35,000 nvCJD cases?
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Ironside predicts 100 to 35,000 nvCJD cases
Farmers are burying BSE cattle, not reporting them
Under-reporting of FSE and scrapie
Belgium, France find more cases, destroy herds
BSE epidemiology in Northern Ireland
Beef ban starts to ease with Northern Ireland export deal
CJD tracking in Canada
Resistant bacterium decisively linked to animal feed drug

Ironside predicts 100 to 35,000 nvCJD cases

PA News  Wed, Mar 18, 1998 By Gina Davidson, PA News
It could be another four years before Britain will know if it is facing a CJD epidemic, an expert claimed tonight. Dr James Ironside said it was still too early to tell if there would be a snowball effect in the numbers of sufferers.

The scientist, who works at the Government's CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh, was speaking at a public meeting as part of European Brain Day. He said: "At the moment we are seeing new cases of the new variant of CJD at the rate of one every two months. "Because the duration of the illness is so long it is difficult to predict."

Dr Ironside said that if the incubation period was 10 years on average then there maybe 100 cases in total. However if the incubation was 25 years the number of cases could total 35,000.

"It's too early to know where in this scenario we are," he added. "CJD which developed from growth hormone injections took around 15 years to incubate, so it could be the same but we are not able to prove that at present." Currently 24 people have been diagnosed as suffering from nvCJD and one victim has been traced to France.

Dr Ironside, along with his colleagues at the unit, will be giving evidence at the BSE inquiry into their discovery of the link between nvCJD and BSE in cattle. The new variant was discovered by Dr Ironside and his colleagues in 1996 after they realised it was only affecting young people, with the average age of victims 27, compared to the onset of sporadic CJD in people in their 60s.

"Collaborative work between neuroscientists in Edinburgh has confirmed that the transmissible agent responsible for new variant CJD is identical to that responsible for BSE," he said.

He also told his audience at Edinburgh University that there was a theoretical possibility that the lymph gland system in the body could be the conductor of CJD to the brain. "This in turn has given rise to concerns about the safety of blood and blood products from patients with new variant CJD," he said. "I must stress it is a theoretical risk and is currently under investigation."

Under-reporting of FSE and scrapie

Listserve 16 Mar 98
Grufydd et al, "Feline spongiform encephalopathy", The journal of small animal practise (1992) 33, 10, p.471):

"The majority of the FSE cases in this survey [11 of the first 24 confirmed FSE cases. TB] were reported in the first few months following the initial recognition of the disease with fewer cases being reported since then. However, this may reflect the considerable publicity arising from the first reported case in early 1990 [Wyatt et al, Vet.Rec (1990) 126,20,513), TB] rather than a genuine decrease in the incidence. The true prevalence of the disease and any changes of prevalence with time would be difficult to determine. Diagnosis requires post mortem examinatio of the brain which will be performed in only a small proportion of cats presented with neurological signs. It is impossible to assess how many cases of FSE are misdiagnosed"
Year of birth Number of FSE cases
76 1
77 1
78 0
79 .5
80 2.5
81 4
82 6.5
83 6
84 7.5
85 11
86 9.5
87 7.5
88 9.5
89 8.5
90 2.5
91 .5
92 .5
93 .5

There is no clear time trend in the incidence in birth cohorts 83-89. (these cohorts constitute the core data in the set) Data for birth cohorts pre83 and post89 are possibly/likely to be incomplete due to missing observations of cases with onset in relatively young and relatively old cats respectively). There are (as yet) very few observed feline BABs (Cases born after the ban of SBO in pet food September 1990) In the table above they (it) are represented by the 1.5 cases from birth cohorts 91-93.

An article in the latest JAVMA (Wineland NE, Detwiler LA, Salman MD. Epidemiologic analysis of reported scrapie in sheep in the United States: 1,117 cases (1947-1992). JAVMA 1998;212:713-718) makes the point that official scrapie statistics are unreliable. Figure 1 shows reported incidence of scrapie tracking maximum indemnity rate paid for scrapie sheep. More money for dead sheep increases the reported incidence. The summary of clinical implications reads:

"The prevalence of scrapie in sheep in the United States is unknown. Bias in this study may have resulted from inconsistencies in available information, misclassification of sheep with clinically suspicious signs of scrapie, and changes in the national scrapie control and eradication program that likely affected willingness of owners and veterinarians to report clinically infected sheep."
This reminds one of the debate over mandatory HIV testing and reporting. How do you encourage testing and diagnosis when the social and economic costs of a positive test are draconian?

