Beef ban may last extra year
Lacey's new book: Red, Yellow and Blue make White
FDA compliance guide for Small Entities, including producers
Realities of the offal ban
Do other countries under-report their BSE?
Victory for McDonald's after Dave and Goliath libel fight?
Burger giants urged to lift British beef ban
Large grant to probe scrapie
Florida outbreak raises questions about CJD incidence
BY MICHAEL HORNSBY The Times June 23 1997THE European Union's ban on British beef may still be in place in a year's time, Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, said yesterday. Trying to set a deadline for lifting the ban would not be sensible and the more realistic prospect was that the embargo might be relaxed in a piecemeal way.
Exports worth more than £500 million a year have been blocked since late March, 1996, when the Tory Government disclosed that "mad cow" disease might have caused a new strain of the fatal human brain condition, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Speaking on BBC TV's On The Record, Dr Cunningham said it was "possible" the ban would still be in force a year from now, adding: "I think it is realistic to expect that the ban may be lifted in a stepwise fashion ‚ some products, some herds, some animals born after a certain date may have the ban lifted."
Dr Cunningham is under pressure from the farming community to get the ban lifted at least for meat from cattle born since last August.
18 June 1997 --By TIM LLOYD WRIGHT, London Observer ServiceLONDON -- A plague on your millennium. And rabies too. These are the latest apocalyptic predictions of Dr Richard Lacey, the controversial scientist who first warned that mad cow disease could spread to people.
In a book he has published himself, Lacey paints a portrait of Britain in 2000 in which agriculture has been devastated by crop-eating aphids and rabies stalks the fox population. The current use of insecticides to kill aphids and at the same time their natural predators actually favors the aphids in the long-term, says Lacey. Those aphids that survive spraying can breed again in late summer before the slower-breeding ladybirds have a chance to re-establish themselves and control the pest.
Modern farming methods are making matters worse.
"Instead of mixed farms where you have integration of animals and arable crops, we now have intensive farms," says Lacey. "The fact that they've been separated is likely to cause a plague of aphids."Lacey is likely to draw fire for his new claims. In the past he has been much criticized for bypassing medical journals and going straight to the press. This time he has gone a step further: his warnings come in his first novel.
"Red, Yellow and Blue make White" begins in the present-day landscape of food scares and infections and ends in 2003. Lacey has environmental activists leaving their tree houses and tunnels to form a new band of eco-terrorists. Armed with stolen infectious bacteria and exploding cars, they set out to hit society where it really hurts -- in the food chain. Their target: non-sustainable farming methods and car culture.
Lacey says his claims are in earnest and that he is publishing them in a novel because of frustration with traditional methods.
"I've tried normal ways and you end up with government and financial interests lying. This is a new approach. Fiction may well be a better vehicle," he says.The question is, as Sir Jerry Wiggin once put it when he was chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture in London: is Lacey "losing touch with reality?" Can we safely ignore him? Or is his track record too impressive for his claims to be dismissed out of hand?
The caricature of Lacey as a mad professor is in some ways inviting. It is his contention that as you read this there is a 50-50 chance you are incubating Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. A visiting professor at Leeds University in north England who has advised the British government and the World Health Organization, he also claims rabies will arrive in the UK within a few years. "It's a fairly likely prediction that it will get into this country and it will stop fox-hunting because of the risk of infection. It's likely because of the Channel Tunnel and people wanting to remove quarantine restrictions."
What makes Lacey especially enigmatic is that he is an arch conspiracy theorist. He was a pebble in the shoe of the last government during its attempt to stem public concern over BSE. He claims that letters and manuscripts sent to the publisher of his book "Mad Cow Disease -- The History of BSE in Britain" were intercepted and opened. Smashed windows and cut power lines led to the invention of a fictitious Jersey-based company as publisher of.the book.
While Lacey's warnings may grip beef eaters, it is unclear whether his novel will thrill readers who are not confirmed environmentalists.
18 Jun 1997 ListserveUK had legislation to exclude Specified Bovine Materials, but until 1996 it was not properly enforced, even in the earliest days of the Meat Hygiene Inspection Service, but that has drastically changed. Detailed inspection statistics are published monthly in the BSE Enforcement Bulletin. These reveal, month by month, a now satisfactory situation, especially as regards exclusion of SBMs. In particular there have been no findings of spinal cord in carcasses in Great Britain since March 1996, and in Northern Ireland since October 1996.
