BSE cases decline, scrapie could be next target
Mad cows: BSE epidemic may end in 1998
BSE expert predicts end of epidemic in two years
CJD will kill 'hundreds a year' says new report
Expert casts doubt on CJD deaths forecast

BSE: Probe leaves few unscathed
Cattle Subsidies Tripled
Agriculture: Beef crisis to cost taxpayer £3.3bn
Agriculture: BSE fight gets extra £792m
Fish-meal is banned from cattle feed

Extra police guard Hogg at show
Farmers press Hogg over date of selective cattle cull
British farmers urge cattle cull
Beef market: few signs of upturn
Beef ban: Brussels suggests UK could have deal

BSE cases decline, scrapie could be next target

NV-CJD muscles in on veterinary meeting

Lancet 11.30.96 ... Jane Bradbury

On Nov 26, ten years to the day since the first reported case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), veterinary experts at a press conference held to discuss the epidemiology of BSE and scrapie found that the audience were more interested in reactions to the latest media hype on new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD). According to a report in The Independent (Nov 26) "hundreds of Britons will die every year from CJD caused by eating BSE-infected food".

Commenting on the newspaper report, Prof Roy Anderson (Oxford, UK) said that he personally felt that to extrapolate from 14 recorded cases of nvCJD when so little was known about disease parameters was difficult and could not be done scientifically at present. Prof Ian McConnell (Cambridge, UK) agreed but added that he had not seen the data behind the newspaper report .

Returning to veterinary matters, Anderson reported encouraging results about how soon BSE would be cleared from the British herd. His latest estimates are that, if the older animals are culled first, the epidemic may be effectively over by mid-1998, rather than by 2001 as reported in August (Nature 1996; 382: 77988) and that only 150 cattle below the age of 30 months are currently infected.

Among the issues discussed was the possibility of clearing scrapie from sheep flocks. The scientists stressed that this should be a high priority because of animal health issues rather than human health considerations.

Beef market: WTO sees few signs of upturn

By Frances Williams in Geneva
Financial Times ... Tuesday November 19 1996

The world market for beef shows little sign of pulling out of its current depressed state, the World Trade Organisation says in its annual report on the international meat markets.

Beef prices have slumped this year due to the impact of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow" disease, on European demand, and a big expansion in US production that will make it a net exporter this year for the first time since 1945.

In mid-1996 prices for manufacturing beef in the US were 20 per cent below their levels in early 1995 and 40 per cent below their levels in early 1994, while returns from exports to Japan were down nearly 40 per cent over the year, the report says.

The price outlook depends largely on the response of US producers to rising feed-grain costs and the longer term impact of the "mad cow" scare, both of which are uncertain, the WTO points out.

In the European Union, beef consumption has plunged even in countries free of BSE. EU intervention stocks, which were virtually zero at the beginning of 1996, are now rising again, the report notes.

However, beef consumption is rising strongly in Japan and South Korea, while falling home production has lifted Russian import demand. Japanese imports are predicted to top 1m tons this year, overtaking those of the US to make Japan the world's biggest beef importer.

World beef trade is estimated at 4.86m tons in 1996, up 3.5 per cent from 1995.

Low prices in the US market prevented Australia and New Zealand, the world's biggest and fourth-biggest exporters, respectively, from benefiting from this year's easier market access arrangements agreed in the Uruguay Round global trade accords. At the same time, Canada's exports, mostly to the US, have jumped by one-quarter.

Argentina's beef industry has suffered from bad weather, declining domestic consumption and lower shipments to the EU, its biggest customer, because of the "mad cow" crisis. But exports from Brazil and Uruguay have risen strongly in 1996.

Uruguay has been helped by certification as a country free of foot-and-mouth disease, which has enabled it to ship beef to the US.

Argentina is also working towards FMD-free status, which should lift export performance in Asia as well as North America.

The International Markets for Meat 1995-96. WTO, 154 Rue de Lausanne, CH-1211 Geneva 21, SFr15.

Beef ban: Brussels suggests UK could have deal

By Caroline Southey in Brussels

Financial Times ... Monday November 18 1996

Britain's European Union partners would approve a partial lifting of the beef ban, the European Commission believes, if the UK pressed for an end to the embargo on meat from herds which have been free of mad cow disease. It would be acceptable to all bar Germany, officials think.