A quote from an on-line article on Passive Surveillance for TSEs, by the same Linda Detwiler (of APHIS, USDA) last year:

"I whole heartedly agree that doing surveillance on small numbers of animals exhibiting clinical signs of neurologic disease is more effective than large numbers of submissions from clinically normal animals. I caution countries not to let themselves off the hook by stating that BSE and scrapie are reportable so the neurologic disease will come to them.

My personal experience with scrapie tells quite another tale. We have states that have never reported a case. Do they guard their borders? - no. Do they trade sheep from states with considerable problems? - yes. If one goes and carefully looks for those imported populations, educates the producers, and encourages submissions with various incentives it is amazing what can be found. There is a standing joke that when I move into a state, I can usually double the amount of scrapie cases reported."

Belgium finds second mad cow case, destroys herd

Progressive Farmer 12 Mar 98
Belgian farm authorities announced on Tuesday the discovery of a second case of mad cow disease and the destruction of a 48-strong herd of cattle in the northwest of the country. Government veterinarians examined the five-year-old cow on February 20, confirming BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) or mad cow disease earlier on Tuesday. The European Commission and other EU members had been informed, the farm ministry said. ``The animal has been completely incinerated...there is no chance of it having entered the human or animal food chain,'' Belgian Agriculture Minister Karel Pinxten told journalists.

UK beef consumption recovers from mad cow scare

British consumption of beef rose nine percent last year as the impact of the mad cow disease crisis faded, government figures published on Monday revealed. The Agriculture Ministry's National Food Survey said the increase, to 110 grams (one quarter of a pound) per person a week, followed a 17 percent decline in 1996. The amount of beef eaten by Britons has been in decline for more than a decade.

But the survey said last year's increase meant it was ``back in line with the declining long-term trend.'' The 1996 plunge in consumption followed a government admission in March of that year that bovine spongiform encephalopathy could be transmitted to humans in the form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). So far, 23 Britons have contracted the new form of CJD which scientists studying mad cow disease have identified.

France reports new mad cow case, herd destroyed

Reuters World Report Mon, Mar 16, 1998
PARIS, March 16 (Reuters) - France on Monday reported a new case of mad cow disease, the 34th in the country since 1990. The animal, part of a herd in the Haute-Loire area in central France, originated from a herd in the Haute-Saone region in eastern France, the Farm Ministry said in a statement.

It was moved in October 1996 from the Haute-Saone herd, which was slaughtered over the weekend. The Haute-Loire herd was spared.

The animal was born in September 1993, after a 1990 ban was imposed on cattle feed containing ground-up animal parts, . The European Union imposed a worldwide ban on British beef exports in March 1996 after Britain acknowledged a possible link between mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and a deadly new disease.

BSE epidemiology

Proceedings of the Royal Society free fultext as pdf 339k
This is the 10th rather serious article on BSE epidemiology from Donnelly, Anderson, et al. and by now there probably aren't too many analytical angles that have not been taken into account. Still, the modelling is only as good as the data set and assumptions involved; the former seems to rest on official reported clinical cases, the latter that economic forces don't distort reporting too badly. In other words, predictions are for future official reported clinical cases rather than BSE per se or more to the point, BSE titre in the food supply from subclinical animals.

The article and detailed graphics are well worth a look. They end up favoring maternal transmission over horizontal though there remains room for both given statistical uncertainties.

I don't share their enthusiasm for resuming exports before the clinical epidemic has run its course and subclinical testing has lowered detection sensitivity by a couple of logs. No doubt the tracking system reduces risk, but how much risk is still left? And who wants to take it on and why when they don't need to?

Prof. Anderson testifies Monday 16 Mar 98 at the BSE Inquiry. --webmaster

BSE In Northern Ireland:

Press Release 12 Mar 98
"Results of new research, to be published on 7 April in Proceedings: Biological Sciences of the Royal Society, show that the incidence of BSE in both Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland is declining rapidly and is likely to continue to do so over the next three years. Dr Neil Ferguson and colleagues from the University of Oxford (including Professor Roy Anderson F.R.S., a member of the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee), conducted the most detailed statistical analysis of BSE in Northern Ireland yet performed.

