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BSE Inquiry Web site hits top 10
Advocates warn Congress of Alzheimer's growing threat
Rumored new victims
Lacey Claims On Buried BSE Cattle
Ministry blocked controls on BSE-infected cattle feed
Cows, Cannibals and the CJD Catastrophe: Jennifer Cooke's new book
How to dig a deeper BSE hole

BSE Website hits the top 10

PA News Tue, Mar 24, 1998 By Jo Butler, Consumer Affairs Correspondent 
The website set up to track the progress of the BSE inquiry has been voted one of the top 10 on the Web, it was announced today. More than 52,000 "hits" have been recorded from people wanting to access the site from as far afield as Bermuda, Botswana, New Zealand, Nepal and more than 50 other countries worldwide.

The site, which only went live earlier this month, was voted number 10 in a poll of the best sites on the Web carried out by Emap publishing. Information on the pages includes daily transcripts of the inquiry's proceedings, all witness statements, daily timetables, and a chronology of the development of CJD and BSE. So far 5,000 copies of daily transcripts and 3,000 witness statements have been downloaded by site visitors.

Inquiry chairman Sir Nicholas Phillips, a pioneer in the use of technology in courtrooms, said: "The fact that our Internet site has been so successful demonstrates the importance attached to the BSE Inquiry throughout the world. "The inquiry is dealing with a vast amount of material and our IT systems are designed to help us make proper use of this."

Advocates warn Congress of Alzheimer's growing threat

The Associated Press March 24, 1998 By ALICE ANN LOVE 
Alz growing incidence r1c2 Unless scientists find a way to prevent or cure Alzheimer's, the number of Americans with the brain-degenerating disease could more than triple as the population ages.

"Many of our nation's baby boomers have a time bomb ticking in their heads today," said Stephen McConnell, a spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association, which lobbied Congress on Tuesday for $100 million in new research money.

The group's projections -- based on census data and the prevalence of Alzheimer's now -- indicated that by 2050, when the youngest baby boomers will be in their 80s, 14 million Americans could suffer from the disease, compared with 4 million today.

"And that figure only counts the patients who are affected, it doesn't count the husbands and the wives and the children and the brothers and the sisters," said Rosemary Cronin of Dubuque, Iowa, whose husband Bob was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago.

Cronin testified Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that allots money for health programs. Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he hopes to boost government spending on Alzheimer's research from about $340 million this fiscal year to $440 million in 1999, but "candidly, it is easier said than done.""On Capitol Hill you sometimes get a lot of smiles, but not a lot of cash," Specter said.

Alzheimer's is an irreversible neurological disorder that destroys brain cells, robbing people of memory. It most commonly shows up in people over age 65. Medicare, the cash-strapped health program for the elderly, spends on average more than $3,000 a year extra on each senior citizen who has it.

New drugs may help slow its progress, and substances such as vitamin E have shown preventative potential, but more study is needed, said Dr. Steven DeKosky, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Alzheimer's Disease Center."If we don't start now, with this money we are asking from Congress, it will be too late," DeKosky said.

Rumored new CJD victims

30 Mar 98 newspapers, web sites, correspondence
London Times: According to David Body, solicitor for the families of nvCJD victims, there have been 27 cases.

Seac meeting: 24th case of nvCJD announced, age not given. Possibly 57-year old.

Dealler: Possibly 3 cases of nvCJD in Belgium. There may be 2 or 3 cases that are being investigated in Antwerp. New evidence appears that two of the cases of CJD may have been nvCJD. These were two cases that died in 1994 one was age 34 and the other 36. They lived near to each other near to Antwerp. The 34 year old got a post mortem but the other was diagnosed clinically. Originally the pathologist said that the sample of the brain of the 34 yr old was sent to Austria (this has now been checked and is not true) it was then claimed to have gone to Edinburgh (also now found not to be true).

Patrick Cras responds:

Dept. of Neurology	University Hospital of Antwerp
I am the neuropathologist involved in studying CJD in Antwerp Belgium. The above rumor, from a journalist of the Gazet van Antwerpen, is incorrect.

At present, we are studying 107 cases of CJD in Belgium, some of them dating back to 1962. There is one possible nvCJD case autopsied in Ghent, which is being investigated by Gerard Jansen, a neuropathologist in Utrecht (the Netherlands). At present, no case has been identified as nv CJD. The progress of our study can be followed at our site (which is at present in Dutch).