Such a move would amount to a regional lifting of the ban, since incidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been lower in Northern Ireland and Scotland than in the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland and Scottish farmers have urged the government to pursue the case for lifting the ban on "certified" herds. Their cause has been taken up by Mr Ivan Yates, the Irish agriculture minister, and they have had a sympathetic hearing from Mr Franz Fischler, the agriculture commissioner.

However, the British government has refused to lodge the request in Brussels. Nor would it do so, said an official, until EU scientists had given their views on the merits of a selective cull of British cattle aimed at reducing incidence of the disease. This is not expected until early next year.

"Any lifting of the ban depends on us meeting the Florence conditions, which include a selective cull. We can't decide on the cull until we know what the scientists think," the official said.

Mr Douglas Hogg, Britain's agriculture minister, will today brief his counterparts at a meeting in Brussels on the steps taken to fulfil the terms of the Florence agreement. "We will try to impress on them we are trying to push things forward," an official said. "But there won't be any dramatic new departures."

EU officials believe the UK is stalling on the issue because of domestic political considerations. "They don't want to do anything this side of the election. They would prefer to be able to portray us as perfidious idiots who can't speak the language," said one.

The British government also has been reluctant to act because of fears of a political backlash in Scotland. Cabinet ministers are nervous that Northern Ireland farmers would exploit markets traditionally supplied by Scotland if the ban was lifted in Ulster first. "Some are arguing that it has to be all, or nothing," said the EU official.

Commission and British experts have already begun discussing the conditions under which the ban could be lifted, including a definition of a certified herd and systems for tracing cattle. "There would be common rules for all. But some obstacles will be so high that only some will be able to clear them," the official said.

Northern Ireland in particular could easily meet the necessary conditions, since there have been incidents of BSE in only 3 per cent of its herds. It also has a sophisticated computerised database of all cattle and the advantage of being separate from the mainland, making it easier to control exports.

Extra police guard Hogg at show

By David Brown

Daily Telegraph ... Monday 25 November 1996

Security will be tightened at the Royal Smithfield Show today for a visit by Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture.

Extra police and security guards will be at Earl's Court to protect Mr Hogg after fears that he may face protests about the handling of the beef crisis. Earlier this year he was jostled when he attended a farm show in the West Country. Mr Hogg declined an invitation to open the show on the advice of government officials who felt that he was laying himself open to further trouble.

A total of 367 cattle and 249 sheep and 207 carcasses have been entered for the show, which runs until Wednesday and is designed to promote British meat and livestock. Vegetarians and animal rights protesters staged an anti-meat protest outside the show, blaming farmers for endangering consumers by spreading mad cow disease.

Farmers at the show voiced optimism about the future of the beef market. Prices have been rising as demand increases in the run-up to Christmas. Thieves opted for beef when they took hundreds of pounds' worth of joints, steaks and mince from a supermarket's stand before the show opened, leaving pork and lamb untouched.

Farmers press Hogg over date of selective cattle cull

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Daily Telegraph ... Tuesday 26 November 1996

Farming leaders put pressure on Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, yesterday by demanding an immediate start to a cull of up to 147,000 cattle to persuade the European Union to lift its export ban on British beef.

Even as the Government announced that its existing cull of cattle of more than 30 months of age will have destroyed more than one million animals by the end of this week, the presidents of the major UK farming unions said this was not enough.

They chose the Royal Smithfield Show at Earls Court, London, to issue a statement saying: "The farming communities . . . consider it essential that the selective cull goes ahead forthwith to restore our export trade in beef and beef products."

Sir David Naish, President of the National Farmers Union of England and Wales, Sandy Mole, President of the Scottish NFU, Greer McCollum, President of the Ulster Farmers Union, and John Lloyd Jones, chairman of the Welsh Council of the NFU, criticised lack of action by the Government to implement an agreement made by John Major at the Florence summit to cull cattle deemed most at risk of harbouring BSE. They warned that Britain had no chance of securing a lifting of the beef ban until this was done. They urged the Government to introduce statutory instruments to allow a selective cull to go ahead.

Visiting the show, where he met a farmers' delegation in private, Mr Hogg defended the Government's performance over BSE and said he recognised the need to make a decision on a selective cull "soon". He hinted that there might be an announcement before Christmas.

CJD will kill 'hundreds a year' says new report

Gervase Webb

London Evening Standard ... Tuesday 26 November 1996

Hundreds of Britons will be dying every year in about seven years time - with burger-eating getting the blame in most cases - according to a new report published as the millionth cow is slaughtered to control mad cow disease.

