there is something similar, that ministers and civil servants won't just wash their hands of the detailed application of schemes of this sort that run into many millions of pounds."

Vitamin E, microglia, free radicals, and CJD

Jack Challem, May 1996 issue of The Nutrition Reporter
In one of the most dramatic studies ever conducted on vitamin E, a team of researchers at Cambridge University found that supplements reduced the risk of non-fatal heart attacks by 77 percent. The benefits were clearly noticeable after taking the vitamin for just one year.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 2,002 patients, with an average age of 61, over 18 months. Angiography, a type of heart x-ray, confirmed that all of the patients had coronary atherosclerosis.

About half of the patients received either 400 IU or 800 IU of the natural form of the vitamin, d-alpha tocopherol, each day. The other half received dummy capsules. On average, blood levels of vitamin E rose by 49 percent among those taking 400 IU and by 88 percent among those taking 800 IU daily.

Patients taking vitamin E were one-fourth as likely to suffer a non-fatal heart attack, according to an article by Nigel G. Stephens, MRCP, and his colleagues in Lancet (March 23, 1996;347:781-6).

The findings were even more remarkable considering that the vitamin E group was generally at a high risk for "cardiovascular events." More than 37 percent had been diagnosed with serious coronary heart disease or already had triple-bypass surgery, and 24 percent had moderate or severe left ventricular dysfunction.

The researchers focused on non-fatal cases of myocardial infarction, or heart attack, because of the ability to precisely diagnose heart attacks through electrocardiography, cardiac enzyme measurements, and hospital records.

During the study, 23 of the placebo patients and 27 of the vitamin E patients died. Although deaths were slightly higher among people taking vitamin E, the researchers noted that the difference was not statistically significant and that most of the deaths occurred early in the study, before the vitamin E provided maximum benefits.

The researchers thought the vitamin E worked primarily by preventing free radical oxidative damage to cholesterol, considered a primary cause of coronary heart disease. But the study did not prove it.

"The study could not directly address the mechanism by which alpha-tocopherol reduces the risk of myocardial infarction," they wrote. "The extent of the risk reduction suggests that the benefit may be due to more than one mechanism, such as alpha-tocopherol-mediated reductions in platelet adhesion and aggregation, inhibition of vitamin-K-dependent clotting factors...and oxidised-LDL-mediated stimulation of endothelin production and inhibition of nitric oxide production. However, we believe that inhibition of oxidation is likely to exert its main effects by modification of plaque enlargement or plaque rupture."

According to the researchers, the benefits from vitamin E were greater than those from aspirin or cholesterol-lowering drugs. The use of vitamin E in the treatment of heart diseaseDo Free Radicals and Antioxidants Play Roles in "Mad Cow" Disease? It seems almost too incredible to be true, but free radicals and oxidative stress may be factors in the recent outbreak of "mad cow disease" and Creutzfelt-Jacob disease in England, two deadly neurological diseases.

According to laboratory experiments, antioxidants In March 1996, the British government's health secretary acknowledged that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, mad cow disease) in cattle was probably the cause of the recent wave of Creutzfelt-Jacob disease in people. Within days, beef consumption plummeted, and nation after nation banned the importation of British beef.

BSE, which has been infecting large numbers of British cattle and dairy cows since the 1980s, is caused by the abnormal behavior of proteins called prions, which are neither viruses nor bacteria. The disease carves holes in the brains of animals, causing progressive and irreversible neurological degeneration. Prions also cause scrapie, a similar neurological disease in sheep, and researchers believe that the disease-causing prions were transmitted to cattle when they were fed the remains of butchered sheep as a high-protein supplement.

Since then, Creutzfelt-Jacob disease, a rare neurological disease that affects people, has increased in incidence in England. Historically, Creutzfelt-Jacob disease has struck people in their 60s. But the new strain is affecting people in their 20s, with a particularly high cluster among English dairy farmers. Although there's no definitive evidence that eating BSE-tainted meat causes Creutzfelt-Jacob disease, the link is suspected.

The disease process appears to involve microglia, a type of brain and nervous system cell that normally collects metabolic waste products from nerve tissues, according to Hans A. Kretzschmar, PhD, and his colleagues at the University of Gottingen, Germany. In recent studies, Kretzschmar found that killing microglia outright stopped the damage to brain cells, suggesting that microglia play a pivotal role in prion diseases.

