Oprah, Humane Society victory statements
Cattlemen actually made money when the beef market plunged -- expert
Scientists warn of CJD risk in vaccines given to children.
Britain to import blood plasma due to 'mad cow'
EU hygiene rules to be waived in 'BSE free' states
Tallow safer than gelatine, says scientific steering committee
Jesus said to be vegetarian
New row looms over beef-ban exemptions
Comprehensive review of prion research: 9 Feb 98 C&E News off-site
"Mad cowboys: The beef industry strikes back" ENN overview off-site
Opinions adopted by Scientific Steering Committee 20 Feb 1998 off-site
26 Feb 1998 press release
|"Thank God for answered prayers. Long live free speech. I am happy the trial
is over. I am so pleased the jury has ruled in my favor. I always knew that
I did nothing wrong and that my show did not defame the beef industry.
This has been one of my most painful experiences, but it has made me a stronger person. Throughout my life, I have always tried to find a greater purpose for all of my experiences. The one affirmation that has come out of this for me is that I will never stop saying what I truly believe. I will continue to use "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss serious issues.
I refuse to be muzzled. I come from a people who struggled and died to have a voice in this country. It is so important to me that I defend myself against those who try to take that voice. It is our intention to give viewers information that will allow them to make their own decisions.
Even though I have never felt that this lawsuit was fair, I respect the judicial process. I thank Judge Robinson and all the members of the jury. I know that this has been disruptive to their lives just as it has been to mine.
I thank my viewers around the world for their continued support, especially their prayers and kind thoughts. I am grateful for the warmth of everyone around me, especially the citizens of Amarillo who opened their hearts to welcome me and everyone involved with "The Oprah Winfrey Show." This support has been of great comfort and strength to me throughout the trial."
26 Feb 1998 PRNewswireWASHINGTON, -- Today, a 12-person jury found Humane Society of the United States program director Howard Lyman and talk show celebrity Oprah Winfrey not liable for comments made on a national show about eating beef. Mr. Lyman, director of the Eating With Conscience program of The HSUS, spent the last six weeks in Amarillo fighting this case. Mr. Lyman and The HSUS were barred from speaking about the lawsuit as a result of a court- imposed gag order. Mr. Lyman's statement follows:
"Today, a jury of Texans honored the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and safeguarded the right of consumers to have a free and open debate about food safety. Today, The Humane Society of the United States and I breathe more easily, knowing that a vigorous debate about potential dangers to our food supply -- ranging from E. coli to Pfiesteria to salmonella to Mad Cow Disease -- is permissible.
"Lawsuits like this stifle speech about matters that have implications for the health and welfare of every American consumer. At a time when threats to food safety are arguably greater than ever -- threats exacerbated by intensive confinement conditions that abet the spread of disease and by controversial feeding practices -- we need a free and open discussion about these matters."
The HSUS is the nation's largest animal protection organization with over 5.8 million members and constituents. Thirteen states, including Texas, have passed food-disparagement laws that hinder the free flow of information about the impact that factory farming and other poor animal husbandry practices could have on the safety of our food supply.
By Jeff Franks (Reuters) 28 Feb 98AMARILLO, Texas - Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey beat Texas cattle barons in a lawsuit over whether she had slandered cows, but said she still had no taste for burgers.
"No. I'll never say never, but I don't think so," she said when asked if she would eat one now.
A 12-person jury in Texas beef capital Amarillo took two sessions totaling less than seven hours to reject the civil damages claim against Winfrey. A jubilant Winfrey raised her arms, punched the air and shouted "Yes!" as she emerged from the federal courthouse to the cheers of dozens of rowdy fans. "Free speech not only lives, it rocks," she said to loud applause.
Winfrey, who grew up poor in Mississippi but parlayed her television popularity into an estimated fortune of $550 million, said her black heritage had given her the resolve to fight the lawsuit.
"I will continue to use my voice. I believed from the beginning this was attempt to muzzle that voice. I come from a people who have struggled and died in order to have voice in this country and I refuse to be muzzled," she said.
The cattlemen accused Winfrey and her guest, Howard Lyman, a rancher-turned- vegetarian campaigner, of deliberately attacking the industry in a 1996 program.
In the program, Lyman said U.S. cattle were being fed ground-up cattle parts, raising the risks of a mad cow disease epidemic which would "make AIDS look like the common cold." Winfrey then told the studio audience and viewers that Lyman's comments "just stopped me cold from eating another burger."
Cattle futures dropped sharply, and the Texas cattlemen said Winfrey was to blame. Jurors said they had some misgivings about the program, but their belief in the right of free speech guided their decision.
"We didn't necessarily like what we had to do but we had to decide for the First Amendment," jury forewoman Christy Sams said.
Juror Pat Gowdy said the verdict contained a more chilling message for Americans. "We felt that many rights have eroded in this country. Freedom of speech may be the only one left to help us get back what we've lost," he told reporters.