Government scientists are behind the new death toll prediction for CJD caused by eating BSE infected food, says the Independent. The prediction is far lower than the 'doomsday-scenario' put forward by some scientists when a link between CJD and BSE was first mooted a year ago.

Today, however, a Department of Health spokesman said Department officials had not seen the paper by members of the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh. The estimates in the Edinburgh paper, submitted to the medical journal The Lancet for publication, are based on the 14 'new-variant' cases of the CJD brain disorder recorded in the UK. The variants have been linked with the consumption of food contaminated with the 'mad cow disease', BSE.

Dr James Ironside, one of the papers co-authors, is quoted by The Independent as saying that the new figures do not bear out the 'doomsday scenario that some have predicted'. He said 'It now looks as though the total number of cases over the whole course of the disease will be in the hundreds, rather than the thousands'. According to the new calculations, the number of cases will rise gradually and reach a peak in 2003.

The risk of eating BSE infected food is seen as having peaked around 1988 and 1989 - before cattle brains and spinal cords were excluded from human food. People who ate a lot of Hamburgers at that time, or were on tight budgets and depended on food containing 'mechanically recovered meat', are most at risk the experts believe.

The report comes as the number of cattle slaughtered in the latest bid to eradicate mad cow disease approached the million mark this week. The 30 month cull, setup in May, in the wake of the BSE crisis, was 'well-on-track' to eliminate the current backlog by Christmas said Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg.

Expert casts doubt on CJD deaths forecast

by Michael Hornsby and Nigel Hawkes

The Times ... November 27 1996

An expert on infectious diseases cast doubt yesterday on predictions that hundreds of people would die every year from the new strain of CJD, the brain condition linked to eating contaminated beef.

The forecasts of the likely death toll from the human form of "mad cow" disease are contained in a paper submitted to The Lancet by scientists at the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh. The journal said yesterday that the paper has been circulated for peer review and no decision has yet been taken to publish.

Roy Anderson, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease at Oxford University, said it was impossible to extrapolate forwards when the incubation period of the new strain of CJD was unknown and there had been only 14 confirmed cases so far. "My own view is that it is very difficult to say anything sensible scientifically about this issue at present," he said.

Professor Anderson also said that the Government's cull of cattle over 30 months old could eradicate BSE by mid-1998, three years earlier than previously predicted. He estimated that about only 150 animals under that age were still carrying the disease.

The Department of Health said officials had not yet seen the paper. "We recognise the need to try to make predictions, but at this stage any forecasts must be viewed with extreme caution," a spokesman said.

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Subsidies to rise for BSE hill farmers

Daily Telegraph ... Wednesday 27 November 1996

Hill farmers worst hit by the beef crisis had their cattle subsidies tripled yesterday as part of a £60 million package of aid delivered in the Budget.

Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances, one of the farm subsidies met directly by the Treasury rather than by the EU farm budget in Brussels, were increased from £110 million to £170 million from next year. These subsidies are designed to maintain farmers in the hills and high moors of Britain who rely mainly on livestock for a living. Keeping these farms in business is also a priority as part of efforts to conserve the traditional environment in the uplands.

Douglas Hogg, Minister of Agriculture, said that subsidies in designated Disadvantaged Areas would be increased in 1997 by £46 to £69.75 a cow. Subsidies in Severely Disadvantaged Areas will be increased by £50 to £97.50 a cow. HLCA subsidies for sheep remain unchanged. In addition the Government took action to increase the financial ceilings which effectively cap the amount of money which hill and moorland farmers are allowed to earn per acre from subsidies. Under a complicated formula the money they get for their livestock is translated into a value based on the amount of subsidy per acre.

Yesterday the government agreed to lift the financial ceiling from £24.40 to £39 an acre in Disadvantaged Areas and from £35.50 to at least £51 an acre in Severely Disadvantaged Areas. The Government said it would be spending an extra £730 million next year to resolve the beef crisis. Until now the figure has only been an estimate. Overall about £3.3 billion has been allocated for this task over the next three years.

Spending on BSE research will be increased over the next three years by £12 million. Mr Hogg said that this work was a "priority".

BSE: Probe leaves few unscathed

By Caroline Southey

Financial Times ... Wednesday November 27 1996

The European Parliament's investigation into the handling of the "mad cow" crisis over the last eight years has unearthed some startling facts which call into question the behaviour of national governments, the European Union's veterinary experts and the European Commission.