The analysis revealed that the proportion of cattle infected with BSE in Northern Ireland is less than one-tenth of the proportion infected in the rest of the UK. The authors conclude that 'the lower incidence [of BSE] in Northern Ireland, together with detailed knowledge of the BSE history of individual herds, allow a "BSE-free" herd certification scheme to be designed'. This could well impact on next week's crucial vote of the European Union's Scientific Veterinary Committee over easing the export ban on beef from Northern Ireland. "

BSE in Northern Ireland: epidemiological patterns past, present and future

N. M. Ferguson * , A. C. Ghani, C. A. Donnelly, G. O. Denny{ and R. M. Anderson
By 30 January 1998, there had been 170 259 con¢rmed cases of BSE in Great Britain (GB), 1766 con¢rmed cases in Northern Ireland (NI) (2 January 1998), and 276 con¢rmed cases in the Republic of Ireland (31 January 1998). Analysis of the epidemiological patterns in the NI epidemic reveals signi¢cant clustering of cases in herds and counties. The observed clustering of cases within herds results in lower per capita incidence of BSE in previously una°ected herds, providing support for the introduction of a certi¢ed herd scheme in NI. By ¢tting a backcalculation model to the case data, we can estimate the number of animals infected with the aetiological agent of BSE and project the number of future cases. We predict that the epidemic will decline rapidly, with approximately 99 cases (95% con¢dence interval: 30, 504) occurring in the ¢ve year period 1997^2001.

.... The best fit occurs at zero horizontal transmission and 24% maternal transmission over the last six months of the incubation period effectively equivalent to approximately 10% maternal transmission in the last year of the incubation period. The 95% confidence region is large, however, ...

Beef ban starts to ease with Ulster export deal

March 17 1998 Charles Bremner Times

THE export ban on Northern Ireland beef was eased by European Union farm ministers last night in a political breakthrough that should pave the way to the lifting of the embargo on British beef imposed two years ago at the height of the scare over "mad cow" disease.

The deal, produced after a year of negotiation, will apply only to younger cattle from herds in the Province which have been certified free of BSE. This covers the majority of the Province's beef herds, which represent 12 percent of the United Kingdom total. The European Commission, which had backed Britain's case against initial opposition from member states, is expected to approve the resumption of Ulster exports within weeks, but removal of the whole ban will take years.

Germany and Belgium alone voted against any relaxation; Spain and Luxembourg abstained. Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, noted the difficulty of winning public acceptance for meat still widely seen as suspect. "We cannot compel people to buy our beef," he said. In 1996 the disclosure by the Major Government that BSE had been linked to a new strain of the human brain disease CJD sparked a consumer scare across the Continent and inflicted heavy losses on meat producers. The current high value of the pound will be a further deterrent to sales.

The Ulster scheme was chosen for the first easing because the Province has an established electronic system for tracking the history of its cattle. Britain had hoped that the measure could be applied to meat from other regions, notably Scotland, once a nationwide tracking system is fully operational in a year or two. But there are now doubts about whether the system could come into force for years.

In an alternative approach, the Government is pressing for approval to export all cattle born after August 1, 1996. Dr Cunningham said he would be pressing Brussels for speedy action. "We cannot determine the timescale but we shall maintain pressure. The Commission has accepted that our beef is safe, and safe to export. Now we have to satisfy them that the Export Certified Herd Scheme is being safely administered," he said.

Under the scheme, exports can be resumed for deboned beef from cattle aged between six months and 30 months whose histories and movements have been fully recorded. They must have belonged to herds confirmed as being free of BSE for eight years.

The Northern Ireland system was set up earlier than in the rest of the United Kingdom to stop illegal cross-border trading in cattle with the Republic. The great majority of Northern Ireland herds are fed only on grass, which meant they were largely free of contamination from animal-based feed, the presumed source of the disease. Only 3 per cent of the Province's beef herds have been affected by BSE.

Beyond the technical battle to satisfy sanitary conditions, yesterday's ministerial vote also reflected Britain's return to relative favour among its EU partners since Labour was returned to power. Dr Cunningham said: "Lifting the ban for herds in Northern Ireland is the first crucial step towards lifting the ban for other parts of the UK." Lord Donoughue, Minister for Farming and Food, said: "This is a major breakthrough."

Secrecy blamed for spread

ABOUT 250,000 cattle may have been infected needlessly with "mad cow" disease because of a culture of secrecy at the Ministry of Agriculture, the BSE inquiry was told yesterday (Michael Hornsby writes). Roy Anderson, an expert on the spread of infectious diseases, estimated that the figure represented a quarter of all animals infected to date, and that nearly 800,000 infected cattle had entered the food chain. He said that, in common with other scientists, he had found that persuading the ministry to share information on BSE was "like getting blood out of a stone".

