Britain to resume exports by May?
Mad Cow Home ... Best Links ... Search this site

Hurdles in way of beef exports
Destruction of cattle must continue
France says ``thanks, but no thanks'' to British beef
Safety-conscious Germans will still shun beef
Scientists question decision on British beef
Hard to swallow: BSE screening implications
Germans will test 5000 cows
Britain counts human, financial cost of BSE
Mad cow fear leads U.K. to destroy donated blood
MAFF obstructed dialogue during BSE crisis
BSE Inquiry enters criminal phase
Cautious optimism that beef ban will end

Destruction of cattle must continue as producers try to woo back export markets

Michael Hornsby reports, Times, November 24 1998
Cost of the beef ban keeps mounting. A HUGE mound of meat and bone meal, the ground-down remains of thousands of slaughtered cows, is piled in a disused aircraft hangar near Grantham in Lincolnshire, a mute memorial to the cost of the beef ban. A total of 340,000 tonnes of such material is being kept at 12 locations round Britain and 70,000 more tonnes are being added to the stockpile every year. It will continue even after the lifting of the beef export ban.

Fibrogen, a power generator, has been awarded a contract to burn 255,000 tonnes over three years to produce electricity but the company still needs planning and environmental consent.

The waste came from some 2.7 million cattle slaughtered after May 1996 simply because they were more than 30 months old and regarded as a greater BSE risk than younger animals. Destruction of the older cattle will continue indefinitely because the lifting of the export ban only applies to beef from cattle between the ages of 6 and 30 months.

Altogether, 4.45 million cattle have been destroyed since 1988 because of BSE. Of those, only 174,000 were actually confirmed to have been infected with the disease. The others were culled as a precaution.

Among those destroyed were 1.5 million animals for which no commercial market could be found. Normally they would mostly have been exported live for veal. Because the export of live cattle is still banned, their slaughter will continue at least until the spring, when it will be reviewed by the Government

As part of the deal on lifting the ban, the Government must also destroy a further 12,000 cattle that are the offspring of cows that died of BSE.

The National Audit Office estimated in July that the cost to the taxpayer of government measures to combat the BSE over the 24 months to the middle of this year at 2.5 billion. About 60 per cent of this was compensation to farmers forced to slaughter cattle. Most of the rest of the cost was accounted for by extra subsidies to farmers and assistance to the rendering and abattoir industries. By 2001 it is estimated that the extra public expenditure will have risen to more than 4 billion.

Britain faces a tough battle to recapture foreign markets, despite the decision to ease the 32-month-old export ban. The Meat and Livestock Commission, the government-appointed quango that promotes meat consumption, believes that Britain would be lucky if beef exports had returned to 10 per cent of their pre-ban level by the end of next year.

Thousands of pamphlets are to be sent to media organisations, consumer groups, wholesalers and retailers across Europe to explain the measures that have been taken to make British beef safe.

The first beef is not expected to leave Britain much before March next year because EU inspectors will have to satisfy themselves that abattoirs processing the meat are complying with all the conditions set for the lifting of the ban.

In 1995, the last full year before the ban was imposed, Britain exported 242,000 tonnes of beef worth 518 million and earned a further 79 million from the sale abroad of live cattle, mainly calves for veal. The great bulk of this trade was with the rest of the EU.

Some 80 per cent of beef previously sent to France, which took 43 per cent of all UK exports, came from old cows slaughtered at the end of their working lives, and was used mainly in processed and manufactured meat products.

"Our aim is to get exports back to something over 20,000 tonnes by the end of next year," Terry Lee, head of exports at the MLC, said. "That would be about 10 per cent of the former level.

"We will be concentrating on the quality end of the market and part of our task will be to reassure other EU countries that we will not be flooding them with cheap beef, even if that were possible given the current strength of sterling.

"By next March we hope to be selling beef again to hotels and restaurants in Italy, which was always a good market. It will be harder to persuade retailers and supermarkets on the Continent. Outside the EU, South Africa, which imported 24 million of UK beef in 1995, is keen to resume imports but is hampered by the collapse of the rand."

The promotional leaflet produced by the MLC, British Beef Returns, details all the changes made by the UK beef industry to satisfy European preconditions for re-entry to the export market. The A4 leaflet, which is available in all major European languages, explains how the lifting of the ban will work and assures customers that no beef will be exported from Britain until full inspections are carried out by European officials.

The European Consumer Organisation, which represents consumer bodies across the EU, said that confidence in British beef was still low. "The general feeling among consumer groups on the Continent was against lifting the ban," Joanna Dober, a spokeswoman, said. " On the Continent it is still the belief that BSE is very prevalent in the UK."

The number of new cases of BSE this year is not expected to exceed 2,100, compared with more than 36,000 six years ago. Scientists believe there will be no more than a few hundred a year by 2001.

Hard to swallow: need for BSE screening

Debora MacKenzie New Scientist 14 Nov 98
FOCUS We now have a quick way of testing cows for BSE before they are slaughtered for the table. So why aren't governments seizing this opportunity to make food safer?

BSE refuses to lie down and die. Next week, the European Union plans to lift its ban on British beef exports on the assumption that the British epidemic is on its last legs. But some scientists say more evidence is needed. They note that no one has yet surveyed British cattle with diagnostic tests for strains of the BSE agent that might not cause symptoms. And their concerns that the prion agent can spread if feed controls and sickness surveillance measures fail appeared vindicated last month when the EU slapped an export ban on Portuguese beef after dozens of cases suddenly "emerged" from that country-where, officially, BSE has waned.

Many people believe similar hidden BSE epidemics exist in other EU countries. The tests that might reveal them are not being done. But in a butcher's shop in the Swiss alpine canton of Zug customers can buy beef that has been checked for BSE. The butcher uses a test developed by Prionics of Zurich that can give a result within eight hours. The speed of this test means the meat of some cows that have the disease but don't yet display any symptoms can be kept off people's plates, as a recent Swiss case showed (This Week, 17 October, p 16).

Which begs the question: why aren't we testing Europe-wide? Experts are quick to point out the test's limitations. Marcus Doherr of the Swiss government's Institute of Virology and Immunoprophylaxis in MittelhSusern, who helped check the results of the Prionics tests on Swiss cattle with older, slower tests says: "A negative result means either that it is not infected, or that there is not yet a level of prion accumulation in the brain that is detectable with the test employed." It takes a while for an infected animal to accumulate enough of the prion protein that causes BSE for it to show up on tests.