There are no EU controls yet on exclusion of SBMs. In the Netherlands, the presence of eyes, brains and spinal cords from cattle was banned only this month, after Dr. Cunningham's statement (PhD in chemistry).
In the UK, from 2 May, the new Government has a much stronger approach to food safety. It is a mistake to equate Cunningham with Douglas Hogg. Already Tony Blair has put under way a process of separating food safety responsibility from MAFF and setting up an independent Food Standards Agency.
Source: Dagens Nyheter, June 23, 1997.A rendering plant in Stidsvig, near Angelholm in southern Sweden, has been criticized by EU Commissioner Emma Bonino for processing raw material from cattle at temperatures substantially lower than the recomended 133 degrees C at 3 bar for 20 minutes.
The factory produces bone meal, broth ingredients and gelatin from bones. The raw material is derived from domestic animals as well as cattle from other European countries. Cattle carcasses from Ireland, Germany and even the UK was processed in 1996.
A reporter from a Swedish newspaper found split spinal columns with spinal marrow in a stack of bones that was waiting to be processed. Ellco Foods sells its bone meal to manufacturers of pet food.
European Commission news feed (MIDDAY EXPRESS June 18th).The European Commission today endorsed a number of draft proposals on BSE. These proposals are designed to increase the protection of human and animal health against any potential risk from Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies (BSE). The proposals include: (1) the removal of high risk materials from the human food and animals feed chains. These include the head, including the brain and eyes (but excluding the tongue) and spinal cord of cattle, sheep and goats over 12 months of age and the spleen of all sheep and goats; (2) to put in legal form that which is already the practice in relation to gelatine produced from UK bovines i.e. to withdraw the possibility of export of this gelatine for the purpose of use in food, feed, cosmetics and medicinal products. The export of technical gelatine continues to be allowed; (3) the decision of March 1996 introducing the ban on UK beef exports will be amended to clarify the rules for the re-export from the UK of beef from non UK cattle; (4) an EU system of traceability and labelling will be introduced for all non-UK bovine derived products which are exempted from the export ban.
Explanatory remark [Roland Heynkes, German BSE expert]:
Dr. Uwe Seybold from the German gelatin producer, Stoess AG, has reportedly indicated that technical gelatin for film for photography is produced in only one factory of the British producer Croda. The other three British gelatin factories exclusively produce gelatin from imported raw material:
PB gelatins UK Ltd., held by the Belgian Tessenderlo Chemie, traditionally produces only with ossein imported from Belgium. Gelatine Products, a subsidery of German DGF-Stoess AG, uses exclusively dried bovine hide splits from Brasilia. The second Croda factory also uses only imported bovine material.
Only the photo gelatin is allowed to be exported and the gelatin in British products is as safe (or unsafe) as in the rest of Europe.
Listserve 20 June 1997Question: it is broadly assumed that some countries have hidden significant numbers of BSE cases. It is a widely quoted, but unsupported, claim. This is an urgent priority for research - is it being addressed?
Answer: Yes. Ray Wilesmith and Dutch and German researchers are preparing a paper on this. They announced as much in the letter pages of the Veterinary Record June 8 1996 ("BSE: a European problem"). They are doing a statistical analysis of BSE risk based on live breeding imports from Britain during the 1980s.Extract from the letter:
"In the year 1985 to 1990 Great Britain exported 57,900 pure bred breeding cattle at an age that alows for infection during calfhood and early adolescence. If these cattle were to represent a representative sample of the total British cattle population, they should have produced, according to our calculations, 1668 cases of BSE, had they remained in GB.... Only a proportion of these cases have been reported."Incubation time is dosage-dependent:
Prusiner,S.B., Cochran,S.P., Groth,D.F., Downey,D.E., Bowman,K.A. and Martinez,H.M. wrote in "Measurement of the scrapie agent using an incubation time interval assay - Annals of Neurology 1982 Apr; 11(4): 353-8":
The titer of the scrapie agent was determined by measurements of time intervals from inoculation to onset of illness and from inoculation to death. Both intervals were found to be inversely proportional to the size of the dose injected intracerebrally into random-bred weanling Syrian hamsters. The logarithms of the time intervals minus a time factor were linear functions of the logarithm of the inoculum size.This means that the incubation times increases to a considerable degree, if the uptake of infectious agent is reduced only slightly. If the export of British cattle stopped or even reduced the uptake of infectious agent, this should have resulted in prolonged incubation times [for importing countries in Europe, implying under-reporting might be less severe than commonly thought.]