BSE Inquiry: "A most distinguished American neurosurgeon developed CJD after accidentally cutting himself when carrying out a biopsypage on the brain of a patient who subsequently proved to have CJD, and he ultimately died from it, name given as Dr. Donald Matheson. "

"A nurse at Emory University Hospital here in Atlanta has told me about a 32 year old man who is being tested for CJD. She said the guy was undergoing all the same tests performed on a previous CJD victim, and she is trying to get more information. He was moved from her floor to the neurology specialty wing."

First new British mad cow case reported in three months

1998 Agence France-Presse LONDON (March 25, 1998)
The first new British human case in three months of the fatal new strain of the human equivalent of mad cow disease has been reported to scientists advising the government, it was disclosed Wednesday. The total number of confirmed British cases of the new strain of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD), which the government linked to mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), in March 1996, now stands at 24.

The new case was disclosed in a Ministry of Agriculture report on the last meeting of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) which advises the government on the progress of CJD and measures to avoid its spread.The committee, which met on March 9, noted that the number of BSE cases was continuing to decline.

But it also urged London to initiate further research into the possibility that some cattle which do not show any symptoms of mad cow disease may carry BSE. Experiments had shown that in certain conditions BSE-type agents can exist in mice without making them ill.

Japanese CJD patients, family demand 400 mil. yen in damages

 COMTEX Newswire Tue, Mar 24, 1998
TOKYO -- Patients suffering from a fatal brain illness and their relatives Tuesday filed two lawsuits demanding a total of 400 million yen in damages from the state and two companies for allegedly inflicting the disease on the patients.

Eight people filed the lawsuits at the Tokyo and Otsu district courts, demanding damages for five patients with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) who contracted the illness after receiving imported dura mater, the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal chord, through transplant operations. Two of the five patients have died from CJD.

The plaintiffs said the state, a German company, B. Braun, that produced the dura mater, a Tokyo-based importer and its officials were responsible for inflicting the illness on the five patients. The filing brings to seven the number of CJD patients demanding compensation through lawsuits.

At the Tokyo District Court, two family members of a man in Chiba Prefecture who died in 1997 after being diagnosed with CJD in June 1996, and a female patient in Hokkaido filed the suit. At the Otsu District Court in Shiga Prefecture, western Japan, five patients and relatives, including a male patient in Osaka and a female patient in Fukuoka, filed the lawsuit. The five patients received the imported dura mater in transplant operations between 1980 and 1987, and were diagnosed with CJD between 1995 and 1997, the plaintiffs said.

Tetsuji Abe, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Tokyo trial, said the five have been recognized by the Health and Welfare Ministry as CJD patients who have undergone dura mater transplant operations, adding that he hopes to prove the state's responsibility in the suit.

Meanwhile, Takako Tani, 43, who filed a similar suit against the state, the Otsu city government and two Japanese companies in November 1996, filed a lawsuit Tuesday with the Otsu District Court against the German manufacturer seeking 100 million yen in compensation.

What happened at Pitsham Farm?

BSE Inquiry Week 1
Q. I would like to ask you about what happens with fallen stock? If you had sick cattle and they had to be slaughtered and disposed of, how was that dealt with at Pitsham Farm?

A. They would go to either the knacker or to the hunt kennels. In Pitsham Farm's case, the majority would go to the hunt kennels. Petworth Hunt is relatively close to Pitsham Farm.

Q. At that time, would the hunt come and pick up fallen stock?

A. Yes, and the farmer would get some money for the fallen stock, a little, but he would get something.

The jolly good cow

The modern dairy cow, which is producing a lot of milk -- Peter Stent's is not a particularly high-yielding herd, his probably would have been 6,500 litres per year. But we have herds now producing 13,000 litres of milk per year. That cow is a different animal than the cow which was around 30 years ago when the farmer would say, if she is a 1,000 gallon cow, 4,500 litres, she is a jolly good cow.

Things have moved on. Her breeding is different. She needs a different way of being looked after if she herself is going to remain happy and healthy. One of the things she needs is what is known as "bypass protein". The cow is a ruminant and digests food in her rumin. If soluble sources of protein go into the rumin, they dissolve and are utilised as a nitrogen source by rumin microbes. The cow needs some of that, yes, to help her digest food and produce milk and suchlike, but she also needs protein, which does not get digested in the rumin and goes on down to the lower parts of the gastro-intestinal tract, and are absorbed there.

