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MAFF lied all along
The woman who discovered BSE
Disease Spread Due To Delay: 35% more bad meat eaten
Fresh deceit from Wells
Garbled history from Toynbee
MAFF: 100 year cover-up on bovine TB

Vets 'wasted two years' in battle against BSE

9 February 98 Telegraph  By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
GOVERNMENT vets wasted a year in the fight against mad cow disease by overlooking the first recognised case and another through delays in tests to establish the nature of the epidemic.

A researcher into scrapie, the sheep equivalent, said scientists could have reacted to news of the first BSE case in weeks, rather than years. The Ministry of Agriculture has always said the first case was confirmed in November 1986 in Kent by the Central Veterinary Laboratory.

But Government experts had discovered the disease more than a year earlier, one of a number of oversights detailed in a four part BBC2 series, Mad Cows and Englishmen, starting on Sunday.

[The BBC has some interesting audio but no transcripts of Bee, Richardson, and Anderson. - webmaster]

A post mortem report by Carol Richardson, from the Central Veterinary Laboratory, dated Sept 19 1985, reveals how she had seen spongiform encephalopathy in brain tissue from a Fresian from Peter Stent's farm near Midhurst, West Sussex. She said seven others had earlier been lost with "nervous" symptoms. A vet, David Bee, had seen the first cases before Christmas 1984.

No reference to this outbreak was made by Dr Gerald Wells and colleagues at the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Surrey when they published the first description of the symptoms and pathology of the Kent case in Oct 1987 in The Veterinary Record.

A letter to the laboratory from the Veterinary Investigation Centre near Winchester in June 1987 also referred to the Carol Richardson case and to another from the same farm a year later. The first case officially noted followed a report from Colin Whitaker, a vet from Ashford, puzzled by strange behaviour in the dairy herd at Plurenden Manor Farm that dated back to April 1985.

When Mr Whitaker described the cases to a meeting in London, Mr Bee realised that it was the same disease that had been diagnosed as cow scrapie by Carol Richardson. Dr Wells had even reviewed and amended her "cow scrapie" report, first within a few days of it being written and then in June, 1987. But he made no reference to it in his Veterinary Record paper, even though her report referred to "neuronal vacuolation" in the midbrain and brain stem that is typical of scrapie in sheep and the disease we now call BSE.

He had also changed her diagnosis from mild to moderate vacuolation, on first examining the pathology slides, though he blamed it on a toxic cause. With hindsight, he told the BBC2 programme, the Stent cases were the first investigated but he said he lacked information to put the findings into context.

Nine months later, a type of antelope, a nyala, died of spongiform disease. The findings were reported but it took the chief veterinary officer 18 months to clear the article.

The woman who discovered BSE

9 Feb 97 Telegraph Science Editor Roger Highfield
THE first person to recognise that scrapie, the sheep disease, may have infected cows to cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was Carol Richardson, a pathologist at the Central Veterinary Laboratory.

The events that led to the discovery began on Dec 22, 1984, when David Bee, a vet in Petersfield, Hants, was contacted by Peter Stent, a farmer, after one of his dairy cows began behaving strangely and did not respond to treatment.

"She'd lost weight. She was looking unwell and her back was up in the air," said Mr Bee, who describes his experience in Mad Cows and Englishmen, a four-part series for BBC2, starting on Sunday at 8.05pm.

On routine visits to the Pitsham Farm in West Sussex, he found it "really spooky" when he noticed that the problem was spreading to other cows. The original cow was by then worse, showing head tremor. It died the next February.

The vet followed a number of leads without success, dubbing it "Pitsham Farm Syndrome". By then, Mr Stent had lost nine cows and had become desperate, taking the 10th victim to the local ministry laboratory.

The head was sent to the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, where its brain was examined by Ms Richardson. She said: "My specialisation is foetal pathology but in September 1985 I acted as a duty pathologist."

She can still remember that it was a "nice sunny day" when, on Sept 19, 1985, she looked into a microscope and saw tiny holes, or vacuolations, in stained sections of the cow brain, a feature that she had seen many times before in sheep affected by scrapie.

"What was exciting was that this was in a cow," she said. "This was the first time I had seen these lesions in a cow." She took the slides to a colleague. She said: "He agreed with me that it was a case of bovine scrapie, which he had never seen before." Her colleague thought that the senior neuropathologist, Dr Gerald Wells, had seen similar cases. Dr Wells was away that day. However, his corrections to her post mortem report reinforced her diagnosis.