The exposure of British cattle to specific high-dose lipophilic formulations of organophosphate insecticide (containing phthalimide) applied nearly exclusively in the UK during the 1980s/early 1990s may have reduced the incubation time of BSE in British dairy cows further.
If farmers outside the UK react only slightly faster with slaughtering on reduced milk productivity (which can be a consequence of BSE), they could have greatly improved their BSE statistics by accident [though asymptomatic but infectious cows could still enter the food chain].
Agriculture Minister of State Jeff Rooker said in a Commons written reply on June 19, 1997 that nearly 1.5 million cattle had been slaughtered under the over 30-month rule, with a further 6,478 slaughtered under the selective cull.
June 16, 1997 PA News Andrew EvansU.K. Agriculture minister Jack Cunningham is, according to this story based on comments from junior agriculture minister Lord Donoughue, set to press fast-food chains McDonald's and Burger King to lift their boycott of British beef.
June 18, 1997 Reuters Peter BlackburnBRUSSELS -- The European Commission today urged the removal of risky cattle tissue from food and formally banning exports of British gelatine. The story notes that the EU's executive is under pressure to act following a warning from Britain that it may ban imports of beef unless the EU agrees to enforce tough British food safety standards in all member states.
EU inspectors, the story states, have also criticised most countries for not enforcing rules to eradicate BSE. They added that the EU must urgently adopt a safety first approach towards food production to minimise health risks. Acting on advice from the World Health Organisation, they resubmitted a proposal to ban the brains, eyes and spinal cord of cattle, sheep and goats over 12 months of age from human and animal food.
June 17, 1997 Excerpted from FSNET (D. Powell, Univ. Guelph):PA News John von RadowitzThe U.K. Government has announced a grant of 3.8 million pounds to scientists at the Institute for Animal Health for new research into scrapie. The new research aims to make progress towards eradicating scrapie from the national flock.
Professor Ray Baker, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is making the grant award, is quoted as saying that, "Until 1986 scrapie was rather obscure. Today it has a high public profile because of concerns about the ability of these BSE-like diseases to move between species, and the recent identification of a new form of CJD that may have arisen from BSE. Scrapie is also economically important to farmers because it is now a notifiable disease."
June 19, 1997 Nature Declan ButlerPARIS -- Another story about the British government announcement last week that it is to extend strict bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) controls to sheep, to guard against the risk that the disease has jumped to sheep and is coexisting in flocks alongside scrapie.
The new measures, which were announced by the agriculture minister, Jack Cunningham, include removal in the abattoir of the spinal cord from sheep and goats over one year of age, and the spleen from all animals heads are already banned from human consumption and animal feed.
The risk that sheep have acquired BSE from contaminated animal feed was raised by the government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee. Oral transmission of BSE to sheep has been demonstrated experimentally, despite no evidence for its existence in the field.
Cunningham said the government was taking "sound, precautionary measures" to avoid any possible risk to consumers, "no matter how remote". Similar controls have been introduced in France, Ireland and the Netherlands. But European Commission proposals for controls on sheep throughout the European Union, as recommended by its scientific veterinary committee, have been repeatedly rejected by the council of farm ministers, with several countries arguing that they do not have BSE (see Nature 384, 8; 1996).
In a separate move, the British government is threatening to ban the import of beef from countries with BSE unless they bring their controls up to UK standards.
The European Commission says such a unilateral move would be illegal. But Britain is finding sympathy in some quarters. "Cunningham's move is extremely sensible," says one European Parliament official. Britain is also likely to find ammunition for its demands in a paper submitted to the Veterinary Record suggesting that BSE has been under-reported in countries on the continent, and that the approximately 50 declared cases are fewer than the several thousand expected, given the level of exports of contaminated animal feed and cattle (see Nature 382, 4; 1996).
The findings, from an international research group led by Bram Schreuder from the Dutch DLO-Institute for Animal Science and Health in Lelystad, are likely to weaken the position of Germany and other countries who oppose stricter BSE controls on the grounds that they have no BSE.