"There clearly was a lot of mismanagement," said Mr Reimer Böge, a German MEP and chairman of the committee of inquiry into bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) which wraps up next month and will deliver its final report in January.

The biggest mistake, he believes, was the attempt to "try to minimise the problem". Chief among the accused stands the UK. Evidence delivered so far paints a dismal picture of inadequate control and poor management in Britain, where the government failed to implement anti-BSE measures.

The most important of these was a ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to cattle. This only came fully into force in July 1996 despite UK legislation in 1988.

"There was a real lack of control and management and UK officials have admitted that things could have been managed in another way," Mr Böge said.

Evidence also points to errors on the part of the council of ministers and the standing veterinary committee. Both bodies baulked at taking decisions to safeguard human health on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific evidence to warrant drastic action.

But the most sensitive findings relate to the Commission. The principal accusation has been that Commission officials, including Mr Ray MacSharry, farm commissioner between 1989 and 1992, and Mr Guy Legras, the EU's top agriculture civil servant, tried to keep discussions on BSE to a minimum in an effort to protect the beef sector.

Mr MacSharry and Mr Legras both vehemently denied the charge when they faced the inquiry. "I have never exercised any pressure on anybody not to disclose information about the problem," Mr MacSharry said. He added that "managing the market was never, I repeat never, given priority over measures to protect health".

The inquiry has also discovered that the Commission failed to send EU inspection teams to meat and bonemeal plants in the UK between June 1990 and 1994. Inspections could have uncovered the UK's lax behaviour and led to tighter controls on infected feed which scientists believe was the main cause of BSE.

Mr MacSharry and Mr Legras admitted the omission, but argued there was an acute shortage of qualified inspection staff. The Commission had 12 staff in 1991 whose responsibilities ranged from ensuring implementation of the single market to vetting third-country imports.

Mr MacSharry said he had pressed, unsuccessfully, for the number to be raised to 120.

Mr MacSharry blamed the UK for negligence in implementing laws designed to reduce the risk of mad cow disease. "When decisions are taken at community level, it is the responsibility of member states to implement them," he said.

There is also evidence that conflicts between individuals and departments in the Commission led to confusion and poor policy-making. In one instance, evidence has emerged that an inspection report critical of measures being taken in the UK was not followed up.

The BSE inquiry is also attempting to unravel the real story behind the Commission's decision earlier this year to lift the export ban on British gelatine.

MEPs will question Mr Franz Fischler, commis sioner for agriculture, on why he backed a decision to lift the ban on British gelatine and tallow before he had received a definitive report on how the products could be made safe.

The report, prepared by an independent research institute, found that no absolute guarantees could be given on the safety of gelatine, even after it had been subjected to special treatment.

Mr Reinhard Schrieber, president of the gelatine manufacturers of Europe, told the inquiry the Commission had been given the report before the decision to lift the ban was taken. The Commission denies it received it.

"There are inconsistencies," Mr Böge said. "We have to establish the truth."

But the critical question for those in the dock is whether MEPs conclude this all amounts to a conspiracy, or simply a series of errors.

There is a great deal at stake. Mr Böge believes the parliament's reputation rests on the results of the inquiry, the first to be completed by the parliament under powers given to it by the Maastricht treaty. "If we are successful, it will prove that the parliament can use this right of inquiry to find the truth and uncover mismanagement," he said.

But there is increasing nervousness in some quarters about the outcome. "I think we have spent too much time looking back. There has been too much of a witchhunt," said Lord Plumb, a British MEP sitting on the inquiry.

Mr Böge is aware that a damning report, particularly one that singles out the Commission, could have serious political consequences.

"Some fear that a bad result could be used by some member states to argue that the Commission's powers should be curbed," he said. But, he added, "I want a balanced result. This should not be misused by politicians."

Agriculture: Beef crisis to cost taxpayer £3.3bn

UK Budget

Financial Times ... Wednesday November 27 1996

The beef crisis will cost the taxpayer £3.3bn over four years, Mr Douglas Hogg, agriculture minister, announced.

The bulk of the projected funding, spelled out in detail for the first time, will come from elsewhere in the Budget rather than from cuts in spending by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), officials said.

Mr Hogg justified the hefty expenditure in terms of the need to protect the public and restore the beef market. "Public safety is my priority and the high level of funding allocated to Maff reflects that," he said.

However, Mr Gavin Strang, Labour's agriculture spokesman, said he was not convinced the £3.3bn would be enough to cover the full cost of the crisis over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

"Past Conservative governments' mishandling of the BSE epidemic in our cattle in the 1980s has resulted in this huge drain on the taxpayer," he said.