He told the programme that he did not make the connection with the sheep spongiform disease. The problem was put down to toxic poisoning. No reference to this outbreak was made by Dr Wells and his colleagues in Weybridge when they published the first description of the symptoms and pathology of an outbreak in Ashford at the end of October 1987 in the Veterinary Record.

Ms Richardson went on maternity leave, assuming that the matter was being investigated and believed that Dr Wells had already seen similar cases. But at a Christmas party, after Dr Wells reported the first official case in November 1986, she was told that she had seen the first case of BSE. In July 1988, Ms Richardson left the Central Veterinary Laboratory. When the makers of the programme showed Dr Hugh Fraser, a scrapie expert, her findings of Sept 10, 1985, he said that they "meant one thing and one thing only to me, and that is scrapie in cattle".

That was the first that he had heard of the case. He said: "That would suggest to me that there were, probably, a large number - and how many I don't know - unrecognised cases of this disease occurring in cattle elsewhere, probably before 1985."

In recent research, Prof Roy Anderson of Oxford University found evidence that people were exposed to the disease as early as 1980. Up to 54,000 infected animals were slaughtered for human consumption between 1980 and 1985.

The new evidence on the first case will be submitted to the BSE public inquiry, which began on Jan 27 and will report in March. Ms Richardson, 56, has two sons and a daughter. She now lives near Woking with her husband, John, and 10-year-old daughter. She continues to eat beef, and said: "I insist now that we have only British beef."


R. Blanchfield 9 Feb 98
There is an error in the last paragraph. An account of how the official BSE public enquiry will be conducted was announced in a "preliminary hearing" speech by Lord Justice Phillips on 27 January -- the full test of his speech is on the IFST Web site.

The public hearings will _start_ in March, with daily transcripts on a dedicated Web site (address not yet announced), but the report to Ministers of the findings of the enquiry is not due until the 31 December 1998.

Disease Spread Due To Delay

The Associated Press 9 Feb 98
LONDON A delay of more than a year in properly identifying the earliest cases of mad cow disease in Britain allowed it to spread through beef herds, the BBC reported today.The British Broadcasting Corp. said almost 60,000 cases of the fatal cattle disease could have been avoided if action had been taken earlier against the outbreak.

The BBC said its researchers found out about early cases of the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, while working on a documentary to be shown next week on the history of the sickness. In the program, a government scientific adviser on the disease, Roy Anderson, said the first case was discovered in 1985 but the connection leading to its identification was not made for another 14 months.

The BBC said in September 1985, a junior pathologist identified a brain disease similar to the common sheep disease, scrapie, in a Frisian cow from a farm in West Sussex, southwest of London.The government has said in the past that the first confirmed case was in November 1986.

The BBC said it wasn't until early 1987 that senior officials identified the cattle disease BSE. That resulted in a ban on the use of animal protein in cattle feed - which was thought to be the source of the disease. Anderson was quoted by the BBC as saying that cases of mad cow fell sharply after the ban was introduced. But he said if it had been introduced earlier, up to a third of the 170,000 cases diagnosed so far could have been prevented and less infected meat would have entered the human food chain.

In March 1996, the government said there was a probable link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and a new strain of the fatal human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has claimed 23 lives in Britain in the last three years

Chief scientist defends delay in BSE cases

Roger Highfield, Science Editor  10 February 98 Telegraph
plus commentary by Polly Toynbee "Radio Times" BBC2 series 
THE veterinary scientist at the heart of the row over whether the risk of passing BSE to the public could have been cut if he and his colleagues had acted sooner to identify mad cow disease answered his critics yesterday.

Dr Gerald Wells, of the Central Veterinary Laboratory, Weybridge, said there were two cases in the archives that predate the first official report of the disease in November 1986, notably one by Carol Richardson, a pathologist, that was part of an outbreak that anecdotal evidence suggests dates back to 1984.

Dr Wells, the senior neuropathologist at the laboratory, based his identification of BSE on a later outbreak in Kent, first reported in November 1986 and written up in an article that appeared in The Veterinary Record in 1987.

The article steered away from the term bovine scrapie, which would have suggested the epidemic among cows was as widespread as among sheep, and plumped for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE.

Yesterday Dr Wells said that he had agreed with Carol Richardson's diagnosis of spongiform changes in bovine brain tissue from Pitsham "that did look like those that one would see with scrapie", but he said that there had been a range of clinical problems on the farm, ranging from metabolic disease to nervous disease and kidney problems.

