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'Hidden BSE' test could embarrass Britain
EU scientists rule British beef is safe
nvCJD: 49 confirmed cases
Wrinkle cream and cosmetics link to nvCJD
USDA crackdown on Vermont sheep
Mad Deer Disease: can venison kill you?
CJD spread from optical equipment banned
Blair rules out 'tit for tat'
EU proposes renewal of ban on cattle hormone BST
Mark Purdey continues independent research effort.

'Hidden BSE' test could embarrass Britain

The Guardian, 10/29/99 special report Peter Capella in Geneva and James Meikle
The only country to test dead cattle for "hidden BSE" has found more cases than had previously been evident in its national herd, it was revealed last night.

Trials in Switzerland since March have uncovered early signs of the fatal condition in 18 cows that had not displayed traditional symptoms before they were slaughtered.

The results effectively doubles the number of BSE cases in Switzerland this year and could cause severe embarrassment to Britain, since they suggest a substantial number of infected cattle may be escaping detection elsewhere.

The company behind the tests says a British supermarket chain and two others in Europe have shown interest. Regional health chiefs in Germany meet next month to discuss whether they should adopt the test.

Britain has refused to introduce such tests, regarding them to be of unproven reliability [there is overwelming evidence for validity of the tests -- webmaster], and has preferred to rely on other measures, including banning all older animals from the food chain and beef on the bone. The government prefers to wait for a reliable test on live animals, which could be years away. [The Schmerr blood test has been available for 18 months -- webmaster]

One of the main planks of France's case against lifting the ban on British beef is that there may be undetected cases being used for food. But the British embassy in Paris has rejected this notion. "The rules of the export scheme are designed to prevent meat from pre-clinical cases [cattle infected but not showing symptoms] from being exported by cutting off all known routes of infection." [Pasture in Britain may be contaminated -- as it is with scrapie and CWD in the US. BSE may persist for centuries, as has scrapie. -- webmaster]

The rebuttal of the French case added that France did not ban as wide a range of nervous tissues from sale as food. Neither did it ban older animals, which were more likely to be infected.

The only official confirmation of BSE in this country is the examination of the brains of stricken cows after death - but even this puts the number at 175,761 over the past 13 years, dwarfing even the Swiss - one of the worst-affected countries in Europe with 318.

Two firms have led the way in developing a diagnostic test on tissues from carcasses. One is the British-based Protherics, and the other is Prionics, based at Zurich university. The Prionics test, already routinely used on cattle that die naturally or those needing emergency slaughter, has found 16 cases not identified by other means. In addition, limited tests on 4,847 carcasses in abattoirs, bound for human consumption, found two BSE cases.

Hans Wyss, of the Swiss veterinary service, said testing would be expanded over the next year "to come closer to reality in determining BSE cases." Eighteen cases have been found so far displaying clinical signs.

Marcus Moser, director of Prionics, said checks had shown some of the stock had shown signs of "odd behaviour", though nothing that revealed a real problem. But the Swiss have been unable to tell if any of the cows uncovered by the Prionics test were under 30 months, the oldest British cows can be eaten.

Dr Moser said removing the brain, spine and other tissues from carcasses, as happens in Britain, was still the most effective way of reducing risk to human health. "We could call the existing measures a seatbelt, while this is like adding an airbag. The question is whether you make it mandatory. If there is one country that does very well with it, is there any reason why the European Union shouldn't do it?"

The British government has said that the Protherics test only shows BSE in cattle already displaying clinical signs. It does not randomly check the brains of animals slaughtered for food. However, tests last year on cattle killed at over 30 months have suggested that about 0.3% of the 749,631 [= 2249 cattle] may have had BSE even though they did not display any outward signs.

Comment (Marcus Moser, director of Prionics):
"This first group of statements correctly mentions the considerable increase in BSE cases reported this year from Switzerland. We would like to emphasize that this is the result of an improved surveillance rather than a true increase in the number of BSE cases present in the cattle population.

What has been done is that the passive surveillance, i.e. the mandatory reporting and examination of clinical supect cattle, has been backed up by an active targeted surveillance testing all fallen stock [downers], cattle subject to emergency slaughter, and a sample of routinely slaughtered cattle.

Passive surveillance detected 16 BSE cases until October 10, 1999, while active surveillance detected an additional 18 cases that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. Before the implementation of the targeted surveillance, this latter segment, in Switzerland over 50% of the BSE cases reported this year, was simply not seen but was certainly present in the population.

There is little reason NOT to assume that a similar proportion of detectable BSE cases (should BSE be present) went unnoticed in all other countries in which BSE surveillance in based purely on mandatory reporting of clinical suspects.

All BSE cases detected through mandatory reporting (passive surveillance; 16) displayed clinical (neurological) signs of disease that made them suspicious for BSE. The two cattle detected in the abattoir sample (routine slaughter) were clinically healthy animals that passed ante mortem examination.

All cattle from the fallen stock (12) and the emergency slaughter group (4) had signs of a disease (the reason for emergency slaughter or culling/death), some of which could have pointed towards BSE and others that certainly did not fit into our current picture of typical clinical BSE.

This is an indication that early clinical signs of BSE might be too unspecific to immediately point towards the disease, or that they are masked by other health problems and therefore go unnoticed. There are two ways to capture those animals with unspecific clinical signs, either by widening the definition of a clinical suspect (thereby hopefully capturing more cases through passive surveillance) or through active targeted surveillance (i.e. testing) of sick cattle - fallen stock and cattle subject to emergency slaughter.