But Markus Moser of Prionics says that at least a few infected animals would be detected. "And it is quite probable that animals without enough prion to be detectable would also not have enough to be infectious. So we would at least remove most infectivity from the food chain." No one can be sure about this, however. Independent experts such as Roy Anderson of Oxford University says there is little evidence that detectable infection equals infectiousness. But he is not necessarily opposed to screening. "You could catch a few infected animals and keep them out of the food chain," he says.

And in Britain, home of BSE, the case for testing is arguably more pressing than in Switzerland. Anderson estimates that around 200 to 300 animals infected with BSE are still eaten in the UK annually although the animal parts such as brain and spine that are regarded as the principal risk of infection are removed from all meat that arrives in the shops. Nonetheless the 200-odd animals that slip through the net mean there is a risk -- however slight -- of more people getting vCJD, the human form of BSE.

One of the precautions taken in Britain is a ban on eating meat from cows older than 30 months. Experiments done by the Britain's Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) showed that calves infected at four months of age did not show up as positive on tests for the prion until they were 32 months or older. The authorities hope that too little prion to show up on tests equals too little prion to infect a meat eater. But as Anderson pointed out, this optimistic view is not proven. And, not for the first time in the BSE saga, official statements don't tell the whole story. Some cows, perhaps because of genetic susceptibility or the size of the infecting dose, accumulate significant amounts of prion in less than 30 months. The youngest cow known to have developed BSE in Britain was just 20 months old.

Anderson calculates that perhaps five to eight of the infected cows eaten in Britain each year would show up on tests. Systematic screening of all cattle in abattoirs in Britain would catch those. So why doesn't the British government introduce screening at abattoirs? The main reason is financial. So far, the authorities have decided the costs are too high for the small number of cases screening would detect. Eight cows doesn't sound like very many.

Nonetheless Moser of Prionics says the economic case against testing is weak. "The test we used in Switzerland costs about 15 per cow," he says. "Most of that is in fixed costs, such as people's salaries. With screening on a larger scale, the cost would come down at least two to threefold." Passed on to the consumer, that would add almost nothing to the cost of beef per kilogram, he says. The cost of screening would be negligible compared to the total cost of managing the BSE epidemic -- predicted by Britain's National Audit Office as likely to top 33 billion by 2003.

Then there is the cost of the human encephalopathy thought to be caused by eating BSE-infected meat. Hundreds of thousands of cattle could be inspected for the cost of treating a single case of vCJD. And if screening could save lives, it must be used, says Roland Heynkes, a German science writer specialising in BSE. He thinks anything less is ethically unacceptable. However, Ralph Blanchfield, of Britain's Institute for Food Science and Technology, an industry self-regulator, says: "I do not think that complete screening would be the best use of resources." But he does think that some testing should be done, to give us a better idea of how many asymptomatic cows are infected than can be done by counting those that keel over with the disease. Instead of full-scale screening, a large sample of cattle about to be eaten should be tested, Blanchfield says. "Let us see what a sampling reveals."

"More data is always a good thing; nobody has the slightest idea how many animals might be detected. The models have never had an empirical reality check." John Collinge of Imperial College, London, has been asking Britain's MAFF to do such tests for years, in case there is something lurking in beef that the models cannot predict: "subclinical" infection.

Anderson's models are based on the assumption that the number of infected cattle can be calculated from the number of clinical cases of BSE. But Collinge argues that if there is a strain of BSE that doesn't manifests itself clinically within a cow's short life, there could be far more infection than models reveal, and it might affect humans (see This Week, 13 June, p 4).

Identifying subclinical disease in cows would be pivotal, says Peter Smith of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a member of the government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC). "If the test picked that up it would be a very strong argument to do testing now," he told New Scientist. Britain's SEAC did come out in favour of a survey in June, but MAFF has yet to name a date for the study, although it told New Scientist it would be "early next year".

But if anyone needs to test, Anderson says, it is continental Europe, where the infection has long been suspected of spreading more widely than official surveillance has revealed -- as indicated by events in Portugal. The cow that tested positive in the Swiss abattoir this year underscores the need, Moser says. "Most under-reporting of BSE on the Continent is probably because cattle starting to act unwell, like our cow, are simply slaughtered, and don't live to show definite signs of BSE." Testing would reveal them.

The European Commission wants EU countries to test cows in their abattoirs and will decide in January which test should be used to conduct surveys across Europe. But some authorities may be in no hurry to get the results and other factors might also discourage government action.

"There is tremendous fear out there that screening will turn up a lot more infection than anyone ever imagined possible," said one observer. And if, as Collinge wants, the surveys are extended to an analysis of the strains of prions, then some human cases of vCJD may be trackable to their source through strain-typing, raising immense liability issues. This is another ramification of research into vCJD that is only beginning to be considered.

Cautious optimism that beef ban will end

By Alison Little and Geoff Meade, PA News Thu, Nov 19, 1998
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown will announce today he is "cautiously optimistic" the EU's worldwide ban on British beef exports will be lifted early next week. But he will work through the weekend to build support for Britain's case so as not to leave anything to chance ahead of Monday's meeting in Brussels of EU farm ministers. He will also stress that the bigger the vote in Britain's favour, the greater the boost for the British beef industry.

Continuing consumer resistance in Germany means the German farm minister is thought unlikely to back a lifting of the ban. However, it is seen as a virtual certainty that voting by the 15 EU agriculture ministers will produce the necessary simple majority to get the ban lifted. The ban was imposed in March, 1996.

Mr Brown is expected to say in a speech tonight in Newcastle: "Our European partners are seeing our side of a solidly constructed case. Already the ban on exports from Northern Ireland has been lifted. "I am cautiously optimistic that early next week in Brussels I will be able to secure the lifting of the ban on exports of beef from the rest of the UK. "But we are not there yet. Nothing is ever certain in European negotiations. "I am determined that I should not leave anything undone in these crucial last days which could help our farmers' cause."

Since mid-September he has held 18 meetings with fellow farm ministers and this week he has been to Copenhagen, Bologna and Bonn. Between now and Monday he will again talk to his Continental counterparts. "The decision could be close, and every vote matters. But also, every extra vote in favour means a greater moral weight behind our campaign," he will say. "I will be working through the weekend to build our support. There will be no let-up on my part in the final hours."