Even now, it is quite common for cattle to be fed on fish. Fishmeal is a common component of cattle diet. Meat and bonemeal, apart from the tragedy of what it also contained, from the cow's point of view, is a splendid food. It contains the right sort of protein, which largely bypasses digestion in the rumin and is available lower down the intestinal tract

Q. We now have cows which are bred so as to make this, from what you are saying, a necessary part of their diet, is that right?

A. It is a necessary part. If you have a high-yielding cow and you try to feed her for a low yield, she does not look after herself, she falls about, she loses weight, she does not get in calf. She needs to be fed according to her genotype.

Q. So we have bred animals which need to have an artificial food?

A. No, you can do the same feeding with natural foods, so we are now doing the same thing using soya and rape seed as protein sources, rather than meat and bonemeal. My opinion is that they are not as good from the cow's point of view as the more insoluble and less rumin degraded protein sources are.

Generally, a cow will -- assuming she calves herself, the afterbirth should be voided within six hours or so of the calf having been born. Very often, the cow will eat the afterbirth herself. It is the one time that a cow can officially be a carnivore. Failing that, it gets put out with the muck. It is dragged out and treated as compostable material.

Q. Might it be discharged in the field or out on the pasture?

A. Yes, it could be on the field, or it could be -- depending on where the cow is calving.

Q. Might other animals ingest it rather than a ruminant?

A. Yes, badgers and foxes certainly.

Q. What about other cows?

A. Other cows would not eat it.

32 dairy cows eat themselves to death

Associated Press March 27, 1998
Thirty-two dairy cows ate themselves to death after one of them shook loose a pipe on an automatic feeding machine and spilled tons of grain.

When dairy farmers Bobby and Judy Odermann awoke Sunday to milk their 70 Holsteins and Jerseys, they saw a feeding frenzy.By afternoon, two were dead, and 30 more soon suffered equally painful deaths.If cows eat too much grain too quickly, it triggers a chemical chain reaction that creates too much acid.

"A cow will eat grain until it dies," said Michael Paros, a veterinarian. "They just don't know any better."The Odermanns said the cows were worth as much as $45,000. They said the accident could put their farm out of business

Lacey Claims On Buried BSE Cattle

Thu, 19 Mar 1998 PA News  By Jackie Storer
Agriculture Minister Dr Jack Cunningham today questioned claims by food scientist Professor Richard Lacey that farmers were secretly burying BSE-infected cattle.

Dr Cunningham told the Commons the allegations were doubtful because farmers taking such action would lose out on cash payments of between 531 and 663 on every animal found to have mad cow disease.

Prof Lacey told the BSE inquiry in South London this week that figures showing a fall in cases of BSE-infected cattle were unreliable because farmers were burying the carcasses to avoid reporting them.

Responding to the claims at question time, Dr Cunningham told MPs the UK Renderers Association had never met or discussed any issue with Prof Lacey. He went on to welcome the EU's lifting of the beef export ban regarding herds in Northern Ireland that were certified BSE-free. It was the "first crucial step towards lifting the ban for the UK as a whole", he stressed.

Dr Cunningham stressed his annoyance with Prof Lacey's claims and said: "BSE is a notifiable disease and such burials would of course be an offence. "From April this year, if BSE cases are confirmed by post mortem, the farmer would receive 531 pounds and if it was not confirmed and the animal destroyed, the farmer would receive 663.

Dr Cunningham said: "The culture of secrecy in MAFF ended on May 3, 1997, (after the General Election) and I've made it clear to all officials in MAFF that they are free to give whatever evidence they think appropriate to the inquiry without any question of any action being taken against them subsequently."

Dumping of mad cows in the countryside

Last week there was a short report with two interviews and pictures of dead cattle on a rubbish-tip and in a river from the European TV channel EuroNews. They stated that farmers in Scotland and Kent did not report their BSE cases to the authorities, but buried them on open rubbish tips or simply in the forest and rivers.

A similar problem has overtaken North America with the restraints on MBM. Renders will not collect dead animals. However, if you live near a vet school the charge for a necropsy, including later incineration, is frequently less than what one has to pay to have the carcass hauled. But the owner has to deliver it.

Tony Pearce writes:
" My fallen cattle used to be collected for free and now I am being charged uk50 and it costs me uk10 to bury it."