Switzerland is doing both, with organising continued education seminars for cattle practitioners to increase disease awareness for clinical signs of BSE, and through the intensive targeted surveillance programme that will be continued in the year 2000.

To correct a last statement in the article, the age of all BSE cases detected so far in Switzerland is certainly known. For this year (1999), the age range of the reported clinical cases (passive surveillance) was 49 and 108 months, and the age range of the additionally detected animals (targeted surveillance) was 43-87 months. None of this years BSE cases was under 30 months of age."

Marcus G. Doherr, Dr. med. vet., Ph.D.;
c/o Epidemiology Unit, P.O. Box; 
Inst. of Virology and Immunoprophylaxis (IVI); 
CH-3147 Mittelhaeusern / Switzerland; 
Phone:  +41 (31) 848 92 62 (FAX 92 22);
Just published:

Validation of a Western immunoblotting procedure for bovine PrP(Sc) detection and its use as a rapid surveillance method for the diagnosis of BSE.

Acta Neuropathol (Berl) 1999 Sep 27;98(5):437-443
Schaller O, Fatzer R, Stack M, Clark J, Cooley W, Biffiger K, Egli S, Doherr M, Vandevelde M, Heim D, Oesch B, Moser M
Prionics AG, Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland Tel.: +41-1-364 50 60, Fax: +41-1-364 50 61
In this report we document the results of several independent studies testing the sensitivity, specificity and reliability of the Prionics Western blotting (PWB) procedure to detect bovine and ovine disease-specific, protease-resistant prion protein (PrP(Sc)). Validation of the technique was obtained by blind analysis of samples from cattle affected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), clinically normal animals or cattle with neurological diseases unrelated to BSE.

Overall, very high sensitivity, specificity and reliability was observed. It became clear that sampling of the correct brain region and the method used for protein extraction are important factors for correct diagnosis.

Furthermore, we tested the usefulness of the PWB technique as an instrument for surveillance purposes. We analyzed animals from a culling scheme as well as older animals from abattoirs to determine the number of subclinical BSE cases detectable by histopathological examination, immunohistochemistry for PrP(Sc) and PWB. In both studies, BSE-affected animals with no overt clinical symptoms were detected. These results demonstrate the usefulness of the PWB procedure in surveillance systems serving as a rapid diagnostic tool to identify animals subclinically infected with BSE.

EU scientists rule British beef is safe

Fri, Oct 29, 1999 Reuters Financial Report By David Evans
The European Commission's top scientists gave British beef a clean bill of health on Friday, unanimously rejecting evidence which France said supported an import ban over fears of mad cow disease. After days of cross-Channel tension, the ruling was a major victory for Britain. European Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne said France and Germany should now fall into line with the rest of the European Union and lift bans on British beef.

"The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) today concluded unanimously that it does not share the concern expressed by the French Food Agency about the safety of meat and meat products exported by the UK," the Commission said in a statement. The EU's 16-member panel of scientists reaffirmed its confidence in the safety of Britain's Date Based Export Scheme (DBES), which it approved earlier in the year and which led to the decision to lift an worldwide ban on British beef on August 1 after more than three years.

"The SSC concludes that, providing the safeguards built into the DBES are fulfilled, the safety of these UK-meat and meat products is comparable to these foods coming from elsewhere in the EU," the Commission, the EU's executive, said.

Only Germany and France have failed to implement this decision but Byrne told a news conference aid he was optimistic the situation could now be resolved fast. Byrne said he had already had contacts with the British, French and German governments and would contact the French and British agriculture ministers early next week. "I believe that the French and German authorities should take stock of the (scientists') opinion and lift their national restrictions on imports of British beef," he said.

German Health Minister Andrea Fischer said there was no decision yet what action her government would take, but a discussion with the federal states was planned on Wednesday. Sources close to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who was on an official visit to Guadeloupe, said the French government will outline its position early next week.

"There will be talks between the different agencies concerned at the start of the week. There is no reason to take urgent measures. We will lay out our position after discussions early next week," an official travelling with Jospin said. The decision hands a political victory to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a high-stakes gamble to let European institutions rule on the row instead of hitting France with the tit-for-tat trade war demanded by some opposition Conservatives. The British government quickly expressed delight with the ruling and said it would work to ensure exports can resume. "It is exactly what we hoped for and worked hard to achieve," Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement. "We will now keep up the work to make sure this decision is implemented and continue to help our farmers, to recover from the disaster of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)."

The dispute over beef has spun out of the control of politicians, fuelled by a frenzy of anti-French sentiment in the British tabloid press. Passions have also run high in France, where Channel ports have been blockaded. But the British government has in recent days tried to cool emotions among a public outraged by revelations that some French cattle were given sewage in their feed. A messy fudge by the scientists or a decision against Britain would have caused more

nvCJD reaches 49 confirmed cases

Mon, 1 Nov 1999  UK Dept of Health
The monthly UK CJD official statistics are out, showing 49 nvCJD cases [including 1 case in Ireland, 1 case in France; both confirmed as nCJD] as of 30 September 1999. The next table will be published on Monday 6 December 1999.
1999 Referrals --128
1999 Sporadic       -- 32
1999 Iatrogenic    --   2
1999 Familial  --   0
1999 GSS      --   0
1999 vCJD     --   7*
Total               -- 41
This extrapolates to 9-10 cases for 1999. Previous years give 3, 10, 10, 17, 9 cases for nvCJD

Comment (webmaster):

All CJD in UK extrapolates to 55 for 1999. Previous years gave 60, 80, 81. The last two years would have had comparable intensity of surveillance. Total reported CJD is then down by 1/3 for unknown reasons, even though referrals are steady. In past years, substantial confirmation delays occurred - in fact there were only 6 of the 1998 cases confirmed by Sept 30, 1998 - 1999 incidence may be similar to 1998 (with 17 confirmed cases). No explanation is known for the end-of-the-year catch up in statistics.