He will say he is confident his firm but constructive dialogue with European partners will achieve the end of the ban. Noting that by 2001, taxpayers will have funded 4 billion worth of measures to counter the risk of BSE and to ensure the safety of British beef, he will attack the last government's "arrogance" over Europe and blame the BSE crisis on the Tories.

He will add: "If anything good is to come from BSE, it is that we will be able to say with confidence that British beef is as safe as any in the world."

If the ban is lifted next week, it will still be a few weeks before exports can start again because there have to be final inspections by EU Commission experts to ensure British standards are up to scratch. However, farmers fear it could take many months after that to convince Continental consumers actually to buy the British product.

Beef export ban set to be lifted

 Sun, Nov 22, 1998  By Martin Hickman and Eileen Murphy, PA News
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown today predicted the export ban on British beef would be lifted by the EU tomorrow as farmers prepared for a long haul to claw back markets lost in the Mad Cow Disease crisis. A major Government-backed worldwide promotion blitz will be launched by the industry the moment the ban is lifted in a determined bid to restore damaged consumer confidence in British beef abroad.

But farmers leaders warned that they faced problems in certain European countries, particularly Germany and Austria, where people had not been persuaded British beef was BSE-free. European farm ministers will meet in Brussels tomorrow to vote on an end to the worldwide ban on British beef, imposed in March 1996 in the wake of the Mad Cow Disease epidemic.

Germany will lead opposition to lifting the ban but eight EU governments are poised to vote to restore the UK beef export trade - the narrowest majority of the 15 member states, but enough to bring the worst crisis in EU agriculture to an end. In a surprisingly upbeat assessment of Britain's prospects, Mr Brown said he had received a "good hearing" for a removal of the ban in private lobbying of his EU counterparts.

He told GMTV: "Our partners in Europe have played fair with us and I am certain - as certain as I can be before the meeting - that we will get the decision we want." He went on: "We have done what we were asked to do and can justify the United Kingdom's position on the basis of science and the technical implementation."

Once the ban is lifted, Mr Brown will seek to put in place the Date-Based Export Scheme, which only allows the export of de-boned beef and beef products from cows born after August 1 1996, when potentially BSE-contaminated feed was removed from the food chain. In addition, cows will have to be between six and 30 months old at slaughter and have been clearly identifiable throughout their lives. Mr Brown said he hoped the scheme could be in place by February or March, when the European Commission will check whether it is operating properly before exports recommence.

However, farmers and the meat industry - taken by surprise by the Agriculture Secretary's upbeat assessment today - warned there was a long road ahead to recover foreign markets. A National Farmers Union spokeswoman said: "After almost three years we are well aware that people have had to find their supplies of beef from elsewhere. "The job ahead is to get them to start buying British beef again."

Once the ban is lifted, the Meat and Livestock Commission will send tens of thousands of promotional leaflets around the world in a bid to persuade foreign markets that British beef deserves to be put back on the menu. MLC spokesman Phil Saunders said: "Throughout the last three years we have constantly kept in touch with our export markets across Europe and the rest of the world to ensure that they have been kept updated with everything we have been doing in the UK. "The moment the ban is lifted a leaflet, which is available in each major European language, will be going out to those people as we begin looking forward to seeing the first export of British beef moving away from these shores."

Pointing out that customers in the Netherlands and France actively wanted the ban lifted, the NFU said: "If you can compare the way that consumer confidence has rapidly returned in this country, you will see that the forecast for 1999 consumption of beef in the UK by the Meat and Livestock Commission is 900,000 tonnes - that is virtually back to 1995 levels, which were 901,000 tonnes.

"The lifting of the beef ban does not guarantee that the old markets will still be open to British beef. "However... the NFU believes that some of those customers will be keen to resume business with the UK."

Mr Brown acknowledged the problems ahead, saying: "I think it's going to be a long haul but if we don't make a start we will never get there." The Cabinet minister told BBC 1's On The Record the self-imposed ban on beef-on-the-bone would stay in force until Government experts in the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee recommended its lifting.

But he said: "I hope to be able to lift the domestic ban on beef-on-the-bone as soon as it is reasonable for me to do so. "I want to do so, and if it is possible for me to do so we can explain to the public clearly what the risks are and they can have the choice."

Trust it' message after beef exports resume

Mon, Nov 23, 1998
By Eileen Murphy, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, PA News
Britain's meat industry has called on Europe to trust it as it battles to regain foreign markets lost during the worldwide beef ban. If, as widely expected, European ministers vote to lift the ban in Brussels later today, tens of thousands of Government-funded promotional leaflets will flood across the Continent and the rest of the world, in a concerted effort to persuade overseas customers that it is safe to put British beef back on the menu.

Industry figures estimate the 32 month-long ban on British beef exports, which was introduced in the wake of possible links between BSE and the human form of `mad cow disease', has cost farmers 2 billion. The costs of the BSE crisis at home are put at a further 2.76 billion between 1996 and 1999. On top of these is the loss of an export market worth 650 million a year before the ban was introduced.

The promotional leaflet, produced by the Meat and Livestock Commission, is titled British Beef Returns and details the huge changes the UK beef industry has gone through in an attempt to satisfy European preconditions for re-entering the export market. The A4-sized leaflet, which is available in all major European languages, explains how the lifting of the ban will work and assures customers that no beef will be exported from Britain until full inspections are carried out by European officials.

The bureaucratic process facing UK farmers is likely to mean that the first shipment of British beef will not leave these shores until February or March next year. The MLC said: "Overall, we hope to change the debate, guiding consumer interest towards what makes good beef, so that focus returns once again to quality."

Hurdles in way of beef exports

Mon, Nov 23, 1998 By Geoff Meade, European Editor, PA News in Brussel
Even the most optimistic forecasters were today predicting at least another three months of delay before British beef exports can resume. Despite yesterday's breakthrough vote of EU farm ministers, there are still crucial formalities to be completed before the despatch of the first beef consignments to leave the UK since March 1996.

"We are talking about the first half of next year before the ban can be lifted - and the first half of the year is a moveable feast," said one EU official.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown accepts that the further hold-up is inevitable: as part of the new deal the Government is committed to complete an extra cattle cull in addition to the 4.2 million animals slaughtered already throughout the UK to satisfy European public opinion. The "maternal transmission" cull is one of the conditions in the agreement to restore exports of beef and beef products from animals born after August 1 1996 and will take months to carry out.