If he had been given the data, he would have been able to show that a ban on contaminated cattle feed, identified as the most likely cause of BSE, was not fully effective, he said. Professor Anderson is director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease. The ban on feeding meat and bone meal to cattle was imposed in July 1988, but Ministry of Agriculture officials have since accepted that stocks of prohibited feed may have remained in circulation for another four or five years.

CJD tracking in Canada

Mar. 16 /98 Toronto Star Rebecca Bragg
A nation-wide surveillance program for CJD will be launched this month from Ottawa. Dr. Maura Ricketts, epidemiologist at the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, was cited as saying that by the end of the month, letters will be sent to all doctors in Canada who treat brain disorders asking for their co-operation in referring cases they suspect could be Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

The story says that Ricketts would like to see the ``index of suspicion'' for the disease, which occurs naturally in about one in a million cases and is invariably fatal, to be much higher.

The story adds that in Britain, a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob, with its own distinctive pattern of brain lesions, has been linked to a strain causing mad cow disease, which has resulted in the slaughter of some 2 million animals. According to the World Health Organization, 24 Europeans (23 British and one French) have died so far of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

Ricketts was cited as saying that so far, the form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob related to mad cow disease has not been found in North America - and she devoutly hopes it never will be. But if cases emerge, she wants the unit to be in a position to sound an alarm quickly.

Ricketts' co-investigator, neurologist and neurobiologist Neil Cashman of the Montreal Neurological Institute, was cited as saying that in Canada, about 25 to 30 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob a year come to light.

The story says that much of the diagnostic work for the surveillance program will be done from a special neuropathology laboratory in the University of Toronto's Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Neuropathologist Catherine Bergeron and molecular biologist David Westaway, a specialist in prion diseases who worked with Prusiner for 10 years, are now analyzing brain samples to either confirm or rule out Creutzfeldt-Jakob diagnoses.

The danger of handling infected tissue samples is considered so great that not even cleaners are permitted through the doors, and all lab workers must wear protective gear. Bergeron was cited as saying the lab is now nearly ``fully functional,'' and slide tissue samples have been coming in from all over the country.

Farmers are burying suspect cattle' - expert

Tue, 17 Mar 1998  PA News By Andrew Woodcock 
Official figures apparently showing the rapid eradication of BSE from British cattle are unreliable because farmers are burying suspect animals in their own fields on a massive scale, it was claimed today. Pressure to escape the EU beef ban and have their farms declared BSE free has led farmers to bypass the abattoirs if they fear their cattle may be infected, food scientist Professor Richard Lacey told the BSE Inquiry.

And he told the inquiry that the practice might be to blame for the recent upsurge in the potentially fatal E.coli 0157 bug, which has claimed several lives in a series of outbreaks over the last few years. Speaking outside the hearing, Prof Lacey told reporters that the DIY burials were most common in the north of England and in Scotland, the areas where recent E.coli outbreaks have been concentrated.

Prof Lacey's evidence threatened to massively undermine the Government's strategy on BSE, which is based on scientific figures which appear to show that the disease is in rapid decline following the introduction of a series of health safety measures. Current predictions are that the disease will have virtually disappeared from the UK by around 2001, allowing a return to unlimited beef exports.

But Prof Lacey told the inquiry that the figures could not possibly be right, because of the lengthy incubation period of BSE. Professor Lacey said that he was approached last Friday by a delegation of knacker men and renderers who said that their industry was being destroyed by the DIY burials, and who showed him persuasive evidence of mass burials of cattle in open graves on farmland.

He told the inquiry: "The figures appear to show a straightforward rise and fall in cases. If only I could believe that, but I can't. "The number of cases has been very obviously affected by the compensation paid. First there was no compensation, then 50% and 100% and the numbers went up, then the compensation dropped and the numbers have dropped. "I do not accept the figures and I would like them to be published."

He added: "On Friday I had a deputation coming to my home from the knacker men and renderers who are worried about their livelihoods. "They told me that because the value of animal carcases is now negative, the animals are being buried on a massive scale in farm burials. They produced video evidence of this. "I fully understand the emotions and reasons why -- there is tremendous pressure to reduce BSE numbers and get accreditation -- that farmers should try to reduce numbers in this way."

Passport documentation intended to reveal the exact cause of cows' deaths was being filled in without reference to the suspicions over infection and to the farmyard burial, he claimed. He told the inquiry that the issue was relevant to the E.coli problem because the graves were accessible to birds and other wild creatures, which could be spreading any disease present in the carcases.