If the current set of nvCJD victims represents a double genetic susceptibility class (instead of the single class of 24 million UK met/met), which in the webmaster's view is the most likely scenario, then this class of victim seems to be on its way to being exhausted, though as the allele frequency is not known, neither is the penetrance.

Assuming 100% penetrance and an unlinked recessive second allele X, then the allele frequency of X within the met/met population is 1.7 per 1000 (2 per million homozygotes; 48 per 24 million met X/met X). These are typical numbers for uncommon alleles.

Britain is not releasing results of tonsil testing or road accident screening, nor offering blood tests to citizens. The idea being floated is that offering diagnosis without therapy would trigger massive levels of suicide. There is no support whatsoever for this within the medical literature for AIDS, Parkinson's Disease, or other genetic disorders with counseling.

This excuse for non-disclosure is of course most convenient for those who just want a continuing cover-up. The idea is to delay accountability as long as possible. There is little ongoing research on therapy and clinical trial results would be at least 7-10 years off.

USDA crackdown on Vermont sheep

John Dillon Oct. 24, 1999  Sunday Rutland (Vermont) Herald and Sunday Times Argus
Opinion (webmaster): The USDA's action seems like over-kill given the millions of tons of contaminated feed, animal products, medicines, and exposed blood donors already brought into the US over the previous 15 years of the BSE epidemic. And what about all the sheep imported 1980-1996? Clearly this is driven by beef export politics.

While BSE has not been observed to transmit naturally to sheep, only 9 sheep have been ever been tested. Transmission could occur via common pasteurage contamination or through bone meal feeds. Experimentally transmitted sheep BSE has an unstudied risk of transmission to humans. High milk production breeds, as here, could in fact receive intensive protein supplementation (ie, rendered BSE product). Belgium has imported massive amounts of such feed while reporting little BSE in its cattle and none in sheep. However, these sheep have undergone a double quarintine and could simply be kept under observation. The cheese is of relatively little concern given that the US continued to import megatons of British cheese for human consumption throughout the epidemic.

Warren Linda Faillace keeps her emotions under control until she gets to the point in her story when she told her children their animals face a death sentence. The tears start to flow, and she is forced to break off her account of how her small sheep farm became the focus of the government's concern over food safety. Six years of work, numerous trips to Europe, intensive research on animal health and genetics have come to this: Federal officials want the Faillaces' flock of imported sheep destroyed because of a possibility they may have been exposed to an untreatable, always fatal brain disease that could spread to humans.

The Faillaces' saga extends to the science of emerging diseases and the politics of international trade. But it's also a story of one family's attempt to start a new agricultural enterprise in a state where traditional dairy farming is threatened. The East Friesian sheep the family brought in >from Belgium and the Netherlands make prodigious amounts of milk, which is then used to produce a variety of specialty cheeses. While an average U.S. sheep used for milking may give 100 pounds of milk a year, these tall, long-eared ewes can produce 1,000 pounds annually. Although the cheese is selling well, the real money was supposed to come from the sale of breeding stock. Because the USDA halted imports soon after the Faillaces bought their sheep in 1996, the Warren operation and another farm in Greensboro have the only U.S. flocks of East Friesian sheep.

The Greensboro farm belongs to Houghton Freeman, a philanthropist whose Freeman Foundation has donated millions of dollars for education and land conservation efforts in Vermont. Freeman and the Faillaces saw the East Friesian breed as having strong potential for Vermont agriculture. Freeman invested significant amounts of money in launching his sheep operation, which is run by a young couple.

"In reality, there probably isn't a return for him," said his lawyer, Thomas Amidon. "The return is the (sheep) genetics would be something helpful to Vermont hillside farms." It's as if these were the only two farms in the early days of the dairy industry to own high-producing Holstein cows. Others looking to get in on the ground floor of the emerging dairy sheep business have offered up to $25,000 for a bred ewe, Faillace says. The business plan is now on hold, while state and federal officials decide their next move.

The animals were imported under a plan approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They were certified free of scrapie a sheep brain disease that has been endemic in Europe and the United States for years and were quarantined in both Europe and this country. But last year, federal agriculture officials told the Faillaces they wanted to buy and then destroy the 300 animals held on their farm and on the Freeman farm in Greensboro. Government specialists said that the sheep came from an area of Europe where bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had been found and that they could potentially harbor the deadly disease.

The sheep are not sick, and the cheese is safe to eat. But at the USDA's request, the state Department of Agriculture quarantined both flocks in 1998. BSE is more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, and is believed to have infected and killed in its human variant 46 people in the United Kingdom. The disease the word "spongiform" describes the holes it leaves in brains is insidious and always fatal. Its victims become disoriented and then slip into dementia and death. The U.K. outbreak led to a ban on British beef sales and the slaughter of millions of animals there. BSE has not been found in U.S. cattle, according to the USDA.