It involves implementing an agreed slaughter programme of 4,000 offspring born after August 1 1996 to BSE-infected mothers. Already 650 offspring have been killed voluntarily, but it will take months to complete - not least because it now requires a "statutory instrument" through the House of Commons. Meanwhile, it will also take months before the Government is ready to invite EU inspectors for one last round of checks at British abattoirs to ensure that anti-BSE safety measures are in place and properly enforced.

Only "dedicated" abattoirs can prepare British beef for export under the agreement to lift the ban. They must be fitted with computer equipment for accurate identification of animals being prepared for sale abroad. Only animals with passports charting their lives from birth to the slaughterhouse are eligible. An EU official said the inspection would be ready to go "at the drop of a hat". However, British officials pointed out that negotiations must first be completed with abattoirs over the installation of computers, with all storage facilities for beef for export being vetted for health and safety. Only then will national authorities invite the inspectors to give final approval.

After the inspection it could take another month for the European Commission to recommend a date to resume exports - and win the necessary nod from EU scientific and veterinary experts. "The ban will be lifted sometime between March and May" predicted one official in Brussels. "But certainly not before March." Less predictable is the time it will take continental consumers to regain confidence in British beef.

France says ``thanks, but no thanks'' to British beef

Reuters World Report: Mon, Nov 23, 1998 By Catherine Bremer
PARIS - A European Union decision on Monday to clear British beef for export cut little ice in France, where a deepset distrust of the once-tainted meat could keep it off supermarket shelves for some time. French beef producers' association FNB said it was "furious" at plans to ease restrictions on British beef exports, imposed in March 1996 at the height of the mad cow disease crisis.

"We consider this decision to be very premature," said FNB Secretary General Pierre Chevalier, adding that he feared lifting the ban could spark suspicion of beef across the board. French supermarkets, while reluctant to speculate on whether consumer confidence was strong enough to refuel demand for British beef, said the decision gave them no reason to change established suppliers for British ones.

French consumers' association UFC also labelled the move "premature," saying economic motives had overtaken safety concerns. Both it and FNB said they now planned to amplify a labelling campaign to distinguish French meat from other beef. FNB said that while it was not advocating a boycott of British beef, it wanted to give consumers a clear choice.

France was one of four EU member states to abstain from Monday's vote. Germany was the only one to oppose the motion. The proposal, expected to take effect early next year, will allow Britain to export deboned beef from cattle aged six to 30 months and born after August 1996.

The EU imposed a ban on exports after Britain admitted a link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and a new strain of its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Its lifting was long-awaited by British farmers who have lost immeasurable market share and had to slaughter millions of cattle to eradicate BSE from the food chain.

But France remains sceptical. "The Commission will take full responsibility," French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said after the vote. He said while he had not wanted to vote against Britain, after the effort it had made to stamp out the brain-wasting disease, he could not have supported the proposal because "in France consumers and meat producers are very concerned."

French food retailers said British beef would not appear on their shelves overnight. "For now we are staying with our normal suppliers. This will change nothing in the short term," said Elisabeth Monton, quality director at Promodes. "It's not a decision in Brussels that will make us suddenly change our buying strategy."

Rival supermarket Carrefour said it too was unlikely to switch to UK suppliers in light of the news since it has established routes from French farmyards to its shelves. In Brussels, Luc Guyau, who is head of France's main farming union and of European farm lobby COPA, told a news conference the decision meant consumers had to be doubly careful.

"We now have to double the vigilance at a consumer level," he said. "We need every guarantee on controls on beef."

France has also been afflicted by the mad cow disease, albeit on a much smaller scale than in Britain. Around a dozen cases of the disease have surfaced so far this year in France.

Safety-conscious Germans will still shun beef

PA News Mon, Nov 23, 1998 By Andrew Woodcock
German consumer organisations predicted that today's decision to lift the ban on British beef exports will spark a collapse in meat sales in a country with some of the most safety-conscious shoppers in Europe. Throughout the BSE crisis, Germany has taken a harder line on British beef than its European neighbours, and it was the only country to vote against ending the ban at today's meeting of EU farm ministers in Brussels.

Farmers and butchers lost billions of marks in 1996, when a wave of anxiety swept Germany in the wake of the British Government's announcement that BSE could be passed on to humans. Union flags were burnt and sales of all kinds of meat - whether British or German - plummeted. Drops of up to 70% in sales were greater even than those experienced in the UK. Today, Helga Kuhn, of the German Association of Consumer Organisations (AGV) predicted a repeat of those scenes: "German consumers will be worried and there will be a decrease in meat consumption, perhaps in the same dimension as in 1996, when it was very severe.

"It is a very big issue here. I don't know how German consumers compare with those in other countries, but they are becoming more and more critical about what they buy, especially where meat is concerned. "We had a series of scandals involving food in quick succession - BSE, salmonella and a pig disease which did not affect humans but was disgusting to consumers - and it caused a turn away from meat and mass production techniques. "It is not only a question of human health, but also animal health. More and more people in Germany are saying `We only want to eat meat from happy cows.'"

For years, health-conscious Germans have reacted more extremely to food scares than their European neighbours, with collapses in sales of Spanish olive oil and Austrian wine following adulteration scandals in those countries. German labelling regulations do not require meat to be marked with its country of origin, so consumers feel that a ban on British imports is the only way to be sure that their joints, sausages and schnitzels are BSE-free, said Ms Kuhn.

The high level of German interest in animal rights and food safety is reflected by the presence of the Green Party in their ruling coalition.

Brown dinner time beef plea to Germany

 Sun, Nov 22, 1998  By Geoff Meade, European Editor, PA News, in Brussels
Chancellor Gordon Brown tonight made a last plea to the Germans to back Britain and vote to end the worldwide ban on UK beef exports. The request to reverse months of strong German opposition came on the eve of a crucial meeting of EU agriculture ministers, which is expected to lift the trade blockade by the narrowest of majorities.

Mr Brown, in Brussels for a separate meeting of EU finance ministers tomorrow, made his pitch over dinner in the Belgian capital with his German counterpart Oskar Lafontaine. The Chancellor was continuing right up to the last minute the Government's campaign to convince reluctant EU partners that British beef is now safe to eat.

But tonight's plea is almost certain to fall on deaf ears: Germany has been the fiercest critic of British beef quality since the mad cow crisis began. Even now, despite with a stack of expert scientific evidence and an EU Commission recommendation that the worldwide ban should end, Germany has shown no willingness to back down. Bonn has been accused of being more interested in pandering to misplaced consumer fears in Germany about British beef than in the health and safety measures undertaken by the Government and endorsed by the experts. The 32-month ban has also been a convenient way of keeping a big rival out of the marketplace.