By contrast, in November 1986 he was provided with "an excellent case history of several examples of a clearly definable neurological problem," by an old friend, Colin Whitaker, a vet from Ashford, Kent, who was puzzled by strange behaviour in the dairy herd at Plurenden Manor Farm that dated back to the end of April 1985.

Even when it came to this first officially recorded case, there was a nine-month delay in getting a sample of brain to the ministry labs. The first cow that was sent to the abattoir ended up in the wrong place, while the second did make it to the abattoir but the head of the animal was mixed up with others.

But Dr Wells, who will discuss the crucial issue of the origins of the epidemic at the BSE public inquiry in March, is adamant that the timescale to the discovery of BSE could "not have been altered that much" without waiting for many more confirmed cases of the disease that showed well-defined symptoms or by boosting surveillance of veterinary disease to unrealistic levels.

"If, with hindsight, we had recognised the Carol Richardson case was a scrapie-like disease and, what is more important, we had recognised what the cause was, we might have been able to take action," said Dr Wells. But he said that the Pitsham case would have been thought sporadic until more had been confirmed from the same farm. "If we reacted on the evidence of sporadic forms of new diseases, then we would be telling Government about them every few months," he said.

The BBC Saga Is A Tale Of Human Frailty, Accident, Mischance And A Fair Amount Of Bungling And Cowardice

by Polly Toynbee
If, on the whole, you think the world is pretty well run by the experts, the boffins, the men from the ministry, the civil servants and even the politicians, 1 would strongly advise you not to watch MAD COWS AND ENGLISHMEN (Sundays BBC2). It will frighten the living daylights out of you. Not only will you start to doubt every morsel of food you ate up to a few years ago, but you will begin to wonder about many other aspects of our daily lives that we entrust to these unseen guardians.

In this rivetingly detailed four-part series analysing the whole sorry BSE saga, we learn more than we might like to know about how we are governed. It is a tale of human frailty, accident and mischance. There are degrees of blame along a wobbly grey line; no one precise villain, but a fair amount of bungling and cowardice.

If this were a drama and not real life, we would have good hissing villains. Certainly the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food could be accused of obstruction, obfuscation and a deep desire to play down every possible risk until it was proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The scoop the first programme unearths is that BSE was first found and, it turns out, correctly identified two years before anything was said or done. But no, it was not the pantomime villains at MAFF burying the evidence. The brilliant pathologist who, on 19 September 1985, found the spongy disease in a cow brain, then went on maternity leave. Sadly the report she gave her boss did not spell out a similarity with scrapie [complete rubbish: see photostats above -- webmaster], and he didn't make the connection. But that's life - or, in this case, probably death for some.

There are some poignant vignettes. In 1987, the Edinburgh laboratory that was the world's expert in sheep scrapie, the disease that transmuted in cows into BSE, were in competition for cut-back government funds with another lab in Weybridge, less expert in this field. Partly as a result, it seems the Weybridge lot never sought their help when they first came across the new phenomenon, and much valuable time was lost. Again, it wasn't calculated villainy, but the way of the world and partly accidental.

The strongest impulse in officialdom is to prevent public panic. So too little was done about some early fears of the possible dangers to humans while officials waited incontrovertible evidence. When scientists first said publicly that there might be a danger, but they didn't know for sure because no one could know, the men from MAFF went ballistic. A scientist's duty is to say loudly what they do and don't know, but one of them explains bitterly that riot knowing is not a message politicians can accept. Scientists deal in doubt, possibility, uncertainty, but politicians and their. officials in certainties. 'This culture clash continually dogged the story.

1 await the next three episodes of the story eagerly, particularly the revelations about how the public machine works or doesn't. For example, in 1988 the health official who wrote the first report of the Southwood committee investigating BSE evidence was so worried her work would be suborned by MAFF that she sent her draft round by hand to committee members on Christmas Eve, when she knew most of Whitehall wouldn't be working. From the start there was a culture clash between the ministries of health and agriculture - one concerned with public health, the other worried about the fate of the farming industry.

Another revealing vignette: the Southwood committee recommended from the start that farmers should be compensated for the full market value for every mad cow they had to destroy. A cow was worth 500 pounds on the open market, but only 30 pounds if it was sent to the knacker's yard.