Ministry blocked controls on BSE-infected cattle feed

March 21 1998 Michael Hornsby	Times
THE "mad cow" epidemic that has killed 171,000 cattle could have been curtailed if controls on potentially infected feed had not been scuppered by the Ministry of Agriculture, it was disclosed yesterday.

A reluctance by the ministry, then headed by Gillian Shephard, to undermine the Thatcher Government's deregulation policy by imposing extra constraints on the animal feed industry culminated in allowing the disease to spread, documents obtained by the BSE inquiry show.

In pursuing this approach, the ministry overrode the misgivings of the Department of Health and the recommendation of a government-appointed group of experts which it had accepted 18 months earlier under John Gummer. The group proposed the creation of a permanent advisory committee on feedstuffs, because of concern that the ban on feeding cattle with ruminant meat and bone meal was not being fully observed. Use of such feed had been prohibited in July 1988 because of scientific evidence that it was the most likely route by which BSE had passed to and then spread among cattle. It is now known that thousands of cattle were exposed to infected feed after the ban.

Eric Lamming, Emeritus Professor of Animal Physiology at Nottingham University, who chaired the group, told the inquiry yesterday of his dismay at learning in December 1993 that the Government had "backtracked" on the feedstuffs committee proposal it had accepted in June 1992. "I was certainly very disappointed," Professor Lamming said. "But I felt that we were not empowered to object to what was actually occurring."

Nicholas Soames, then the junior Agriculture Minister with responsibility for food safety, told the Commons at the end of 1993 that the Government had decided that existing committees could advise adequately on feedstuffs. In an internal letter sent to Baroness Cumberlege, a junior Health Minister, in late July of the same year, Mr Soames wrote: "The main thing that worries me is that if we set up the proposed committee it is almost bound to recommend tightening regulations or other forms of controls."

The letter was among documents obtained by the inquiry. These show that by early July 1993, Ministry of Agriculture and Department of Health officials had come up with proposals for the membership of a feedstuffs committee. Later that same month, however, the Ministry of Agriculture's Food Safety Group, effectively scuppered the proposals by refusing to recommend them to ministers.

An internal memo circulated by Brian Dickinson, then the head of the Food Safety Group, said: "A committee of the kind proposed is almost bound to recommend, at some stage, changes in regulations or the way in which the feeding-stuffs industry operates. To set up the committee would, therefore, add to the pressure for regulation when we are trying to go the other way."

Colin Maclean, now director of the Meat and Livestock Commission, who was another member of the Lamming expert group, told the inquiry that he and his colleagues had been worried. "We were beginning to get hints that the integrity of the feed ban was not perfect," he said. Professor Lamming told how three years later, in June 1996, he had again written to the Minister of Agriculture, then Douglas Hogg, to urge the need for an independent feedstuffs committee. Two months later Mr Hogg's private secretary, Marcus Nisbet, replied, repeating the earlier reasons for refusing to set up the committee.

Cows, Cannibals and the CJD Catastrophe: Jennifer Cooke's new book

Australian CDJ Support 20 Mar 98
The book, 'Cannibals, Cows and the CJD Catastrophe, Tracing the Shocking Legacy of a 20th Century Disease' can be published from Random House Australia for $24.95 and $8.00 freight charge. This book was been in the works for some time and came out on 26 Feb 98, 4 months late because of a Random House takeover. Jennifer Cook is an investigative reporter in Australia for the Sydney Morning Herald who has been following the 2,100 people who received pituitary hormones from 67-85. The cumulative toll worldwide from pituitary is given as 110 and from dura mater as 70, with no end in sight. Cooke's research over the past four years included covering CJD Litigation in London's High Court in April and May 1996 and interviews with experts in Edinburgh, London, Washington, Cape Town, Ottawa, Paris, Melbourne and Sydney.

Book Review

Reuters World Report Sun, Mar 22, 1998   By Paul Tait
The book "Cannibals, Cows and the CJD Catastrophe" tells a story its author says begins and ends in mortuaries and suggests the disease might be spread far wider than was ever imagined.

"Speculation on how many people will succumb to the disease from a variety of accidental means of transmission is fairly useless at this stage," Jennifer Cooke, author of "Cannibals, Cows and the CJD Catastrophe," told Reuters. "It will be a long waiting game because CJD can incubate without displaying symptoms for more than four decades."

A British inquiry that started last week was set up after scientists in 1996 linked mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE -- to a new variant of CJD (nvCJD). So far 24 nvCJD cases have been confirmed in Britain and France but the long incubation period makes it impossible to predict how many more will be affected.