But tonight Mr Brown used diplomacy to try to win round Mr Lafontaine and through him the German farm minister, who will cast his country's vote when the 15 agriculture ministers meet tomorrow afternoon. An end to the ban already looks certain - but only by the smallest of majorities. And Britain's Agriculture Minister Nick Brown would like a stronger display of European confidence to give British beef a bigger boost when exports begin again some time next year.

Both Mr Browns know that a German shift would release other opposition in Europe. But unless the Chancellor's overtures in Brussels work a miracle, Germany will hold firm tomorrow, with Austria, France, Spain and Italy also in the "no" camp.

Luxembourg and Belgium are wavering and are expected to abstain, leaving eight EU governments to give Britain the minimum majority result which the Government and Britain's farmers desperately want.

Two new BSE-cases in Liechtenstein

19 Nov 1998  From: Heim Dagmar
The two BSE-cases of Liechtenstein have been notified to the OIE. Both were BAB-cases. The first, diagnosed on 15 July 1998 was born in 1993. The second case, diagnosed on 21 October 1998, was born in 1991.

Some scientists question decision on British beef

Reuters North America Mon, Nov 23, 1998 By Patricia Reaney
LONDON - The European Union's decision on Monday to lift the ban on British beef exports was long-awaited news for farmers, but a bit premature for some scientists. Although the EU decision only applies to deboned beef from animals aged between six and 30 months, some researchers who have followed the mad cow epidemic said there were no guarantees those animals were not infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

They say dangers persist even though EU veterinary chiefs gave their scientific backing earlier this month to the scheme for limited British exports. "The problem has always been -- we don't know which cows are infected and which aren't. Although we carried out a good slaughter it would be very, very difficult to say we've got all the infected ones," Stephen Dealler, a microbiologist at Burnley general hospital in northern England, told Reuters.

The European Union imposed the ban after the British government admitted a possible link between BSE and a new strain of its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), more than two years ago. So far 30 people have died from new variant CJD. Since March 1996 more than four million cattle have been slaughtered under various programmes to ensure BSE infected cows are not in the food chain.

The number of cows infected with the fatal disorder is decreasing rapidly and risks of contamination are low but Dealler, a specialist in brain wasting diseases, said it would still be difficult to know for certain that infected products were not being exported.

Richard Lacey, the man who blew the whistle on BSE and an outspoken critic of Britain's handling of the crisis, believes lifting the ban is a mistake. He thinks it should have continued indefinitely. The retired professor of microbiology at Leeds University has called for random testing to make sure the disease is wiped out completely, or if it isn't, to pinpoint where the infected animals are in the British herd.

"I think the ban should stay until random tests are done on slaughtered cows to find out what the actual prevalence of BSE is," he told Reuters. "If the disease takes about five years to develop after it gets in the animal it's completely implausible that the actual incidence can drop as quickly as they are claiming."

Instead, the controversial scientist believes farmers are under enormous pressure not to report cases of BSE because the UK government has cut compensation levels for sick animals. Professor John Pattison, the chairman of the UK committee investigating the diseases, said the government had agreed to test for subclinical cases of BSE, in which the cattle may be harbouring the disease without showing symptoms. [Exports are to resume without waiting for test results -- webmaster]

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said the government and the European Union were investigating ways of testing for subclinical BSE. "We're already looking at that," he said, adding: "There are cases of BSE out there but they are being picked up." "The precautionary measures put in place are pretty tight. You cannot, in anything, say this is absolutely 100 percent safe but it is as safe as we can possibly make it and all the checks are there," he said.

Although the ban has been lifted, meat from British herds will probably not be on sale in Europe until next spring after European Union inspectors have visited abattoirs and farms to check hygiene and safety measures.

MAFF obstructed dialogue during BSE crisis

PA News  Mon, Nov 23, 1998 By Alex Richardson 
Former Conservative health minister Edwina Currie today told a public inquiry of the hostility she claims existed between her department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food during the early days of the BSE outbreak. Mrs Currie, a junior minister between 1986 and 1988, said she was frustrated in efforts to set up meetings with MAFF to discuss BSE and other food safety issues.

In a written statement submitted to the public inquiry investigating the crisis Mrs Currie has described the attitude of agriculture officials as "crass and incompetent". Giving evidence to the inquiry in south London today she said: "The cast of mind at the Ministry of Agriculture was really quite hostile to a lot of what the Department of Health was doing (on food safety). I think they thought we were alarmist.

"I think they thought we were trying to raise our own profile by so doing." Mrs Currie told the inquiry that her officials had found it difficult to organise discussions with their MAFF counterparts. She said: "We would encounter obstruction, and they would brief against."

Mrs Currie told the inquiry she hoped it would consider compensation for the victims of New Variant CJD which has been linked to eating infected beef. She said: "The whole BSE business has been a terrible tragedy for the food industry, the beef industry and not least the people affected. "I would hope the inquiry might at some stage turn to the issue of compensation for the human individuals who suffered. "I feel more people became ill, more were infected and more died because of inadequate actions by government ministers over a long period of time and I feel that's a classic case for compensation."

Mrs Currie was asked by inquiry chairman Lord Justice Phillips whether she thought it had been necessary for the Southwood working party's initial report in 1988 before ordering the destruction of all cattle which had died from BSE. She replied: "It could have been stated by the Ministry of Agriculture the moment the disease was notified, but it wasn't."

Mrs Currie said she thought more work should have been done at an early stage to find a test for BSE in cattle. "If you are going to make progress you need to be able to test whether the disease is present, and preferably before it has killed its host. "In my view, if MAFF had said in 1986/87 `let's get research done to create a test' it would have been available a short time later...and it would have been possible to identify sick animals...and have taken action very much more quickly. "That's what we did with AIDS, it was one of the key things we required."

Mrs Currie was asked what she thought of the assurances by Ministry of Agriculture ministers in 1990, after she had left the Government, that British beef was safe to eat. She said: "I had a lot of sympathy for agriculture ministers trying to cope with a background of a dearth of information. "They were required to say something." But she added: "I think (former chief medical officer) Sir Donald Acheson was right to say that they could have been more cautious. "I have always felt with the public you should say what you know."

Mrs Currie said her approach would have been to tell the public every scrap of information, adding: "If I had then been asked 'do you still eat beef?' I would have said yes. "I'm not sure I would have fed hamburger to one of my children, but there you go."