Southwood feared farmers would hide the disease unless paid in full. What does that tell us about farmers? If some industry is found to be producing poison, they are banned from doing so. We did not have to pay drug companies to stop producing thalidomide, so why are farmers any different? This raises the question of our overprotection of agriculture that dogs all of European policy. Farming is a business like any other, and if they produce poison because they have used a cheap unnatural animal feed, why should the taxpayer bear the cost to ensure he doesn't cheat?

1 don't know how much blame this series will apportion to whom, but 1 pity the politicians who had to deal with this. First they were blamed for giving bland reassurance but now Labour.has hastened to ban beef on the bone at the first whiff of danger, they are ridiculed as "nannies". Personally, I'd have welcomed a bit more nannying, and a bit less kowtowing to the cow business.

MAFF and TB cover-up: 800,000 killed

Tue, 10 Feb 1998 -- webmaster
e: I finally got down to tracking down the article in History Today vol.46 #9 Sept.96 14-18 by agricultural policy historians, P. Atkins and P. Brassley.

The basic premise is that MAFF's historical record on bovine tuberculosis, a human health cover-up that went on for close to a century for purely economic reasons, illuminates the handling of BSE because "they still have the same mindset which prevaricated for so many years over TB" and these episodes "will continue unless the administrative ethos of the Ministry of Agriculture, which frankly seems to have changed very little over the last hundred years, can be fundamentally readjusted to be more responsive to consumer needs. If not, then we must break the mould and start over again with a separate Ministry of Food."

[Dare we expect a new agency reported as 95% staffed by former MAFFers to break the mould?]

They write, "The definitive estimate in the 1930's was that about 40 per cent of animals were infected to one degree or another, the worst incidence of the disease anywhere in the world....Because milk was transported in large road tankers holding output of 1,000 cows, only one diseased cow could do untold damage.... Bovine tuberculosis was responsible for over 800,000 deaths in Britain and a great deal of ill-health during the period 1850-1950."

[This would include knowingly feeding infectious tubercular products to allied soldiers such as my uncle during the height of World War II, protecting the beef industry evidently having the greater urgency even in those times. For later BSE, once you accept the decision to kill the first 800,000 people, what's another 23?]

Here is a wonderful quote from the Veterinary Record of 1895 (anonymous author): "It may be urged that the Veterinary Department being an executive government department, was well within its duty in doing nothing for the suppression of TB until the stock owner and general public had determined that legislation was necessary. There is force in such an argument, for it must be admitted that sanitary laws are very difficult to enforce until the public sentiment is in favour of them."

"There is, however, a very great distinction between a benevolent neutrality and an active opposition. The department and its advisers were not content to do nothing --- they solidly opposed any movement, when experiments with tuberculin showed this agent to be a reliable aid to diagnosis, the old objection, of veterinary inability to recognize a large proportion of the infected animals, had to be abandoned and another excuse for inaction invented."

"This excuse still blocks the way, and every attempt to promote legislation is met with the statement that 'the enormity of the cost of any effective scheme of suppression renders its adoption quite unpracticable.' It is admitted by everyone that no legislation would be successful which did not provide some definite and fair compensation for the owners of cattle liable to seizure. Clearly some of the cases may with justice be treated as the law now treats glanders, rabies, and anthrax -- as unmitigated evils from which it is the duty of the state to protect men and animals."

Atkins and Brassley point out a difference between diseases chosen for eradication with TB and BSE: the former mainly affect cattle numbers production, the latter mainly the quality of cattle products.

Atkins and Brassley go on to note, "Compulsory slaughter had first been introduced to deal with [great graphic] the Cattle Plague (rinderpest) outbreak which began in Britain in 1865... Farmers were requested to report the disease in their herds, but they received no compensation for animals slaughtered...In January 1866, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested to the Home Secretary that a Day of National Humiliation might arrest the unabated severity of the cattle plague, but the government decided to persist with the Form of Prayer issued to churches in the previous September."

Later they went over to half-compensating farmers and restricting movement and importation of cattle. This had a dramatic affect and the country was officially declared free of the plague in September 1867. (Never mind subsequent outbreaks in 1872 and 1877.) This policy was then extended between 1869 and 1894 to foot-and-mouth, rabies, and sheep scab [scrapie?].

"During the 1880's and 1890's there had been parliamentary enquiries and two Royal Commissions on tuberculosis but the unenthusiastic response at Westminster suggests that these may have been called to buy time rather than further embellish the, by the well known, facts. Yet another Royal Commission was set up in 1901, taking ten years to report, but the findings were this time so scientifically detailed and authoritative that the formed the basis of our present knowledge of the disease."