"The whole population of the United Kingdom and a good part of Europe have been exposed," Professor Colin Masters, head of Australia's CJD Registry, told Reuters. "We know that the material has been widely spread in the human food chain."

Cooke's book opens with crusading U.S. doctor Carleton Gajdusek removing the brain of a CJD victim with a carving knife and handsaw in a storm-tossed makeshift morgue in PNG and goes on to detail all known forms of the disease. About 3,000 people from the Fore tribe in PNG have died from the disease they call "kuru," the local word for shivering, contracted after eating dead relatives as a mourning rite.

"At the peak of the epidemic in the 1950s it was the major cause of death in (Fore) women and children," Masters said. CJD and mad cow disease are the two best known types of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). All forms of TSEs have three common threads -- the agent that activates them is unknown, they all bore microscopic holes in the brain of their victim, and they are always fatal.

Most TSEs also involve either direct cannibalism or the re-use of body parts in agriculture or medicine. Gajdusek's work with the Fore proved the link to direct cannibalism and won him the 1976 Nobel prize for medicine. Feeding meal containing TSE-contaminated sheep and cattle offal to cows has been blamed for the development of mad cow disease. Scrapie in sheep is a related disease. In 1996, the BSE-nvCJD prompted widespread bans on British beef exports, only some of which have been eased.

Links from the medical cannibalisation of body parts have also been established. More than 100 people in the United States, Britain, France, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand died from CJD after receiving human growth hormone (hGH) injections as children before artificial hGH became available in 1986. In Australia, four women died after thousands were treated with an injectable fertility drug taken from pituitary glands removed from the brains of bodies in morgues.

There are concerns the disease might be transmitted through blood transfusions. Britain has ordered that blood plasma must be imported where possible after British donors were discovered to have CJD. British microbiologist John Pattison, who established the BSE-nvCJD link, told a conference in Atlanta last week that he feared a new outbreak of nvCJD through blood transfusions.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting in Geneva last month was told that the possibility of an epidemic of CJD over the next 10 to 15 years could not dismissed.

The complexity of the diseases is being addressed by the British inquiry, under former senior judge Sir Nicholas Phillips. So complicated are the issues that the inquiry, originally set to last 12 months at a cost of about 10 million pounds (US$16 million), has already been extended to 18 months. "This is the first time in the world that a government, as a public health regulator for its population, has had to examine its own past actions," Cooke said.

Two other new or forthcoming books of interest to the non-scientist:

Fatal Protein: The Story of CJD, BSE, and other Prion Diseases / by Rosalind Ridley and Harry Baker. Oxford University Press, May 1998 (tentative). ISBN: 0198524358.

The Trembling Mountain: A Personal Account of Kuru, Cannibals and Mad Cow Disease / by Robert Klitzman.. Plenum Press, May 1998. ISBN: 030645792X

How to dig a deeper BSE hole

25 Mar 1998 Independant opinion Simon Furnival see Web site
Fears are growing that the UK Government, not happy with the hole it is in over BSE, is about to do some more digging in the multi- billion pound programme to rid Britain of older cattle.

Honouring the politicians' promises to Europe in 1996 means destroying about 5 million cows at the end of their lives. These are the non-infected ex-milkers which would once have been turned into burgers, but are now banned from human food. Until these are disposed of British beef is banned throughout the world, with catastrophic effects for farmers.

Culling them in existing abattoirs was the easy part, and more than 2 million have now been slaughtered. But suitable incinerators did not exist. From the start the Government wanted to have the carcasses burned directly after slaughter in up to 30 new dedicated plants as near as possible to the source.

Nine firms won contracts to build these plants to designs approved by the Environment Agency. Their operation came under Integrated Pollution Control and the new National Air Quality Strategy, and the burning process (at up to 1000'C) went beyond what scientists advised as necessary to destroy the infective Drion protein. All the costs and risks of setting up were to be borne by the contractors.

That was before public opinion got involved. After ferocious protests from a motley coalition of environmentalists, nimbys and dissident scientists at proposed incinerator sites from Cornwall to Yorkshire only a handful of the incinerators needed have been approved; more than half the contractors have dropped out, and plants now being developed could burn only about one in six of the carcasses now coming from slaughter.