Mrs Currie continued her criticism of the Ministry of Agriculture after finishing giving evidence to the inquiry. Outside the hearing she said: "We did our best as ministers at the time, but there was a limited range of knowledge until the Southwood report. "MAFF tried to keep out the Department of Health and they succeeded." Mrs Currie said the Government's handling of the BSE outbreak began to go wrong after the Southwood report was published.

She said: "The research being done by MAFF itself was very poor, barely better than anecdotal. "It needed a huge research programme, this was a world-wide problem." Mrs Currie contrasted MAFF's efforts at tackling BSE with what she claimed was the highly successful approach of the Department of Health in dealing with Aids in the 1980s.

She also told reporters that in December 1988, after leaving office, she told Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about her concerns with the way the Department of Agriculture was handling BSE. She said: "Within six months the Ministry of Agriculture had changed, she was very good on this."

Mrs Currie was the first of a series of former ministers who will be giving evidence to the long-running BSE inquiry over the coming weeks. Tomorrow the inquiry will hear from former Secretary of State for Health Lord Moore, and former Minister of State for Health Lord Newton.

Leading Conservative politicians scheduled to give evidence over the coming weeks, include Kenneth Clarke, Stephen Dorrell, William Waldegrave, Gillian Shephard and Douglas Hogg. The inquiry has also requested statements from former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, but it has yet to be decided whether they will be asked to give evidence in person.

BSE Inquiry enters criminal phase

BSE Inquiry Secretariat 20 Nov 98

1.Before moving into Phase 2 which will deal with clarifications, conflicts of evidence and potential criticisms, the Committee of Inquiry wishes to invite anyone who is interested to contribute any further comments which may assist them in their task.

2.The Inquiry is now approaching the end of Phase 1. That process is described in the Statement on Procedures of the Inquiry, which was published on 3rd March 1998. During Phase 1, written statements and documentary evidence have been received from a large number of individuals and organisations who were involved in the BSE story, and public hearings involving over 250 witnesses to date have been held since March.

3.The terms of reference of the Inquiry require the Committee "to establish and review the history of the emergence and identification of BSE and new variant CJD in the United Kingdom, and of the action taken in response to it up to 20 March 1996". Thus the object of Phase 1 has been to establish the relevant facts. The terms of reference also require the Committee "to reach conclusions on the adequacy of that response, taking account of the state of knowledge at the time; and to report on these matters by 30 June 1999 to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland". After the conclusion of Phase 1 of the Inquiry, the Committee will turn to this issue, as well as to clarification or resolution of conflicts of evidence.

4.As a first step in considering the adequacy of the response to BSE, the Committee invites all concerned to notify it of any aspect of the BSE story that they feel has not been properly covered by the evidence submitted and heard so far, and in the remaining period of Phase 1. In addition to this, the Committee also invites all concerned to draw attention to any matters which, they consider contributed to a less than adequate response to the problems posed by BSE up to 20th March 1996.

5.A full set of all materials used in the hearings, including published witness statements and transcripts of oral evidence, is maintained for reference by any member of the public on the 6th floor of Hercules House, opposite the lift. In addition, witness statements and transcripts of oral evidence are published and accessible on the Inquiry"s Internet website.

6.Comments in response to these requests are invited by letter, fax, e-mail or Internet. The relevant addresses and numbers are listed below. If it is not intended that such comments should be published, please make this clear. All responses will be fully and carefully considered by the Inquiry. It would be of great assistance to the Committee if any responses could be submitted by 5th January 1999.

Issued by The BSE Inquiry Secretariat

6th Floor Hercules House Hercules Road London SE1 7DU

Tel: 0171 261 8411

Fax: 0171 261 8757

Germans will test 5000 cows

Roland Heynkes 20 Nov 98 Listserve
"Because the EU agricultur ministers are going to lift the BSE ban tomorrow, Baerbel Hoehn, the minister for agriculture in Nordrhein- Westfalen (Germany) decided to test 5,000 older German cows with the Prionics test. On the radio I heard that the test costs 50 DM - peanuts - per animal.

To my knowledge this will be the first time that a government orders the Prionics test not only for evaluation of the test. May be that the minister did not want to hear me saying in an interview when I informed her BSE expert about the availability of the test.

This expert was interested but misinformed by a leading German prion scientist who also tries to develop a BSE test. But the main reason seems to be that my minister wants to set a signal for Bruessel that means, no ban lift before test results.

Whereas I don't know any scientific reason for the coming lift of the export ban, the availability of the tests may be the political reason. Perhaps some continental governments are afraid that a traitor to his country could test some cattle and get positive results in seemingly healthy animals. I wonder why no British spy did have this idea, but perhaps some European governments already have such positive results and are now afraid of getting a ban too.

What I don't understand is that companies like Prionics and Enfer did not inform German governments about their tests. Even if they are very busy with scientific problems, they should become more professional."

The French BSE-test in the coming evaluation seems to be from the group around Dormont and Lasmezas at the Laboratoire de Neuropathologie Experimentale et Neurovirologie, CRSSA, Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique, DPTE/DSV, Fontenay-aux Roses, France.

Isn't it nice that you can't get such information from scientific journals, but only from DPA or internal papers of the EU?"