So Kretzschmar focused on the behavior of microglia. In an experiment described in the journal Nature (March 28, 1996; 380:345-347), he determined that prion-stimulated microglia release large amounts of free radicals, particularly superoxide radicals and nitric oxide, which destroy normal brain cells. Another experiment by Kretzschmar showed that vitamin E and N acetyl-cysteine block this damage.

"Oxidative stress is involved in this mechanism," Kretzschmar and his colleagues wrote. "Microglia are also activated in murine [mouse] scrapie and there is evidence that microglia are stimulated by beta-amyloid [an undesirable brain protein] to produce neurotoxic agents. Microglia appear to be an important mediator of neuronal death in degenerative diseases of the brain."

Kretzschmar's findings are consistent with a growing body of research showing that free radical damage may cause other brain diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases (Harman D, Age, 1995;18:97-119). In addition, the body's immune response to bacterial and viral infections releases large numbers of free radicals (Hickman P, et al., British Journal of Surgery, 1994;81:790-8).

It's conceivable that susceptibility to Creutzfelt-Jacob disease is aggravated by accumulating free radical, or oxidative, stresses. While there's no evidence vitamin E can cure BSE or Creutzfelt-Jacob disease, Kretzschmar's research points to a potential role of antioxidant therapy in slowing the disease's progression.

A radical mechanism for prion diseases?

Bernhard Schmidt et al. Nature 1 April 1996
Although the infectious agent that spreads bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and similar diseases is known, its actual mechanism remains a mystery. According to researchers in Germany, the brain damage associated with these diseases might be caused by free radical species running loose in the brain.

Unlike virtually every other disease, BSE and related conditions like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and scrapie in sheep are not spread by DNA-containing micro-organisms like bacteria and viruses. Instead, the infection is carried by a fragment of a protein known as a prion. Although the function of this protein is unknown, it's believed to be harmless. However, in BSE, a 'rogue fragment' of the prion, known as PrP5c, with a different confirmation from normal, enters the brain and causes other prions to distort so that they match its confirmation.

PrPSc is tiny, but its effects are devastating. The abnormal prion fragment destroys nerve cells, creating the characteristic spongy voids in the brain. Bernhard Schmidt and colleagues from the University of Gttingen in Germany are studying the effects of a fragment of the prion used as a model for PrP5c, which has similar nerve-killing powers, on cultures of various cells found in the brain. They hope to discover how this neuron destruction takes place (Nature, 1996, 380, 345).

Schmidt's team found that more nerve cells were killed by the prion fragment if the culture contained cells called microglia. These are non-nerve cells which form the scaffolding of the brain. To confirm that the microglia play a part in the process, the team killed them off with a toxic amino acid ester - and, indeed, more nerve cells survived.

The researchers believe that this effect is connected to the microglia's other role in the brain. They act as 'scavengers', releasing short-lived but potent free radicals like superoxide and nitric oxide to 'mop up' neurotransmitter chemicals that have served their function. The prion fragment seems to stress the microglia, making them produce more of these radicals, which then attack the cells around them. Indeed, they claim, adding antioxidants like vitamin E to the cultures also inhibits the neurons' destruction.

The researchers warn that their fragment isn't a perfect model for PrPSc. Although it kills neurons both in vitro and in vivo (in mice) in the same way as PrPSc, it isn't infectious and doesn't convert normal prions to a harmful form.

However, they add, there is already evidence that microglia are active in the brains of scrapie-infected sheep, and that these cells produce nerve cell-toxic substances in the presence of beta-amyloid, the protein associated with Alzheimer's disease. As the concern and hysteria mount about possible links between BSE and human CJD, could this be a starting-point for pharmacology's long fight against these conditions?

New variant CJD `could claim thousands of lives'

Wed, Jun 3, 1998 By Paul Peachey, PA News

A scientific team that discovered the link between mad cow disease and a new form of CJD today warned that it could claim thousands of lives. Members of the CJD Surveillance Unit admitted today they were in the dark about the effects of the new form of the disease that has already killed 25 people. One other person is known to have new variant CJD.

Speaking at the BSE inquiry today, Mr Simon Cousens, an epidemiologist for the unit, said it was impossible to know how many deaths there would be because the incubation period for the disease could be more than 30 years. He said: "At the moment it's really not possible to say whether there might be few more than a dozen or up to 100 or many thousands."

It emerged today that important research into the disease at the Institute of Animal Health, in Edinburgh, was delayed because of building work. A third floor conversion delayed work which could have ended the row about the link between BSE and CJD earlier, according to the research team. But unit director, Dr Robert Will, said: "There was an effect, although at the end of the day ... I don't think it would have brought forward the identification of new variant CJD."