18 Jun 1997 ListserveToday the FDA-CVM posted a Small Entity Compliance Guide on the BSE prevention rule. (This final rule is effective August 4, 1997.) It is intended to help small entities comply with the final rule prohibiting the use of protein derived from mammals (with certain exceptions) in the feed of the ruminant animals." The 22 page document explains, in simple non-legalese English, compliance issues that feed mills, renderers, producers and others will need to follow. Can be found at the FDA-CVM homepage with a summary at this specific location.
Federal Register: June 18, 1997 (Volume 62, Number 117) Notices Page 33095 From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access DOCID:fr18jn97-76
For further information contact:
Gloria J. Dunnavan, Center for Veterinary Medicine (HFV-230), Food and Drug Administration, 7500 Standish Pl., Rockville, MD 20855, 301-594-1726.
A very IMPORTANT point is that there are record keeping requirements for ruminant producers if they feed any nonprohibited animal proteins. Basically, producers must retain copies of purchase invoices for feeds containing any nonprohibited animal protein (includes marine, pork and poultry sources) and copies of the labeling of those feeds for a minimum period of one year (bulk = invoice or placard, bag = 1 label per shipment).
June 18, 1997 By MARY McLACHLIN, Cox News ServiceJulia Harris' tall, strong husband was trimming the hedges at their summer place in New York when the clippers suddenly got heavy and he couldn't remember simple things, like how to write his name or add 9 and 5. That was in May 1995.
Two months and five days of living hell later, Arthur Harris died, blind in one eye, unable to walk, talk or eat, muscles jerking out of control, his brain so full of holes it looked like cheese on the CAT scans.
Doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City told his wife he had a strange sounding illness the Harrises had never heard of: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Then they told her some things that seemed preposterous.
It probably had been incubating in his brain for five years, they said, ever since he'd had a tumor removed at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, the Harrises' winter home. They said the surgeon had patched the hole with material routinely used in brain and spinal cord operations -- freeze-dried membrane from cadavers -- that could have been infected.
There was more: The sickness was related to a disease among cannibals in New Guinea and to an epidemic killing tens of thousands of animals and causing panic in Europe -- "mad cow" disease.
This was too much for Julia Harris. Her beloved Artie's brain destroyed by a mysterious disease from a dead person's tissue that they didn't even know had been implanted in his head, and somehow it was linked to cannibals and mad cows?
"I almost dropped dead, I was so stunned," she said. "I just fell apart and didn't know how to answer. . . . The funeral home didn't even want to handle his body, they were so afraid when the doctor told them what he died from." Until recently, this was how people usually learned about Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a disease so rare it's believed to occur naturally -- and still inexplicably -- in only one person in a million, mostly to people in their 50s and 60s.
However, new research in Florida indicates the toll may be a lot higher because the disease has been misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's and other illnesses that attack the nervous system. Now CJD and BSE -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease -- have leaped out of medical obscurity and into headlines, TV shows and rampant speculation on the Internet. Scientists and governments are scrambling to pin down their cause, stop their spread and keep a suspected link between them from turning into a worldwide disaster. So far:
-- BSE, diagnosed in 1986, has infected more than 168,000 cows in England and nearly wiped out the British beef industry. -- Sixteen people in England and one in France have died of a new form of CJD that appears nearly identical under a microscope to the cow-killing plague. Scientists think they got it from eating meat contaminated by pieces of brain, spinal cord or intestines, or by handling such tissue. -- No BSE has been documented in U.S. cattle. But to keep BSE from getting into the American food supply, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered changes in animal feed and meat processing rules that could cost $200 million a year. A leading consumer organization says the move still leaves the door open to the brain diseases. -- The World Health Organization is about to recommend surgeons stop using human dura mater membrane -- the stuff doctors believe killed Julia Harris' husband -- for brain and spinal cord surgery. Worldwide, at least 69 people have died of CJD traced to infected membrane, most produced in the 1980s by a German company.Only two dura-mater deaths have been documented in the U.S., but estimates of the incubation period for CJD are growing. More deaths will be traced, as awareness and knowledge of the diseases grow.
Cannibalism of one kind or another has caused the worst spreading of the brain-eating diseases. In a popular new book titled "Deadly Feasts," author Richard Rhodes gives a clinical and stomach-turning account of a "mortuary feast of love" among the Fore (FOR-ae) people of Papua New Guinea in the 1950s. Fore families honored their dead by cooking and eating them; special parts, including the brains, went to special people, mostly women and children.