The rest (now about half a million tonnes) is being stored until a solution is found. But to save the cost of storing it as carcasses, forget current technology - all waste from the cull to date has now been rendered (ground up and cooked) in old plants into so-called Meat-and-Bone-Meal and tallow, which while not exactly sterile can be stored (for years if necessary) without freezing. John Prescott campaigned on the proliferation of MBM stores before the election.

Remember rendering? This is the time-honoured way, still in use, of getting oils from waste to make soap, candles, cosmetics... It means boiling up otherwise unusable animal parts at temperatures around 130'C (which certainly do not destroy the prion) in plants invariably falling short of modern standards. With the cull renderers have been busier than ever.

Renderers are not subject to Integrated Pollution Control and under present law can often expand their activities without planning permission. Oh yes, and nearly all the renderers in this country are tied to one commercial group with excellent political links. When MAFF re-awarded slaughter contracts to abattoirs last year mysteriously they all went to firms with contracts with renderers.

In the good old days the unusable MBM from rendering was tipped into holes in the ground; most still is, but of course MBM from the cattle cull can't be. Not if anyone's looking, that is. One renderer in Kent who deals with the cull has been the subject of repeated allegations about the way it disposes of washings to surrounding chalk farmland. MBM from other renderers has been traced to landfills in Norfolk, Buckinghamshire and Merseyside.

So what should happen to MBM from the cull? Some is burned now in the one plant in Britain available for this. It could be used as fuel but is sticky, acidic and difficult to handle. Incinerators designed for carcasses can't handle it. In 1996 tests were done of burning MBM at 1500C in power stations; this was a "success" - the prion was destroyed - but it caused damage into seven figures to the power station equipment, and brought threats of industrial action from power station workers.

The renderers are interested in burning the waste as fuel to power their other processes, and one renderer has got permission for the necessary plant to do this. But installing the equipment necessary to handle MBM would require long and profitable contracts. Last year the Government sought sealed bids for disposal of the MBM stockpile and accepted none of them.

But now it's negotiating with power generators, renderers and others with existing capacity to burn all future waste from the cull as MBM. So (apart from what is contracted as carcasses to existing incinerators) all the cull from now on (another 3 million beasts perhaps) will first pass through rendering.

Total madness? Well... last year when the renderers didn't like the terms on offer they simply closed their doors for a week. This year they don't need to close their doors. In return for setting up to burn the existing stockpile of MBM they can have all the work they want from the rest of the cull without any problems about environmental standards.

Last year on average the cost of rendering and burning at #200 a tonne was twice that of direct incineration. That's only money of course - what those who live near renderers will be thinking about is the effect on their air and water of rendering all those extra carcasses.

What's Happening to the BSE cull?

Is the Government attempting a risky u-turn over BSE?

When the link between BSE in cows and human CJD was recognised in 1996, the EU ruled that 5 million British cows not suffering from the disease must be destroyed as a precaution. They were to be culled at the end of their working lives and the carcasses burnt in specially built incinerators designed to avoid any risk of infection (even if a few animals were incubating the disease), in a programme originally costed at #2.5 billion.

But fierce public opposition to the incinerators has crippled the programme and the remains of 2 million cows are now stored all over the country. As recently as last November Ministers said they still wanted to burn the carcasses. But with the cost of the programme now over #4 billion and no prospect of an end to the ban on British beef, it seems a quiet rethink took place. The Agency in charge of the programme was told to study getting rid of the waste as fuel in power stations and elsewhere.

The results of this study are due any day and are expected to show that, if handling problems can be overcome, cattle waste could be used as industrial fuel, at a price.

The problems are that the material suitable as fuel, greaves or Meat-and-Bone-Meal and tallow, is made by rendering down the carcasses at cooking temperatures, a traditional means of getting oils for soap. Fortunately for the Government, rendering plants benefit from a loophole in the law and are not subject to Integr- -ated Pollution Control, strictly administered by the Environment Agency.

And of course preparing oils for soap does not require the material to be fully sterilised, let alone to the standard necessary against the BSE agent. Scientists believe the uncertain length of the incubation period means prions should be assumed to be present in very small quantities even in healthy carcasses, so the risk remains of the infection being spread, perhaps via groundwater.

Surprisingly enough, the study of the use of MBM as fuel is understood to be in the hands of the country's largest renderer, who wants to use the material to power his own processes. He may also want to ensure that all the rest of the cull (3 million animals) goes to rendering (whatever happens to it afterwards).

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