However, U.S. officials are concerned because laboratory experiments in which infected cow brains were injected into other species have shown that the disease can be transmitted from cows to sheep. The disease may also have been spread by a common but little-known practice of feeding animal meal to herbivores. Until the practice was curbed, commercial feed mills bought meat and bone meal for use as a protein source in feed. Many researchers believe the BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom began when cattle were fed meal made from infected animals. Some also believe that meal made from sheep infected with scrapie a disease related to BSE jumped the species barrier and may have caused Mad Cow Disease in the United Kingdom. Belgium and the Netherlands both had cases of BSE, and the USDA says the Vermont sheep may have been exposed through feed.

But the Faillaces argue there is no chance their sheep, or their forebears in Europe, were fed processed animal meal. They say their flock doesn't have scrapie. They have documentation that feed mills in the area where the sheep originated did not use animal products. No sheep has contracted BSE, outside the laboratory, they note. And tests on their sheep for a telltale protein that indicates the presence of BSE have all turned up negative. Larry Faillace, who holds a doctorate in animal health and worked in the early 1990s for a leading British researcher who advised the government on BSE, is confident the science is on their side. "The chances of any sheep in the world (getting BSE) are remote. The chances of these particular sheep getting it well, you'd have a better chance of a meteor landing on your front step tomorrow," he says.

Freeman is also incredulous that the USDA wants the animals killed, after first helping to bring the animals into the country. "My client has said show us the evidence. There isn't any," says Amidon, the philanthropist's lawyer. But USDA officials have insisted for over a year that the most prudent course is for both flocks to be slaughtered.

Nothing less than the national interest is at stake, according to Alfonso Torres, deputy USDA administrator. "The high stakes involved mandate very conservative measures if there is a possibility of the sheep being infected with the BSE agent. We are conscious that these actions require difficult choices on your part," Torres told the Faillaces in a letter this spring.

"However this is a case in which the welfare of our nation must be placed above any other consideration." [Does he confuse here welfare of the beef export industry with that of the nation -- why not do something as well about the massive numbers of scrapie-infected sheep known to be entering the US food chain? -- webmaster]

For a long time Linda and her husband had not discussed the issue with their three children, all of whom work on the farm. (Fifteen-year-old Francis does the pasture management; Heather, 13, does the daily milking; and Jackie, 12, is the cheesemaker along with her father.) But after a meeting with the USDA last October, the parents broke the news that the animals might have to be killed. "We sat down with our children and explained to them what was going on," Linda says, pausing to control her tears. "At that point, what we found out is that our children are as obstinate as we are. They said, 'No way, there's nothing wrong with our sheep.'"

The Faillaces mustered scientific evidence. They flew over top veterinarians from Europe to meet with the USDA and an official from the National Institutes of Health. Their experts insisted the sheep were disease-free and safe. But USDA officials did not back down. Now the Vermont Department of Health, which only recently learned of the problem >from state agriculture officials, has weighed in. After a meeting last week with Health Commissioner Jan Carney, the Faillaces believe Carney also wants the animals destroyed. Carney who is expected to rule on the issue this week did not return several calls for comment. "We're not real positive about what she's going to say," Linda says. "When she heard we were making cheese, she was shocked. She (Carney) said if there's any risk, she has to protect the public."

Indeed, if Larry and Linda Faillace have a ready rebuttal for every concern raised by the USDA, government officials also have a compelling comeback. Dr. Linda Detwiler, a leading BSE specialist and a veterinarian with the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, says the public would be justifiably outraged if BSE did spread to the United States and the government had not done everything possible to stop it. Detwiler also notes there is some sign although the Faillaces dispute the significance that the brains of sheep culled from both farms have "vacules," small holes that could possibly indicate a spongiform disease.

"The overriding issue is human health," Detwiler says. "If you protect animals, then you protect humans. If we ignore (the disease potential) and something happened, somebody could come back and say, 'Did you know they could have been exposed?' We'd have to say yes. And if they ask, 'Was there any indication in the brains of the animals (that they carried the disease)?' We'd have to say, 'Possibly, yes.' ... We don't know all the answers, but I think we know enough to be conservative."

Detwiler acknowledges that there is nothing "overtly" wrong with the Vermont sheep. She says the issue "is exposure, or potential exposure." Neither the Faillaces nor the farmers who sold them the animals can be absolutely sure that the feed in Europe did not contain meat or bone meal, according to Detwiler. Belgium's government has told the USDA that feed mills cannot be ruled out as a source of the disease in Belgian cattle. And feed mills often changed their mixes depending on price and availability, she says. "A lot of time, the rations were developed by least cost calculations, so on any given day, there might be a substitute (such as meat or bone meal) for a protein source," she says. [The same could be said for a vast amount of imported and domestic livestock. -- webmaster]

Dr. Gerald Wells, one of the leading British experts on BSE, agrees with the USDA's stance, after examining the slides of brain tissue taken from the two flocks, Detwiler says. "He said he couldn't say what it was. But he couldn't rule out (some form of transmissible encephalopathy). [This is hardly a diagnosis of TSE -- webmaster]

Given the background of the sheep, he would support the action taken by the state and USDA." Larry Faillace says the animals in Vermont were born after a ban on animal meal went into effect in Europe. And he and his wife say that the vacules detected by lab tests in the brains of the culled sheep are not evidence the animals have scrapie or BSE.