Coincidentally, the Fore also suffered horribly from kuru, a disease they called "laughing death" and blamed on sorcery. It caused tremors, loss of balance, bizarre laughter, violent jerking and, finally, when they could no longer move or swallow, slow death by thirst or starvation.
Kuru killed more than 100 Fore a year -- mostly women and children. It declined quickly after the 1950s, when the tribe gave up eating their dead relatives. A few cases still appear, indicating incubation periods of 40 years.
Scientists from the National Institutes of Health examined the brains of kuru victims and found plaque deposits and holes similar to those described by two German doctors who encountered a puzzling brain disorder in the 1920s -- Hans Creutzfeldt and Alfons Jakob. But they still didn't know what caused the disease or how it was spread.
Researchers later saw the same type of spongy damage in the brains of sheep infected with scrapie and of British cattle killed by BSE in the 1980s. It didn't all come together until they focused on food.
Meat processors long ago found a great solution to the problem of what to do with billions of pounds of animal remains: Cook the carcasses, separate the fats and oils for gelatin, glue, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics; then grind the bones, hides, hooves and scrap meat into "bone meal," a mixture rich in calcium and phosphorus favored by nurseries and gardeners for fertilizer.
Then the food industry started feeding it back to cattle, sheep, horses, hogs, poultry and pets -- some of the same creatures from which it was made -- as protein supplement.
The animals, like the Fore, began eating their relatives.
And somewhere, at some point, the brains of a sheep that had scrapie or a cow with BSE, or maybe both, got into some bone meal produced in the United Kingdom. It infected more cows, whose remains were fed back into the animal-cannibal system, and an epidemic was born.
BSE ultimately broke out in 33,000 dairy and cattle herds. Countries banned imports of British beef, and UK officials began wholesale slaughter of infected herds. Meat became a scary thing in Europe.
In March 1996, the British government -- often accused of denying and hiding facts about the epidemic -- made a shocking announcement. Ten people, all under age 42, had died from a new strain of CJD that looked too much like the bovine disease to ignore. The nation's best scientists still couldn't pin down exactly how it had happened, but they feared the infective agent, whatever it was, had crossed the species barrier from animal to human.
At that point, the U.S. government, meat growers and processors knew they had to do more than ban British beef and test the brains of cows that acted strangely. If an animal with a spontaneous case of BSE or scrapie got into the rendering apparatus, it could create a panic that would bring the whole industry down, in addition to a disease epidemic.
"The implications of one case of BSE on this industry (are) enormous," said Gary Weber, an official with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "We know that a 1 percent change in the consumer's purchase of our product is $350 million immediately in farm and ranch income. In the (whole industry) it's at least $1 billion."The FDA hurriedly put together a rule that would partly curtail the use of meat-and-bone meal among food animals. It would classify protein from ruminants like cattle, sheep and goats as a food additive and forbid feeding it to them or other ruminants. The cud-chewing animals have four stomachs and take longer to process food, making them more susceptible to food-borne infection.
Renderers pointed out there was no way to tell whether a bit of cow or sheep carcass got cooked into the 45 billion pounds of animal parts they recycle per year, so it would be better to ban the use of all mammals as food for ruminants. The FDA agreed and published the final rule June 5, saying no mammal protein can be fed to ruminants. But there were exceptions.
"You have to read the fine print to find out that their definition of mammal doesn't include pigs and horses," said Michael Hansen, food safety researcher with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine. "By failing to include swine, FDA has left the door open for a mad cow-like disease to circulate in the United States."Scientists can cause the disease in pigs by injecting contaminated material into their brains in the lab, but they haven't found a natural case. An outbreak was suspected among pigs coming into a slaughter plant in Albany, N.Y., in 1979, but slides of the damaged brain tissue weren't good enough to be conclusive when examined last year.
ost pigs are less than a year old when marketed, Hansen argued, so the disease wouldn't have had time to show its symptoms. He said the FDA should follow the British example of banning all mammal tissue in feed for farm animals and in fertilizer used on land where they graze. Renderers say they're glad to comply with the rule, regardless of cost.
"We'll probably take a $200-million-a-year hit, but we believe it's a fair price to pay to protect the American food supply," said David Evans, a Greensboro, N.C., plant owner who chairs the industry's committee on spongiform brain diseases.Doubt and debate will go on as long as science can't solve the puzzles of CJD and its animal equivalents. After 40 years of tests, most researchers agree that they are like nothing ever seen in biology or medicine.