He said: "The knacker men are desperate. They are all going bust because of farmers burying animals in their own fields. Something should be done about this because it means the figures of infectivity are being lost." Speaking outside the hearing, Professor Lacey described another method farmers were using to massage BSE figures.

Figures given to the House of Commons by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 1996 showed that one farm in North Yorkshire had been importing BSE cases from other farmers, who wished to show that their herds were BSE free. The farm received compensation payments for 915 BSE cases, but MAFF established that 76% of the animals involved had been transferred from other farms before their deaths, said Professor Lacey.

Outside the hearing, Prof Lacey told reporters he had not personally visited a site of farm burials, but said he had seen compelling video evidence, provided by representatives of the renderers.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman reacted to Professor Lacey's allegations that farmers were carrying out DIY burials of suspect animals by saying: "We are not aware that this is happening at the moment or that it should be. "We are satisfied that all cases are being reported. "We have the right procedures in place to ensure full reporting. Farmers get appropriate compensation for reported cases. "The inquiry will draw its own conclusions. This is why the inquiry was set up, to get to the truth."

Prof Lacey warned the inquiry that, far from being eradicated within the next few years, BSE could become endemic among the British cattle population, as scrapie has been among sheep for the last two centuries. It was possible, he said, that the so-called mad cow disease would be passed on from mother to offspring and possibly transmitted between animals through contamination of pasture land, as is the case with scrapie and other similar illnesses.

It was impossible to predict the final death toll from the new variant of CJD (nvCJD) believed to be caused by eating beef, which has so far claimed 23 lives, he said. The incubation period of nvCJD could be as long as 50 years and it was possible that deaths in large numbers would occur some decades down the line, he said.

Prof Lacey told the inquiry that effective action to wipe out BSE and protect public health was delayed for years because the efforts of ministers and Government scientists were directed towards reassuring the public that beef was safe to eat. Repeatedly, information was suppressed in order not to harm the beef industry and attempts were made by politicians to portray him as "deranged" in order to discredit his warnings about risks to human health, he said.

He told the inquiry: "The fundamental issue is that we have had measures taken to restore public confidence rather than to eradicate the disease."

Prof Lacey accused the then food minister Nicholas Soames of deliberately hiding potentially vital information on possible human susceptibility to BSE in 1992, when the official Government line was that the infection could not cross over from cattle to humans.

The information, requested in a Commons question by Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe, detailed experiments in which pigs and marmosets -- which have similar tissue proteins to humans and might be expected to respond to exposure to BSE in a similar way -- were infected with the cattle virus. Mr Soames placed his written reply in the House of Commons library [inaccessible -- webmaster] but failed to publish it in full in Hansard, said Prof Lacey. He told the Inquiry: "I find it unbelievable that a formal written question and answer was not in Hansard. The only interpretation I have is that there was a deliberate attempt to make this information not available to other people."

From the outset, BSE was treated as a problem for vets, not experts on human health, said Prof Lacey, a microbiologist who resigned as a Government health advisor in 1989 over the issue of salmonella in eggs. The first official working party to look into the crisis -- under Professor Sir Richard Southwood in 1988-89 -- was dominated by animal health specialists, and included no public health experts or medical microbiologists capable of examining the danger of spread into the human population, said Prof Lacey, who described this as "one of the strangest actions ever taken".

Its report, published in February 1989, simply provided politicians with an excuse for inaction by describing cattle as a "dead end host" for BSE, incapable of passing the infection on, despite evidence to the contrary in its own data, he said. He added: "What they should have said was that the new cattle disease, by analogy with other similar diseases, would be expected to transfer within cattle and could well transfer to other mammals.

"Scientists write comments knowing how politicians will respond to them. It must have been perfectly clear that the phrase `dead end host' raised the possibility that there was no need to take measures to prevent spread of the infection."

By 1990, Prof Lacey was calling for the destruction of up to six million cattle to remove BSE from the British herd and he told the House of Commons Agriculture Committee that year that, at worst, Britain could lose virtually a whole generation to CJD. He told the inquiry that the Committee's report -- presented by the chairman Jerry Wiggin MP -- seized on this worst case scenario to imply that he was "deranged" and out of touch with the real world.

By discrediting him in this way, the Committee excused itself from taking any substantial action on his warning, he told the inquiry. Summing up official responses to the BSE crisis, Prof Lacey told the inquiry: "The main thrust of the controls has been cosmetic, to appear to be taking action and to restore public confidence." He added: "The science was being manipulated to apply to what was politically convenient."