Britain counts human, financial cost of BSE

Reuters North America Mon, Nov 23, 1998 By Gerrard Raven
LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - For 30 British families, mad cow disease has been a nightmare. They have watched loved ones waste away from the human version of the brain-rotting ailment. For thousands of farmers, the disease has been a financial and emotional tragedy as incomes have plummeted and millions of cattle have been slaughtered in a drive to make British beef safe to eat. The efforts paid off on Monday as the European Union agreed to lift an export ban it imposed in March 1996 after British scientists found evidence that the disease could be transmitted to humans. But the cost of clearing up the disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), has been huge. Agriculture Minister Nick Brown estimates the bill will reach four billion pounds ($6.6 billion) by 2001. The crisis has also plagued Britain's relations with its European neighbours and begged serious questions about the government's overseeing of the politically influential food industry. "BSE has been nothing short of a disaster," Brown said on Friday in his Newcastle, north-east England, constituency. "A disaster for consumers, for farmers and for the national interest." Britain has faced massive bills for compensation to farmers, who have been forced to slaughter 2.6 million animals -- cattle that have been in contact with the disease or that are old enough to have eaten contaminated feed before it was banned. In addition, farmers have been given extra payments to make up for a slump in the beef market, which was worth some 650 million pounds a year. Abattoirs, the renderers who process cattle carcasses and meat, bonemeal and tallow stores have had to be paid for their roles in disposing of cattle. Power generation companies could yet get in on the act. They may burn some of the 257,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal that have accumulated in stores in their power stations at a possible cost of 70 million pounds. The crisis has even meant the hiring of hundreds of extra civil servants to deal with the administrative nightmare. An extra 640 staff have been recruited by the Agriculture Ministry as a direct result of BSE while employee numbers at the Intervention Board, which manages the buying of surplus farm produce on behalf of the European Union, have risen by 331. The government has also set up a new office to monitor the movement of cattle from farm to farm as part of its campaign to get Brussels to lift the export ban. About half the cost of British BSE is falling on the European Union, although farmers in other member states have enjoyed a competitive bonus because of the ban imposed in 1996 on British beef exports. Britain spent 1.5 billion pounds ($2.47 billion) in 1996/7 on BSE-related measures. But of that 800 million pounds was eligible for reimbursement from the EU Commission in Brussels. The official figures do not, however, include the cost to Britain's National Health Service of treating people suffering from the human version of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Thirty people have already died of a new strain of CJD believed to have come from their eating contaminated beef products. No one knows how many more victims there will be, given the long incubation period associated with CJD. ($1=0.60 Pound)

How the BSE crisis took its toll on industry

Mon, Nov 23, 1998  By Eileen Murphy, Consumer Correspondent, PA News
The BSE crisis and the resulting worldwide ban on beef exports affected the industry in many different ways. Cattle farmer David Bailey said his local farming community in the Staffordshire Moorlands had been devastated by the events. But as a small-scale farmer of specialist thoroughbred Herefordshire cattle, 40-year-old Mr Bailey had managed to survive the 32-month ban but other farmers breeding cattle for general consumption had gone to the wall.

The farmer, who runs a herd of around 45 heads of cattle on 32 acres near Leek in Staffordshire, said that if the lifting of the ban was to alleviate the suffering of farmers, Government help was needed.

He said: "This is not a question of handouts. We have had the 120 million from Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, but we do not want to be seen as beggars. "What we need is for the Government to get behind British farmers and really push British beef at home and then abroad. "It would be ludicrous to imagine that the markets we lost under the ban will come back overnight but we need to start restoring consumer confidence."

Mr Bailey said that even though he only had himself to support he had been forced to take part-time jobs to supplement his income as a framer, like many of his contemporaries. He now works on a fruit and vegetable market stall at Leek Market and also acts as a local agent for a cattle feed company.

He said: "The point is that beef farmers in this country really do have their backs to the wall. Everyone has had to take part-time jobs just to keep their heads above water. "We are talking about people with wives, children, mortgages and massive bank loans which have been taken out to try to maintain their farms. "The youngsters are starting to leave farming when they realise that their part-time jobs are actually paying them more than their farms and are more secure. That is a real loss."

Mr Bailey also attacked Britain's big supermarket chains for their lack of support for British farmers. "If we are talking about promoting British beef abroad we have to start at home. There doesn't seem to be much patriotism or loyalty on the part of our own supermarkets who just ignore British beef if foreign imports are cheaper. "Consumers here and abroad have to know that there is British beef on sale and be persuaded to ask for it."

The farmer was in no doubt that Britain was not the only country who had experienced the outbreak of `Mad Cow Disease' but believes that other European states hid the facts. He said: "I'm absolutely certain that BSE is out there but they have just managed to keep quiet about it. You can't just have the few cases that we have seen on the Continent. "We were just daft enough to admit that we had it here and had the officials and scientists who found out the extent of it."

But while some farmers have faced tremendous difficulties during the ban, one beef producer who will have no difficulty getting back into foreign markets is Glenbervie Aberdeen Angus - if only they can find enough meat to export. The producers of high-class Scottish beef, which graces the tables of the Savoy, Ritz and The Square restaurants in London, is regarded as one of the best suppliers of quality beef products in the world.

Favoured by top chefs and food critics, the Glenbervie Estate produces meat from around 60-80 cattle a week. Such quality produce is exactly the kind of British beef that will be warmly welcomed back on to Continental menus. Tom Craigmyle, operations manager for the 2,600-acre estate which lies just south of Aberdeen, said that although he was sure Glenbervie beef would be welcomed back abroad, the company was in no desperate rush to conquer French and German markets.

He said: "The point is that we are not going to dilute the value of our product by increasing production to that level. The reason why our product is so popular is that we are producing 75% pure Aberdeen Angus beef which has unparalleled levels of traceability.

"Whether we produce a steak, a sausage, a burger or even mince, we can trace the meat back to individual cows through a six-digit code. "It might sound like sarcastic humour but it would be fun to say to those abroad, `After all this time we just haven't got enough for you now'. "When we started we had plans to move into Europe but we are a very niche market and really don't think that we will have any problems of actual demand for our meat."

But just as farmers are counting the cost of the export ban, the country's livestock hauliers said they had become the forgotten victims of the BSE crisis. At the height of the `Mad Cow Disease' outbreak, losses to livestock hauliers were running in excess of 350,000 per week, with total losses to the industry totalling more than 33 million.

Dozens of haulage firms linked to the livestock industry went bust and an estimated 400 jobs were lost. But the Road Haulage Association's appeals to Government for the compensation scheme to be extended to them were denied.

RHA spokesman Dan Hodges said today: "We welcome the lifting of the beef ban but for many livestock hauliers this reprieve has come too late. Dozens of haulage firms have gone bust, hundreds of workers have lost their jobs and yet no one in our industry has received a penny of compensation. "Our members feel they are forgotten victims of the BSE crisis."

Mad cow fear leads U.K. to destroy donated blood

Dow Jones Tue, Nov 24, 1998  By Steve Stecklow 
 Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal 
LONDON - Two and a half years after the "mad-cow disease" scare hit the United Kingdom, British beef is back. Domestic consumption has rebounded, and the European Union this week voted to lift its ban on exports. Scientists generally believe that, following the slaughter of 2.5 million cattle and other precautions, people now can eat British beef without fear of the brain disease that killed tens of thousands of British cattle and, many scientists believe, was passed to 31 people as well.

"It is now just a matter of time before top-quality British beef is enjoyed across the world once again," says Ben Gill, head of the U.K.'s National Farmers Union.