Though they behave like slow viruses, they appear to be caused by certain proteins on the surface of nerve cells. Protein molecules have three-dimensional shapes that have to fold in precise ways for the cells to function. In spongiform diseases, scientists think a protein molecule "goes bad" and folds in a distorted way; then it causes the molecules around it to fold wrong, and the distortion spreads out like ice crystals forming from a single pattern or template. The cell dies, and when enough cells die, they leave a hole.
Scientists have labeled the proteins "prions," and some say they could be in all species -- meaning all species could be susceptible to the prion diseases.
The crucial question is: What triggers the first molecule's mutation?
About 10 percent to 15 percent of known CJD cases are inherited, and most of the rest occur without any apparent cause. Incubation can take up to 40 years, so cause and effect are long separated. The discovery that CJD was infectious and could be transmitted through injections of human growth hormone -- 80 cases worldwide -- cornea transplants and contaminated surgical supplies and tools was a jolt.
The first case of dura mater infection turned up at Yale University Hospital in 1989, only 18 months after the patient's brain surgery. In cases tracked since then, incubation times of up to 15 years have been found, said Dr. Paul Brown, medical director of the U.S. Public Health Service.
The World Health Organization wants surgeons to stop using the human membrane entirely, but Brown said the dura collected and processed in the U.S. is "almost certainly safe." He said the FDA probably will propose tighter controls on it at a meeting in August.
Only about 10 percent of the 200 brain operations performed annually at Good Samaritan and St. Mary's medical centers require membrane grafts, and surgeons there haven't used processed dura mater for several years, said Dr. Jordan Grabel, chief of neurosurgery.
"Even if the chance is minute, there's simply no reason to take that chance," Grabel said. "It can be very easily substituted by a synthetic substance, and there's also a nice substance called fascia lata, membrane taken from the thigh, that doesn't present a health hazard."Bethesda Memorial Hospital, where Arthur Harris' brain surgery was performed, hasn't used human membrane since 1992, spokeswoman Ernestine Ziacik said. And as in most other hospitals that do cranial surgery, she said, instruments such as scalpels, needles and suction tubes that come in contact with brain tissues are all disposable now.
As scientists chase prions in labs and government tries to keep a lid on mad-cow hysteria, two Florida researchers are quietly doing tests and recording results that may add to the ever-changing perceptions of such diseases.
Florida's Office of Vital Statistics records an average of a dozen deaths a year from CJD, about the worldwide average of one per million. But in the past 16 months, 11 cases have been diagnosed in the Tampa area alone, said Dr. Michael Gold of the University of South Florida.
Gold and Dr. Amyn Rojiani of the University of Florida send spinal fluid samples to the National Institutes of Health for testing when they suspect CJD. And they are becoming more and more suspicious, Gold said.
"I'm not ready to tell you we have an epidemic," Gold said, "just that we have an excessive number of cases."It could be the result of more awareness of CJD, more willingness to test for it and a better way to diagnose it, Gold said. Or simply that Florida has so many older people who are ripe for spontaneous CJD and have been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's disease -- or shut up in psychiatric wards when symptoms appear.
"The other working hypothesis," he said, "is that there's a lot more Creutzfeldt-Jakob out there than we think there is."
After a 314-day trial spread over 2 1/2 years, the longest in English legal history, Mr Justice Bell ruled that the company had been libelled by most of the allegations in a leaflet published by the protesters in the late 1980s.
But in a ruling that also prompted the protesters to claim victory, the judge upheld three allegations, saying that the leaflet was true when it accused McDonald's of paying low wages to its workers, of cruelty in the rearing of some of its animals and in the way children were exploited in the targeting of its advertising.
In the contest, dubbed McLibel, McDonald's sued Mr Morris, 43, a former postman, and Ms Steel, 31, a former gardener. The pair, who have next to no money, defended themselves with the help of £35,000 raised by the McLibel support campaign.
The action was brought over a pamphlet which accused the corporation of being responsible for starvation in the Third World, of destroying vast areas of Central American rainforest, of serving unhealthy food, of cruelty in the rearing and slaughter of its animals, of treating its workers badly and of exploiting children in its advertising and marketing.