Vacules in brain tissue can be caused by other illness or the way the slides for the microscope are prepared, they say. The alcohol used on the sample can dissolve lipids (fat molecules) in the tissue, giving the appearance that the tissue has small holes. They also say that researchers did not detect several other signs of transmissible brain disease, including the key protein associated with BSE.

Dr. Bernard Carton, a Belgian veterinarian who works with the Faillaces, also says the lab work does not show their sheep have a brain disease. "I have followed all the details of this case. I do not understand why your government is acting like it is," he says. "To me, it has nothing to do with science, it just has to do with politics."

The United States which has already faced a European ban on its beef over hormones in the meat wants desperately to keep its BSE-free status, Carton notes. But if the U.S. government destroys the Vermont sheep, it could have an impact on international trade, since dairy products from the same sheep breed are imported from Europe. If the sheep are deemed unsafe, what would happen to those cheese imports if the public believed the animals were at risk to get BSE, he asks. "I wonder what will happen with my (Agriculture) ministry if they kill these animals," Carton says. "Up until now, it's been very quiet, but what happens with cheese from Europe? This could be the beginning of a big war."

While the USDA has moved aggressively to control BSE in sheep, government officials have allowed several Vermont farmers to import elk from western states where there is a similar brain disease infecting wild herds. The Faillaces feel there is a double standard at work. Elk are not tested, nor does the USDA or the state ban their import from infected states.

"I can understand wanting to take a conservative approach. But if (they) were doing their utmost, testing elk, testing (other) sheep, then I could understand this. But to select us, to say these sheep are under more suspicion than any in the world, seems ridiculous," says Linda.

Detwiler refers questions on the elk issue to the state Agriculture Department. Agriculture Commissioner Leon Graves says he is aware that elk in other parts of the country have the brain disease, but that no action has been taken in Vermont. "It's on the radar screen. We haven't done anything about that yet," he says. Graves says he supports the USDA's position. "We've never had BSE in this country and we can't afford to take the risk."

The Faillaces believe some of the pressure to destroy their sheep comes >from the beef industry, which does not want the United States to lose its BSE-free status. Detwiler, the USDA vet, says the issue goes beyond the beef industry. Many pharmaceutical products are made from cattle and other animal products. That industry could be jeopardized as well from a BSE outbreak.

"It's the whole country, definitely not just the beef industry solely, that is interested in that (BSE-free) status," she says. "The overriding issue is human health." By eliminating the Vermont flocks, the USDA "can pre-empt having to undertake any kind of big national (eradication) effort," Detwiler says. The USDA has offered to pay market price for the Faillaces' animals.

The couple has heard from state officials that the government could offer around $5,000 for ewes. But that figure would not begin to cover the lost business or the potential sales of breed stock. The Faillaces say they'd sell for $11.3 million. But they don't want to get rid of their animals. "We'd like the science to come out and the truth to come out. ... There's nothing wrong with our sheep," Larry says. "Let's figure out a way of solving this without killing them all."

Blair rules out 'tit for tat'

Wed, Oct 27, 1999 PA News 
Tony Blair today insisted he would not take Britain into a "tit for tat war" with France over British beef, warning that such a conflict would be illegal and could jeopardise a massively profitable trade in food and drink.

In heated Prime Minister's Questions exchanges with Conservative leader William Hague in the Commons, Mr Blair accused Tories of putting forward "immature nonsense" by advocating a ban on some French meat products. He was responding to Mr Hague's charge that the Government had failed to act to protect the public from French products in the light of the sewage in feed scandal.

The Tory leader said the Government had known in June about the contamination of French animal feeds, and scientists were now warning French meat could pose dangers to the public. He taunted Mr Blair that when it came to Government ministers, "it is not just the dead cows which have had their spines taken out".

But the Prime Minister retorted that a ban on French products would be "illegal" and "stupid", as the UK did 320 million worth of trade every day through Europe.

The angry exchanges came shortly after Agriculture Minister Nick Brown tried to appease angry farmers with the publication of new food labelling guidelines, designed to ensure shoppers can tell if products they are buying are British.

Mr Brown said the "British Food Kitemark" should prevent food products made with foreign ingredients being passed off as British. He made his announcement at a one-day conference in London on a platform alongside National Farmers' Union president Ben Gill, who warned that the influx of cheap foreign imports masquerading as British was creating a financial crisis in UK agriculture.

However, the minister found himself under fire after he admitted that he had not spoken directly to his French counterpart, Jean Glavany, in more than a week, despite the deepening crisis.

But Mr Brown dismissed a suggestion that he should telephone Mr Glavany directly to prevent the situation spiralling out of control. "I just think that is nonsensical," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, adding that the two governments were in close contact at official level.

However, the Tories said it was an "extraordinary admission" that there had been no direct contact with Mr Glavany. "At a time like this it is absolutely essential that Nick Brown should be in daily contact with his opposite number in France," said shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo. "His failure to do so is just one more item in a catalogue of incompetence, mismanagement and inaction."

Earlier, Mr Brown issued a fresh call for Brussels to act swiftly against France if EU scientists give British beef the all-clear. The European Commission's Scientific Steering Committee begins its crucial two-day meeting tomorrow to consider French claims that the meat could still carry the risk of BSE contamination.