"The 1901-11 inquiry was inspired by the extraordinary events of the London Congress on Tuberculosis in 1901. Robert Koch had used the occasion to make the dramatic announcement that he had been unable to experimentally infect laboratory animals with human tuberculosis, the implication being that [non-respiratory] bovine tuberculosis was also not transmissible across the species divide..." Though "tragically wrong... for years afterwards [Koch] was quoted by those who wished to take no executive action about infected milk even though the 1911 Royal Commission would have settled the issue once and for all."

"Tuberculosis is remarkable for having the widest host range of almost any infectious disease. Many mammals, reptiles and even fish are susceptible. A link between cow's milk and certain forms of human disease was long suspected, and in 1865 Vellemin demonstrated it experimentally.... Most affected were small children who consumed milk and who had little natural resistance. Post-mortems of children in London showed that 30-40 per cent had TB in the late nineteenth century, much of which would have been of bovine origin. In 1930, 60 per cent of young people were sensitive to the tuberculin test and 85% in 1946. The scale of the problem was staggering."

The Gowland Hopkins Committee reporting in 1934 found that: "The evidence that we have received all points to the fact that the Tuberculosis Order of 1925 has done nothing to reduce the incidence of disease. Nor has it done much to protect the public from infected milk, as the majority of cows are not reported until towards the end of the lactation, or when in an advanced state of the disease."

"The total eradication of bovine tuberculosis is generally agreed to be the only complete solution of the problem of tuberculosis milk... But any such scheme must take account of conditions peculiar to Great Britain. In the first place, the incidence of tuberculosis among our cattle is so high that the wholesale slaughter of infected animals... is out of the question. Not only would its immediate cost be prohibitive, but it would also seriously contract the supply of milk."

Atkins and Brassley continue, "This quotation goes right to the heart of the problem. Ministers knew what should be done for public safety but could not conceive of a slaughter policy because of the expense. Meanwhile in public they minimized the human health risk for fear of panic about one of the farming industry's most important products..."

"This woeful litany was not a series of unfortunate accidents but the result of an institutionalised conservatism in the executive which seems to have remarkable parallels in the experience of BSE over the last decade during which some fifty-seven BSE-related Acts or statutory instruments have been passed....similarities in reactive policy-making are notable. "

"First, the science of each disease was contested. The fact that scientists could not form a consensus gave the governments an excuse for erring on the side of caution and doing little...."

"Second, for both TB and BSE the public were calmed by pronouncements that there as no proof of any danger, but they later became cynical about the intentions of politicians."

"Third, in the case of TB, Local Medical Officers of Health campaigned for the risks to be taken seriously by government. The general public were gradually sensitised. By comparison BSE has been more of a dramatic health scare fueled by the power of the modern media."

"Fourth, countries like Denmark and the US instituted a range of measures designed to reduce cattle disease at the source and in the food chain. They did not hesitate to enforce radical measures such as compulsory slaughter..."

"Fifth, in Britain anti-TB measures in cattle were half-hearted. At all times...administrators were motivated by minimization of expenditure and the desire to protect the prosperity of the farming industry. The political dynamic of the Ministry Agriculture over the last hundred years has always been economic and over that period consumer interests have very definitely come second in the order of priorities."

Meat disease deaths 'were played down'

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
The Daily Telegraph ... Friday 23 August 1996
A CATTLE disease fatally infected 800,000 people between 1850 and 1950, according to new research. The study by two agricultural historians of Britain's 80-year battle against bovine tuberculosis, published in History Today, has uncovered parallels with the handling of BSE since 1988. They

calculate that for at least a century bovine tuberculosis caused 13 per cent of all deaths from tuberculosis - and until 1950 TB was one of the main killer diseases. Only in 1960, thanks to pasteurised milk and a statutory slaughter programme, was the national herd certified clear of bovine TB. "The scale of the problem was staggering," say Dr Peter Atkins of the University of Durham and Dr Paul Brassley of the University of Plymouth. Governments, say the authors, knew the depth of the problem but "minimised the human health risk for fear of panic about one of the farming industry's most important products".

They conclude: "Such scares will continue until the administrative ethos of the Ministry of Agriculture, which frankly seems to have changed very little over the last 100 years, can be fundamentally readjusted to be more responsive to consumer needs.

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