Mr Strang deplored planned savings in non-BSE research and development to pay for an extra £12m in spending on BSE-related research over the next three years. Other Maff savings include a projected £59m drop in departmental running costs over the next three years.

Spending on measures related to BSE has been set at £730m for the next financial year, following the estimated £1.5bn cost of the crisis in the current year.

The £730m includes more than £300m for the destruction of cattle more than 30 months old, £245m for intervention buying to support beef prices, and up to £59m in further aid to abattoirs and rendering companies.

The government is providing for £580m in 1998-99 and £490m in 1999-2000 to cover the continued costs of the crisis.

On top of next year's BSE spending will be £60m in funding for beef farmers in difficult upland areas who have been particularly hard hit by the crisis. This will increase funding on Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCAs) to £170m.

The National Farmers' Union welcomed the fact that the additional money, first announced in September, would not be clawed back from payments to sheep farmers as it had feared. Sheep payments will be frozen at current levels. The union was also pleased the government was raising the payment ceilings on HLCAs to ensure most hill farmers would benefit from the higher aid levels.

Sir David Naish, NFU president, said many hill farmers were reporting a fall in prices of up to 25 per cent at autumn cattle sales. The details announced on the increased payments would help safeguard the future of upland beef herds, he said.

Agriculture: BSE fight gets extra £792m

UK Budget

Financial Times ... Wednesday November 27 1996

Extra funding of £792m to protect the public and eliminate BSE from UK cattle herds was allocated yesterday.

Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg said: "Public safety is my priority and the high level of funding allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture reflects that.

"About £3.3bn has been set aside to protect the public and restore the market in British beef. I believe that we have the best and safest beef in the world. And my determination to get that world class product back into world markets is unswerving.

"This budget is good news for consumers, good news for farmers and good news for the whole rural economy."

Additional provision for BSE related measures has been set at £730m in 1997/98, £580m in 1998/99 and £490m in 1999/2000. These include both programme expenditure and administration costs.

These amounts are additional to those provided below for the Common Agricultural Policy and UK Domestic Agriculture. The largest element relates to the Over Thirty Month Scheme, under which all older animals are removed from the human food chain.

Planned UK expenditure on the Common Agricultural Policy is expected to fall to £2.9bn in 1997/98, £2.88bn in 1998/99 and £2.89bn in 1999/ 2000, a decrease of £90m in 1997/98 compared with previously announced baselines (News Release 422/95).

Provision for spending on UK Domestic Agriculture has been set at £1.02bn in 1997/98, £920m in 1998/99 and £910m in 1999/2000, an increase of £30m in 1997/98 compared with previously announced baselines (News Release 422/95).

Priority in this year's Survey has been given to measures taken to support beef producers and the disposal chain, and the lifting of the export ban. The main elements of the government's package for 1997/98 include: over £300m annually payable to farmers and others as compensation and disposal costs for the removal of all cattle over the age of 30 months from the food chain; £245m to support beef prices in the UK through intervention buying; and up to £59m further support to the disposal chain, as slaughterers and renderers adjust to the changed value of animal by-products.

Baselines for these schemes have been brought into line with more realistic forecasts of uptake.

These still provide for a progressive expansion of the schemes including a further £5m worth of Countryside Stewardship agreements, to be entered into in 1998.

Departmental running costs are set to fall by £59m over the three years.

Those areas of the department most affected by the BSE crisis will receive additional provision.

Reductions are also being applied to departmental capital spending. These savings will be found, where possible, from further efficiency gains and only essential capital works will proceed.

Mad cows: BSE epidemic may end in 1998

By Clive Cookson, Science Editor

Financial Times ... Wednesday November 27 1996

The BSE or "mad cow" epidemic could be over by mid-1998 if the current cull of cattle over 30 months old were adjusted slightly to target those at greatest risk of infection, scientists said yesterday.

Professor Roy Anderson and research colleagues from Oxford University's centre for the epidemiology of infectious diseases told a London meeting at the Wellcome Trust that the UK's existing "over 30 month scheme" had gone further than expected in removing infected cattle from the food chain.

Only 150 cattle under 30 months old were still infected with BSE, Prof Anderson estimated. About 1m animals were infected during the course of the epidemic. He added that the existing scheme, which will have killed more than 1m animals by the end of this week, had probably already met the conditions set by June's European Union summit for a selective slaughter of animals most at risk.