Although ministers are confident that the committee -- chaired by a Frenchman -- will give the all-clear, there are fears that a split decision could undermine any legal action to force France to end its ban. But Mr Brown insisted the Commission must enforce the committee's ruling through the European courts.

"We have looked at it here and the French do not have new evidence and I would expect that to be the outcome of the meeting," he said. "Then we will look to the Commission to take prompt action to enforce what is, after all, a European Union decision, a collective decision that we have all made and we should all abide by."

Mad Deer Disease: Can Venison Kill You?

From Outdoor Life online by Frank Miniter
A fatal brain disease is spreading in deer and elk... and hunters are dying from a very similar illness.

The disease that struck the three hunters is ominously similar to another disease that's spreading in deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming. This possible connection has some people pointing to deer meat and crying killer.

The accusation could prove true. The disease found in deer and elk is called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), and it's closely related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which is what killed the hunters. Both CJD and CWD are classified as "transmissible spongiform encephalopathies" (TSE). Diseases don't always make the leap from one species to another, but there is a connection between chronic wasting disease and Creutzfeldt-Jacob that has many scientists concerned: Another TSE-bovine spongiform chronic encephalopathy (BSE)-spread from cattle to humans in the United Kingdom, where it was dubbed "Mad Cow Disease."

Mad Cow Disease exploded in U.K. cattle herds in the late 1980s and early '90s. But it was not until 1996 that it was found to have crossed over to humans. Since then, 43 people are known to have died in the U.K. from Mad Cow Disease, but because of its long incubation period-possibly up to 20 years-it may yet kill many more. The disease resulted in European bans on British beef and forced the destruction of more than half of the cattle in the U.K.

Because of the similarity, CWD has already been nicknamed "Mad Deer Disease," but it hasn't yet proved as sinister. In fact, another TSE called "scrapie" has afflicted sheep for at least 250 years and has never been found to cross over to humans. Still, because of Mad Cow Disease, CWD is hitting the hunting world like a horror movie monster, lurking unseen in the shadows.

Scientists, however, are on the monster's trail. More than a dozen states and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in cooperation with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are pouring money and resources into a thus-far-quiet, but nevertheless massive, investigation. They're trying to answer two questions: Is CWD killing people? And where is CWD?

To answer the first question, the CDC is taking a street cop approach by chasing down every lead that comes into its Atlanta headquarters. And with what they've found so far, this horror movie is starting to feel more like an X-File. Larry Schonberger, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC, says, "I've sent one of our epidemiologists out to investigate to see if there's a link between CWD and the [three] hunters' deaths. I did this because two of the victims were young [one was 27 years old, the other 30]. That's very unusual. CJD normally shows up in people well over 30.

But our scientist's initial report is that the deer eaten by the victims had not come from [known] infected areas. But we're taking no chances. In fact, a young girl died in a southern state from CJD who had reportedly eaten venison that her father had shot in Maine, so this year 300 deer will be checked for the disease in Maine.

"At this point we can't rule out a link between Chronic Wasting Disease and the hunters' deaths, but I think it's unlikely. CJD occurs all over the world at a ratio of about one in 1 million people. Each year in the U.S. 250 to 300 people die from CJD. So it's understandable that a few of the victims happened to have eaten venison," says Schonberger.

Meanwhile, APHIS and many state agencies are doing a broader search to discover if CWD can be found outside known infected areas, and to find out how fast it's spreading from the infected area. Since there is no accurate test that can be performed on living animals, scientists are checking brain samples. The samples are collected at deer check stations and meat processors. From there they are sent to a number of labs for analysis.

Colorado and Wyoming each check thousands of samples annually at their own research facilities, but other states, such as Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada, send their samples to the APHIS lab in Ames, Iowa. So far no wild deer or elk outside of Wyoming and Colorado have shown up with the disease. CWD has been found in elk produced in the game-farm industry, however.

Both CDC and APHIS efforts are designed simply to get a fix on the situation. Right now not much can be done to stop or prevent Mad Deer Disease because scientists know so little about it. To get answers, however, labs worldwide are intensively studying all spongiform encephalopathies. The CDC, for instance, is investigating this group of pathogens at its Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. But despite the intensive research efforts, answers are slow to come.

In fact, scientists don't even agree on what causes TSEs, although there is wide support for a theory put forth by Stanley Prusiner, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of California at San Francisco, whose research won him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1997. Prusiner theorizes that "prions" (proteinaceous infectious particles) cause this family of diseases, and not a virus, as was previously assumed. His chief reason for fingering "rogue proteins" is that the chemical and physical procedures that destroy most viruses don't affect TSEs, whereas procedures that have been found to degrade proteins seem to inactivate them. Prusiner's hypothesis is that prions kill by turning normal proteins in nerve cells into infectious ones by forcing them to alter their shape.

A Doomsday for Deer? In light of the recent conjecture about CWD killing humans, it's easy to overlook one certainty about this disease: It kills deer. The ramifications of that indisputable fact are almost as unsettling. Before we go on, keep three things in mind: CWD is spreading, CWD is always fatal and CWD has no known cure.