Neuropathologist Dr James Ironside, led the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, opened in 1991, five years after BSE was discovered in cattle. In a statement to the inquiry, Dr Ironside's evidence made clear that the unit was set up specifically to look for evidence of BSE affecting people, despite government assurances at the time that beef was safe to eat. But fears were prompted in 1995 with the deaths of patients under 45 which was unusual in a disease that affected mainly the elderly.

Although brain examinations showed there appeared to be a new variant of CJD, no immediate link was drawn, the inquiry heard. Dr Will told the inquiry: "It was clearly a matter of concern. It was impossible at that time to reach any definite conclusion." Ten cases were identified before the then Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, made an announcement about nvCJD on March 20 1996, sparking the beef crisis. Analysis of the nvCJD showed the average age of the victims was 29, compared with 66 for "classical CJD".

But the specific causes of nvCJD still baffled the team, the inquiry heard. Despite clusters of the disease in Kent, Mr Cousens said: "The geographical distribution appears to be random. There is absolutely no evidence that cases lived closer to rendering plants than the general population."

Although the team said there was "very powerful" evidence that BSE caused nvCJD, Mr Cousens added that he was not convinced young people were more at risk because they were more likely to eat hamburgers and kebabs than the elderly.

"Personally, I'm not convinced that the gradient in exposure is sufficiently strong to explain a complete absence of cases of people aged over 53. It's still a bit of a mystery."

The team said they believed no cases had slipped through the net before the new form of the disease was identified. Dr Will said: "My belief now is that these cases were not being missed in the past, although it took us some time to obtain relevant evidence." The inquiry continues.

Britain's Famous Cattle Market Closes down

COMTEX Newswire Thu, Jun 4, 1998
LONDON - Banbury market, one of Britain's most famous cattle markets, closed on Thursday due to lack of trading caused by mad cow disease. Banbury market in Oxfordshire, northwest of London, is one of Britain's oldest with a history stretching back as early as 11th century.

Once the biggest in Britain, the market has occupied its current site since the mid-1920s. The international ban on British beef exports, imposed in March 1996 because of mad cow disease, was the main reason behind the closure of the market.

Jim Watson, chairman of the Midland Marts in Banbury, said the cattle market was losing between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds (16,300 U.S. dollars) a week. Other British livestock markets were heading for closure as more farmers switched to crops from cattle because of falling beef prices, he added.

More than 100 people will lose their jobs and the decision to close has been partly blamed on delays in getting government authorization for a new market. Incomes fell along with a regional decline in cattle numbers and livestock prices. Some livestock farmers had also been rushing into producer clubs, which supply the best quality cattle directly to supermarkets.

E.U. Official To Seek Easing Of U.K. Beef Export Ban

Dow Jones Thu, Jun 4, 1998
BRUSSELS --The European Union Commission's top agriculture official will press ahead next week with a plan to ease further the E.U. ban on British beef exports, an E.U. farm official said Thursday. E.U. Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler will seek Wednesday full Commission approval of a plan to allow the export of beef from U.K. animals born after Aug. 1, 1996, the official told Dow Jones Newswires.

Approval of the 'date-based' British beef export plan by the 20-member Commission, the E.U. executive, would need to be followed by an endorsement of it by E.U. member-country veterinary officials or E.U. agriculture ministers. Formal E.U. approval of the plan isn't likely this month, though E.U. agriculture ministers could find the issue on the agenda of a June 22 meeting in Luxembourg, the official said. This is partly because the U.K. government, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, is keen to have the issue discussed formally before its presidency ends June 30, the official said.

In any case, for the farm ministers to discuss the matter this month, it would have to be considered formally and passed on to the ministers by the veterinary officials before June 22. They have a meeting scheduled shortly before then, the official said. The move to ease further the E.U. ban on British beef exports follows a Commission decision last month to allow the export from June 1 of beef from Northern Ireland certified to be free of 'mad cow' disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The date-based scheme would allow the export of U.K. beef from animals born after the U.K. banned the use of cattle and sheep remains in animal feed and prohibited farms from even holding those remains. BSE is believed to have spread through BSE-infected animal feed. The E.U. banned the export of British beef in March 1996 after the U.K. announced a possible link between BSE in British beef and a fatal brain ailment in humans called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The U.K. has reported the vast majority of BSE cases in Europe.

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