"The only reason we cannot be certain is that we do not have data for the ages of the animals culled," he said.

Prof Anderson, a leading UK expert on the spread of infections, said it was still too early to predict the course of any human epidemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease caused by eating infected beef. So far there have been 14 confirmed cases of "new variant" CJD linked to BSE.

Scientists at the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh have submitted a paper on the expected human death toll to the Lancet. This reportedly concludes that, at the peak of the projected CJD epidemic around 2003, hundreds of people a year will be dying.

But Prof Anderson said: "The scientific methodologies are not available to extrapolate forward for a disease where the incubation period is not known and there have only been 14 recorded cases."

BSE expert predicts end of epidemic in two years

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Daily Telegraph ... Wednesday 27 November 1996

mad cow disease has been virtually eliminated from younger British cattle and the epidemic could be over within two years, scientists said yesterday.

Between 150 and 200 cattle aged under 30 months now have bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and culling targets set by the European Union have probably been met, according to Prof Roy Anderson, who has been using mathematical models at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Oxford, to predict the course of the epidemic

"We believe that it is possible to take the epidemic out by mid-1998," Prof Anderson said. He was speaking after a meeting held at the Wellcome Trust, London, where leading European scientists participated in a review of the current knowledge of BSE and scrapie, the sheep spongiform disease.

The rate of new BSE infections has been low since 1994 but he said that to reduce the disease to a trickle of cases by mid-1998 would require at least half of the current rate of slaughter - 60,000 head of cattle aged over 30 months per week - to continue.

Prof Anderson referred to the Florence EU summit agreement in June and said it was possible that the targets - 150,000 cattle in given cohorts to be slaughtered - had been achieved. "One's suspicion is that the Florence agreement has been met," he said.

But he said that it was difficult to say with scientific certainty because individual ages of the cattle over 30 months that were slaughtered had not been recorded. Ministry of Agriculture scientists are now trying to recover this information so that it can be fed into Prof Anderson's computer model.

Scientists at the Wellcome meeting said the EU should, as a matter of priority, plan to eradicate scrapie as a long-term objective. They called for studies to estimate the incidence of the disease in Europe. "It potentially is possible to breed resistant types of sheep," Prof Anderson said. "I only wish that were the case in cattle."

John Wilesmith, of the Ministry of Agriculture's Central Veterinary Laboratory, said scientists were also checking to see whether BSE could somehow transfer back into sheep.

The scientists said there was a pressing need for diagnostic methods to detect infection before the symptoms became manifest - work that would require collaboration with industry. "There are a number of interesting avenues of research," Prof Anderson said.

Yesterday saw the leak of the results of a forthcoming Lancet paper by the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh. This predicted that hundreds of Britons would die each year from the new variant of CJD - which has been linked to BSE - with the peak of the human epidemic occurring in about seven years' time.

Prof Anderson pointed out that only 14 cases of the new variant of disease had been recorded. "To extrapolate forward, when we don't know the incubation period - the scientific methodologies are not available to do that," he said.

While it was trivial to say that the lower bound of the epidemic was 14, the "upper bound is virtually impossible to determine". He said: "My own view is that it is very difficult to say anything sensible scientifically about this issue at present. It will be a number of years, perhaps even decades, before we can say with any certainty what the size of the potential epidemic is."

Fish-meal is banned from cattle feed

By David Brown

Daily Telegraph ... Friday 29 November 1996

Pressure from supermarkets has forced a leading animal food manufacturer to stop using fish-meal in feed for beef cattle and lambs.

J Bibby Agriculture said yesterday that, because of the beef crisis, retailers were increasingly worried about the use of animal protein in livestock diets. The company fears that major retailers will buy their meat abroad.

The crisis broke when mad cow disease, which is believed to have been caused by feed containing the contaminated remains of sheep and cattle, was linked to a new form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people.

Earlier this year Bibby dropped fish-meal, used for its high food value, from its main brand of feed for dairy cattle. The ban now extends to cattle and lambs destined for the butcher unless farmers ask specifically for it to be included.

Although the decision has been taken on food quality and safety grounds, it will help fish conservation by reducing commercial demand for sand eels.

Research has shown that cattle and sheep can thrive on food containing soya and other ingredients instead of fish-meal. In one trial, at the Oatbridge College of Agriculture in Edinburgh, 140 lambs were divided into two groups and fed diets with and without fish-meal. These showed "no significant differences" in performance.