In the infected areas of Wyoming and Colorado, about 4 to 8 percent of deer and 1 percent of elk have the disease, according to Beth Williams, a professor of veterinary services with the University of Wyoming, and Mike Miller, a biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"It's been spreading slowly since it was first found in the wild in 1981," Williams says. "We think [CWD] passes from animal to animal through bodily fluids. So it probably takes physical contact of some kind to pass the disease."

That said, the spread of CWD may soon pick up speed because whitetails may be next on its hit list. Thus far the disease has mostly spread in mule deer up the South Platte drainage in northeastern Colorado. Mule deer have fairly thin population densities along the river, but whitetails have heavy population densities in this area. This dilemma has Miller worried because the whitetail's heavier population density means there is a greater chance of physical contact, which means CWD could move more rapidly. "Based on some computer models that we did at the Division of Wildlife, this scenario could prove devastating," Miller says.

"The only preventive measure we can take is to cut down the deer population in the infected areas. But these areas are popular with hunters, so that would be controversial. As a result, right now we're just checking for the disease, but unless something is done, CWD could spread farther and farther east. I'm not saying that it'll be in New Jersey next year, but in 10 or 15 years, who knows?"

So this article ends not with a climax, but with a "to be continued." Many questions still surround what we hope is erroneously named Mad Deer Disease. Consequently, we're left in the dark, speculating as to what it means to deer, to hunting and to hunters.

CJD, optical equipment multiple use ban

Fri, 22 Oct 1999 Marjorie P. Pollack BBC Online 21 Oct 1999
Opticians have been banned from using optical equipment on more than 1 person following fears that it could aid the spread of the human equivalent of mad cow disease, new variant CJD (nvCJD). There is a theoretical risk nvCJD can be spread by contact with infected eye or central nervous system tissue.

The ban, announced by the Department of Health, will apply to optical equipment coming into direct contact with patients' eyes. It follows a precautionary ban on the re-use of trial contact lenses announced in June.

The measure, which could cost the optical industry millions of pounds, follows advice from government experts on the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), who are monitoring the spread of BSE. SEAC has advised surgeons "wherever possible" to use disposable instruments on operations involving the central nervous system, eye tissue or tissue from the lymph system.

The committee is seeking a blood test enabling v-CJD to be detected before death, and allowing scientists to determine its incidence in the population at large. > Deputy Chief Medical Office Dr Pat Troop said there was only "a theoretical risk" of the fatal brain disease spreading between people, but said the government was committed to minimising that risk.

CJD causes the brain to develop a spongy appearance. The College of Optometrists said there had been no reported cases of CJD being transmitted via a contact lens fitting anywhere in the world, and argued the ban would not improve public safety. Stopping the re-use of equipment used daily in clinics around the country for the diagnosis and treatment of many eye problems would cause"chaos" and result in greater waiting times.

Gwyneth Morgan, president of the college, said: "We are surprised the Department of Health has taken this stance in the light of its continued call for the use of evidence based medicine. We believe in these circumstances, actions of this nature do not make any sense at all.

"The public, and especially contact lens wearers, should be assured their safety has always been, and will continue to be, paramount to every optometrist in this country."

Most of the equipment now banned is used in hospitals, but one machine, the tonometer, used to check for the debilitating eye condition glaucoma is commonly used by high street opticians. One solution could be to develop disposal membranes fitted to machines and thrown away after use.

SEAC said 47 people had now died of new variant CJD. However, SEAC's acting chairman Professor Peter Smith warned it was too early to estimate the eventual death toll. Professor Smith, of the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Much depends on how many cases there are going to be as a consequence of exposure to BSE-contaminated meat.

"We just cannot know how many that is going to be. The estimates vary from less than 100 to hundreds of thousands, depending on assumptions you make about how long the incubation period is going to be.

Britain could be at the start of the epidemic, he said, but there had not been a rapid increase in cases. The longer the number stays relatively low then I think the more reassured people will be that the epidemic will be relatively small."

EU proposes renewal of ban on cattle hormone BST

Reuters World Report Tue, Oct 26, 1999
The European Commission on Tuesday proposed renewing its ban on animal welfare grounds on the use and marketing of the hormone BST, which is used to boost milk production in dairy cows, it said in a statement.

Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) is already banned in the 15-nation bloc, although a five-year moratorium on its use is set to expire at the end of the year. The hormone is made by life sciences giant Monsanto Co (MTC.N) of the United States.

"The scientific advice provided to the Commission confirms the need for the ban which has been in place for the past decade and which is fully supported by the member states and the public," David Byrne, European Commissioner for consumer affairs, said in the statement.

"Animal health and welfare will both be better protected as a result," Byrne added, saying that the renewed ban would come into force from January 1, 2000, and would have no impact on imports of dairy and meat from third countries.

The use of BST increased the risk of clinical mastitis and the incidence of foot and leg disorders in cattle as well as sometimes adversely affecting reproduction and inducing severe reactions in cattle when injected, the Commission said.

It was still unclear whether BST posed a risk to human health through people drinking the milk from cattle injected with the hormone and further studies were needed, it added. The U.S. government approved the use of BST in dairy cows around six years ago.

Wrinkle cream and cosmetics link to BSE

November 2 1999  L. Times by Valerie Elliott  Consumer Editor
Anti-ageing creams containing bovine material could have triggered the human form of "mad cow" disease, new evidence from the BSE inquiry has revealed.

Despite senior government scientists raising concerns over the risk to "ladies . . . rubbing cow brain or placenta on to their faces", no action was taken because of fears that the public might panic.