But that doesn't mean the scare is over. It has taken a new turn. The latest concern isn't about British beef, but British blood. Some scientists now fear that the disease could be passed through transfusions of blood from people who once ate infected beef, and as a result harbor the infectious agent.

The risk remains hypothetical. Scientists aren't sure whether the disease can be spread through blood at all. But new research suggests it is possible, and there is no laboratory test to screen the blood. So the British government, under criticism for having reacted too slowly to the mad-cow problem in the past, is taking no chances this time.

In an unprecedented and controversial decision to reduce the risk of infection, it has begun destroying nearly all the plasma - the liquid part of blood that is used to make products for hemophiliacs, burn victims and others - from all blood donations in Britain. It is replacing the plasma with supplies from the U.S., where there have been no reported cases of the disease.

In addition, the government has begun removing and destroying the white blood cells. These are part of the immune system, and they are suspected of playing a role in the disease's progress. By next year, both actions should be fully in place. "We're erring on the side of caution," says Sue Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Britain's National Blood Service.

In the U.S., some suggest the British are overreacting, especially in their decision to destroy plasma. "This response is based on a theoretical risk only, and therefore I feel it is a bit extreme," says Richard Davey, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross. Paul Brown, a senior research scientist at the National Institutes of Health, calls the policy "an archconservative position" that represents "ultimate caution," although he says he can't argue with it. "If you can afford to do it, that's fine," he says. "It costs a fortune."

Indeed, the British actions are expected to cost $165 million a year-half of the National Blood Service's budget - and increase the cost of blood products. But Michael Rawlins, who heads the government advisory board on medicine safety that recommended destroying plasma, says the decision was unanimous. "We fervently hope it's a waste of money," he says. "Because if it isn't, we're in real trouble."

Much remains a mystery about "mad-cow" disease, which is formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The fatal illness suffered by the 31 victims has been labeled "new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" - after another rare brain disorder in humans - and appears identical to BSE. Scientists still don't know the origin of mad cow, which was first confirmed in Britain in 1986. But they are convinced it spread among cattle because diseased animals were recycled-infected parts were ground up and processed into animal feed. To date, there have been more than 175,000 confirmed cases in British cattle, and much smaller numbers in 14 other countries. There haven't been any in the U.S.

Researchers have demonstrated with experimental mice that the same infectious agent that causes BSE-believed to be a rogue protein called a prion-also causes the human disease. Yet there remains no definitive proof that infected beef was the source of the outbreak in humans, although this notion is now very widely accepted. "We can't do the obvious experiment, which is to actually feed BSE brain material to a human," notes Moira Bruce, a biologist in Edinburgh who did the mouse experiments.

Still other critical questions remain unanswered: How much exposure to the infectious agent does it take for a person to contract the disease? How long does it take for symptoms to appear? Why has the disease targeted mainly young people (the average age of victims was 29)? And, the greatest mystery: How many people walking around today might be infected?

What is clear is that the disease is dreadful. After lying essentially dormant for years, it suddenly attacks and decimates the brain. "There's no cure, there's no treatment, there's nothing you can do," says Dorothy Churchill of Wiltshire in southwest England, whose son, Stephen, was the first confirmed case. A fit young man who had passed tests to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force, he suddenly grew depressed in 1994, suffered hallucinations and soon couldn't bathe or eat. Within a year, he was dead at the age of 19.

The concern about human blood grew last year following research conducted in Britain and Switzerland. In London, a team led by John Collinge at Imperial College School of Medicine discovered traces of the disease in victims' tonsils, a lymphatic organ where white blood cells known as B lymphocytes circulate. The research also suggested that new-variant CJD behaves differently from the classical form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which isn't found in the tonsils (and has never been linked to transfusions).

Meanwhile, a team in Zurich led by Adriano Aguzzi conducted mouse experiments that indicated B lymphocytes may play a role in transporting the disease agent to the brain. The researchers found that mice with defective B lymphocytes didn't contract scrapie - a related prion disease seen in sheep-when injected with infected tissue in the abdominal cavity. Other mice with normal B lymphocytes did develop the disease.

The findings prompted Britain's health department last year to establish a policy to recall and destroy any plasma products made from blood donations from the people diagnosed with new-variant CJD. That is no easy task. Cases usually aren't confirmed until after death, and blood donations may have been made years before. Users of blood products also often aren't tracked. In fact, at least four of the 31 people who have died of the disease were blood donors, and in two cases, their blood was used in products given to patients. An individual's blood may end up in thousands of products. To make plasma products in quantity, manufacturers pool many blood donations - in Britain, as many as 62,000.

Dr. Rawlins, the advisory-board chief, says the recall policy adopted last year "meant that we were seriously going to interfere with the availability of blood products generally." So the next step, to import all plasma used in pools, was logical, he says. The decision, made in May, doesn't affect fresh-frozen plasma, which isn't pooled and is used in life-threatening situations. It also doesn't affect red blood cells, which are used in transfusions, or clotting agents called platelets, which are used in cancer therapies.

Dr. Aguzzi, a professor at Zurich University, serves on another scientific panel that advises the British government on new-variant CJD and related diseases. After much debate, the panel recommended in June the removal of white blood cells from all blood donated in Britain, a process known as leukocyte reduction. The government accepted the advice in July.

"It was a difficult decision to take, and we still don't know whether it was the correct one," Dr. Aguzzi says. He supported leukocyte reduction even though he agrees that his own research "has certainly not proven that blood is infectious." He notes that his experiments involved mice, not people, and that the disease studied was scrapie, not BSE or new-variant CJD.

"I would say this was rather indirect evidence," he says, "On its own, it certainly would not suffice to justify measures of public health." In fact, his latest research, to be published next week in the journal Nature Medicine, shows that the role played by B lymphocytes in prion diseases remains unclear.

Still, he believes the decision was prudent in view of the tonsil research, plus recent findings of traces of the infectious agent in the human appendix as well. He also notes that there are other advantages to the removal of white blood cells, a practice that is already in use in several countries, including France and Portugal, and is under consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Davey, of the American Red Cross, explains that the process can reduce bad reactions to transfusions, such as high fever, and eliminate the risk of transmitting viral diseases.

In weighing their decisions, Dr. Aguzzi and other scientists say they are particularly mindful of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when thousands of people who had transfusions became infected before blood-screening tests existed. "The AIDS blood scandal was a catastrophe," he says, and with no screening test available for this disease, the situation may be "not totally dissimilar."

Mad Cow Home ... Best Links ... CGi">Search this site