:: Ian Gardiner, director of policy at the National Farmers' Union, denied farmers carry out DIY burials of suspect animals because it would be "complete economic nonsense". He said: "If you bury it on a farm you get nothing. Farmers would be throwing hundreds of pounds away in compensation. "There is not even a glimpse of any benefit for a farmer to stay off the BSE register. "Half our dairy farmers do already appear on the register. They are there because they have had cases of BSE.

"Farmers and their veterinary advisers report more cases than are actually happening. "This is because the symptoms of BSE are unspecified and they can look like an animal which may have a feed deficiency. It does show that farmers are reporting cases."

He also defended farmers who bury animals on their farms to save on slaughter costs, which he claims have increased due to the BSE controls, but denied this would ever be done with suspect cattle. "The animals which are buried on farms are casualty animals. There is nothing wrong with the practice of burying animals on farms." "Farmers have every incentive to co-operate with the system and that is exactly what farmers are doing at present."

[Lacey's] allegation came a day after European Union farm ministers voted partially to lift a ban on cattle exports from Northern Ireland. It was the first step toward relaxing a worldwide ban on all British beef exports imposed after scientists in March 1996 found evidence of a new human strain of BSE. Northern Ireland is to be partially exempted from the ban because it has a sophisticated computer system for tracking cattle movements so the EU can be sure no cows are infected with BSE. Mainland Britain is developing a similar system.

Lacey said he had been approached by meat renderers who made very serious allegations about farmers' efforts to cover up the extent of BSE. "Because the value of animal carcasses that die is now negative the animals are being buried on a massive scale in farm graves -- they produced video and photographic evidence of this," he told BBC radio. Official figures show that BSE cases in British cattle fell to 4,129 last year from 36,682 in the disease's peak year, 1992.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Ministry, reacting to Lacey's claims, said: "We are satisfied with our statistics and their accuracy and the procedures by which they are formulated." In Northern Ireland, farmers were breathing a sigh of relief about the EU farm ministers' move. "For two years the beef industry in Northern Ireland has been crippled by the effects of the unjustified export ban," Walter Elliott, president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, said in a statement. "After so many false dawns the barriers to export are now set to come down," he added.

Elliott told BBC radio the farming industry still had major problems across all sectors, with a strong sterling making exports difficult and reducing the value of EU guarantees. "It (the lifting of the ban) is very welcome but it is not the answer to all our problems," he said. According to British government statistics, 97 percent of Northern Ireland's cattle herds have never been infected with BSE.

Farming is the biggest industry in Northern Ireland, employing eight per cent of the workforce. Beef production employs around 20,000 people. Under the scheme supported by the farm ministers, only meat from cattle aged between six and 30 months in "certified" herds will be eligible for export. Shipments are expected to start in around six weeks after an inspection visit by EU food safety experts.

Cecil Mathers, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters' Association, said the lifting of the ban was a political breakthrough. But the strong pound and knock-on effects of the disease were discriminating against the exporter. "It makes it very very difficult for any meat processor to sit down and dedicate his business to exports because the strength of sterling does not allow him to export at an economic rate," he told Reuters. "We can't see ourselves recouping losses."

Resistant bug linked to animal feed drug

 March 19 1998 AP Financial BY NIGEL HAWKES 
A CLEAR link between the use of antibiotics in animal feed and the emergence of "superbugs" in hospitals has been established for the first time. Doctors have repeatedly warned of the danger but proving it has been more difficult.

Excessive use of antibiotics in medicine, rather than in animal feedstuffs, is often blamed for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of common bacteria. Now gene tests on bacteria in the gut of people, pigs and chickens have shown that resistance to one particular antibiotic has moved from animals to humans.

The new studies, carried out by Henrik Wegener of the Danish Veterinary Laboratory, suggest that a common type of bacterium found in the intestine developed resistance to vancomycin, a widely used antibiotic, when a similar drug was used in animal feed. Antibiotics are given in animal feed because they typically increase animals' growth rate by 5 per cent.

Dr Wegener now believes that antibiotics should be banned as growth promoters. Enterococci - bacteria in the gut - became resistant to vancomycin in 1986, and the resistant forms spread throughout Europe and the US. They are not usually dangerous except in patients with poor immune systems.

By isolating the gene responsible for vancomycin resistance in enterococci from people, pigs and chickens, Dr Wegener demonstrated that the resistance moved from animals to human beings.

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