Mr Justice Bell awarded a total of £30,000 against Mr Morris and Ms Steel for each of the two companies in the action, McDonald's Corporation and McDonald's Restaurants Ltd. Ms Steel was jointly responsible for £27,500 of the total because her involvement was over a shorter time.
He rejected a counter-claim for libel damages by the pair in which they complained that they were defamed by McDonald's in the company's reply to their allegations.
Yesterday McDonald's said it did not intend to pursue the couple for damages: they have a joint income of less than £7,500 a year. A spokesman said that the company's concern was to stop the campaign and vindicate its reputation, which yesterday's judgment had done.
After the ruling, Mr Morris said they had lost the case on a technicality and promised to take the fight to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge Britain's "oppressive" libel laws. Ms Steel said: "This trial completely vindicates McDonald's critics and our stance in resisting their attempts to silence people."
The most organised is Web site McSpotlight, produced in north London by the McInformation Network. It has run the full text of the court proceedings and has a "debating room", where critics discuss all matters relating to McDonald's....The McInformation Network estimated that the site had been accessed at least 12 million times. It claims that McDonald's accessed the site 1,700 times in the first week after its launch. The group believes that only the threat of more negative publicity has stopped McDonald's from attempting to close the site down. Tim Hardy, a media lawyer with Cameron McKenna, said: "McDonald's could consider suing the Internet service providers but the legal hurdles are immense. It would be a new area of law and take a lot of expensive litigation."
Yesterday members of the McInformation Network were busy entering the text of Mr Justice Bell's summarised verdict. "We are also going to enter the full 800-page verdict," Devin Howse, a member, said. "We hope to have a statement from Dave Morris and Helen Steel." McDonald's own Website made no reference to the trial yesterday. Instead, it offered a special deal on a breakfast sandwich.
But they were both active members of an anti-McDonald's campaign. Their defence took over their lives, bringing unprecedented stress, but they do not regret it. Ms Steel said: "If I had known how long it was going to last ‚ over seven years from the writs ‚ how much work was involved, how daunting it was going to be, I would have fought it anyway. It's important to stand up for what you believe in."
They were shocked when writs were issued on September 20, 1990. Solicitors told them there was no legal aid for libel. Three protesters who also received writs went to court and apologised. Ms Steel and Mr Morris chose to fight.
Often it meant work around the clock. Mr Morris, a postman and lone parent on income support, was trying to look after his son, Charlie, now eight. Ms Steel, a former gardener, was trying to move from Yorkshire to Tottenham, where Mr Morris lived. He said: "I could work on the case only after my son had gone to sleep. For the first year, I was up until four in the morning." Ms Steel developed skin ailments after "phenomenal stress".
The worst moment, they said, was when all the witness statements had to be served in three weeks. Ms Steel almost gave up: "This came after a stream of 28 legal hearings. Dave persuaded me to hang on in there." They blitzed their supporters and friends and succeeded in mustering the 65 statements. From that moment, McDonald's knew they were in earnest. "They were stunned," she said.
The trial became a way of life. The daily Tube to the Royal Courts of Justice became an office on the move, where they studied the latest faxes or documents. The McLibel Support Campaign raised £35,000 while McDonald's paid a legal team up to £8,000 a day. Mr Justice Bell allowed Mr Morris to use his chambers when Charlie had to be taken to court and adjourned the trial to accommodate half-terms.
Mr Morris said the experience was "empowering" and added: "Just as McDonald's are a symbol of the economic system, we have become the symbol of the alternative ideas. That gave us a lot of strength."
The judge upheld a claim that McDonald's advertising and marketing made "considerable use of susceptible young children to bring in customers". McDonald's admits that much of its marketing appeals specifically to children....
Mr Justice Bell said these included keeping laying hens in battery cages, severe restrictions on the movement of broiler chickens and pigs, and slaughter methods that allowed some chickens to have their throats cut while conscious.
Paul Preston, of McDonald's, said he was puzzled by the judge's comments: "Our standards exceed the minimum legal requirements. If those legal requirements need to be adjusted that is really a matter for the Government and agriculture."
Laying hens can be kept five to a cage each in a space no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. It is recommended that the stocking density of broilers kept indoors should not exceed 16 birds per square metre. Narrow stalls for sows are being phased out, but will not become illegal until 1999. Chickens are supposed to be rendered unconscious before having their throats cut, although this does not always work.