Other beauty products which posed a risk but continued to be used for several years were "exotica" anti-wrinkle cosmetics and collagen made from offal to create fuller lips. Concerns were so great that one senior official called for a complete ban on using any bovine offal in the manufacture of cosmetic products.

Dr Hilary Pickles, a senior official working for the government's BSE committee, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Committee, was concerned that people could become infected if the creams were used on broken skin.

She also raised fears about the risk to workers in the cosmetics industry who were in regular contact with the products. But despite her concerns and discussion of the issue by the Government, no public warning was issued.

Nevertheless, cosmetic companies were told they should not use any products from British cattle. However, some companies continued to use bovine offal for several years.

Mark Purdey continues independent research effort

Geri Parlby Health Editor Positive News, UK
Despite having his theories supported by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, westcountry farmer Mark Purdey is still waiting for promised funding >from the Ministry of Agriculture to continue his investigations into links between pesticides, metals and BSE.

Two years ago research at the Institute, partly funded by donations from Positive News readers and the Network of Social Change, proved without a doubt that low doses of the organophosphate Phosmet were causing nerve cells changes that mimicked aspects of the early stages of BSE. Phosmet is a systemic OP used to spray cattle against the internal parasite warble fly.

After this research was published and publicly aired at the BSE inquiry MAFF, who had previously refused to accept there was any truth in Marks theories, performed something of a U turn and said they were willing to help fund more research. Two years later Mark and the university teams who supported his research are still waiting.

In the meantime the intrepid farmer has been funding his own research trips and sampling soil, water and vegetation in some of the worlds major scrapie and CJD hot spots. Scrapie is a disease of similar origin to BSE and CJD that affects sheep and deer. In these conditions the brain changes to look like a sponge so scientists dubbed the spongifom. The areas he visited also showed unusually high incidences of Parkinsons and Alzheimers Disease.

His most recent trips were to Iceland, Colorado and Slovakia, where he discovered some disturbing connections between the metal manganese and scrapie and CJD. In Iceland his work was supported by the Icelandic government and here he discovered that in the valleys where scrapie has been at its worst the soil showed an unusually high level of manganese deposits whereas in scrapie free valleys the manganese levels had dropped to normal

In Colorado the deer herds with the highest incidences of scrapie were found to be eating pine needles due to overgrazing. Mark analysed the needles and discovered they contained extraordinarily high manganese levels probably due to acid rain in that region.

In October Mark visited Slovakia where he found that one of the CJD hot spot where 1 in 1000 locals get the disease the villagers were living immediately down wind of two ferro manganese plants erected during the communist regime. The Slovakian authorities had become so concerned that they carried out blood tests on children and discovered the level of manganese in their system was six times the level permitted by the World Health Authority.

So what is making this naturally occuring metal so toxic? Says Mark: "Manganese is usually present in acidic volcanic soil, in small doses it is actually good for the body but high doses seem to set off the dramatic free radical chain reactions and in turn the protein changes that cause degenerative conditions such as Scrapie, BSE, CJD, Parkinsons and Alzheimers in both animals and humans."

But the other link in the chain seems to be low levels of copper. And Mark also found rock bottom levels of copper in all the these hot spots. He began to wonder whether when copper was in short supply in the brain unusually high levels of manganese would take its place.

"The copper connection was particularly fascinating since I recently discovered that global spongiform expert Dr David Brown of Cambridge University has recently been researching that very co-relation.

During his research he found that manganese did indeed bind to the prion protein and furthermore caused the protein to transform into its abnormal protease resistant form now reckoned by most scientists to be the BSE agent. This protein also performs the role of transporting copper around in the brain."

What Mark also discovered is that OPs actually accelerate the conversion of manganese into its most toxic form.

"In normal forms of spongiform disease this is caused by a naturally occuring mineral imbalance in soil but in the more virulent BSE and new varient form it appears that synthetic substances such as OPs can invoke this same mineral disturbance. When the systemic phosmet gets into the brain of the treated cow it actually locks on to copper depriving the brain of the copper supply and allows the manganese to get into vacated slot."

And extra manganese can come from many sources, for instance manganese is fed to chicken in massive doses to increase their egg yield, poultry however are poor absorbers of the metal so the manganese doesnt stay in their system but passes straight out as chicken manure . Although it is now officially banned, cattle were once regularly fed on this.

Having returned from Iceland Mark has also identified a host of other spongiform sites around the world that are also sited in volcanic areas or where manganese is actually mined. These include areas as diverse as Colorado, Italy, India, Morocco and Chile. Interestingly In Morocco manganese miners have for many years been falling prey to a fatal brain degenerating illness known as manganese madness which shows all the signs of CJD. Recent research has shown that the brains of these miners contained types of lesion that are identical to lesions found in spongiform disease.

And chemicals such as oestrogen and steroids also accelerate the uptake of manganese into the brain. Mark is now looking at the increase of incidences of CJD and other forms of dementia among body builders. But without Government funding Mark is finding it hard to continue his work.

"There is still so much work to do, but to date I have had to pay for everything myself and the money is running out. The evidence is there isnt it time to recognise it and do something about it before it really is too late."

If you can help with Marks research please contact Mark Purdey Research Fund, High Barn, Elworthy, Taunton, Somerset TA4 3PX Tel 01984 656104

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