Paul Engler, one of the cattlemen who sued Winfrey, said he would appeal the verdict. He said he may have been beaten by Winfrey's celebrity more than her legal arguments. He congratulated Winfrey but said the trial sent a message to talk show hosts to make sure their facts were correct. Testimony demonstrated there was no risk of a mad cow epidemic in the United States, he said.
"We did accomplish that main objective to convince the U.S. people, the consumers, that U.S. beef is safe," he told reporters. "I want to see responsible reporting and responsible talk show hosts.
The jury's verdict sparked a champagne celebration by adoring fans who ran from the courthouse shouting "Oprah won" then popped open a bottle of bubbly in the street. Winfrey, who came out after the champagne was finished, said her only celebration would be the taping of two shows on Thursday night, then heading home to Chicago.
The trial, she said, had been tiring and "very, very difficult," but had also affirmed her belief in the U.S. justice system.
"It was the most trying, but also most validating experience I've ever had. Every day (in the court) one of the bailiffs would say 'God bless these United States and this honorable court' and I feel the same," she said. "I think the system works."
Winfrey said she always acted "with the utmost responsibility" on her show but the lawsuit had taught her that free speech was something she would "never again take for granted."
The Denver, Colo.-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a statement it was "disappointed" with the verdict, but joined Engler in calling for responsible reporting on food issues.
Sunday Times 22.2. 98A letter is being prepared to warn doctors that British blood products including vaccines could be at risk of contaminations from nvCJD. British experts on CJD are anxious to emphasise that the life-saving aspects outweigh the risks of CJD. The letter will follow a report being given to the Committee on Proprietary Medicinal Products, a pan-european advisory body on the safety of medicinal products that meets this week.
It may impose a ban on the export of UK blood and blood derived protein; this may provoke a political outcry. Noel Wadhion, the committees spokesman said no formal repsponse would be made by the CPMP until the end of the week. Calman states that 'UK blood products have a record second to none in terms of HIV, hep B, etc and we don't know even if CJD is transmitted in blood. To get a blood product from a foreign country which has a high risk of some other infection doesn't seem a particularly good idea to me'.
The letter, which is not yet finished, will guide doctors on how to explain to patients what is known so far about the risk from vnCJD which it is emphasized is far outweighted by the dangers of not having the treatment. Ministers believe the public should be informed of any risk of BSE, however slight.
The article then talks about the WHO meeting in Geneva 2 weeks ago concluded the possibility of a 'significant nvCJD epidemic' in 10 years can no longer be ignored. Martin Zeidler, an adviser on the disease at WHO said that although there were 14 confirmed cases a year ago and possibly 80,000 UK victims,. Now it is impossible to predict the possible scale of any epidemic.
27 February 1998 Telegraph By Roger Highfield, Science EditorVACCINES and other products derived from blood plasma should not be made from British blood donations as a "precautionary" measure to prevent the spread of human BSE, the Government said yesterday.
Companies using blood products were told to avoid using UK stocks if possible to protect patients from the "theoretical risk" of contracting new variant CJD. Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, said that there was no evidence that human BSE could be spread through blood and the measures did not mean that British blood and blood products were unsafe.
The Government also stressed that no vaccines used on children, such as MMR, [Note: MMR is the Measles, Mumps and Rubella combined vaccine for children -- JRB] contained UK blood products and that it was still safe to donate blood, adding that supplies were at a critical level. The action follows three recalls of blood products last November after donors had developed the new CJD.
"We must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry," said Mr Dobson. "If there is even a hypothetical risk and there are available safe alternative sources of products, then it makes sense to use them." Blood consists of a fluid, plasma - from which 33 licensed products such as clotting factors, albumin and immunoglobulins are derived - and cells, such as platelets and white and red blood cells.
Although transfusions of contaminated whole blood pose the same risk as receiving contaminated plasma products, many more units of plasma products are derived from a single donation and so thousands of people could be affected. The measures were announced after advice from the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines, which has advised the Government to rely on imported plasma. But there may not always be a choice, said Prof Mike Rawlins, chairman of the committee.
Plasma-derived products are used by 100,000 surgical patients each year in England, 90,000 pregnant women, 90,000 travellers who receive hepatitis jabs, 80,000 who receive tetanus jabs, 50,000 who use diagnostic products and 3,400 haemophiliacs.
The blood products that should now be manufactured from imported plasma of "proven provenance" include a range of coagulation factors; immunoglobulins, which are used for rabies vaccine, for example; albumin, used to treat burns; and a stabiliser in some vaccines, such as polio.
Mr Dobson has decided that the NHS Bio Products Laboratory, part of the National Blood Service, will be allowed to import plasma to manufacture blood products. The changeover will cost ?35 million. He also announced that all children under 16 with haemophilia and all new patients can be treated with the more expensive genetically engineered blood clotting agent, which is said to be purer than Factor VIII derived from donated blood.
Dr Jeremy Metters, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said the use of imported plasma was a purely precautionary public health measure. "There is no new evidence about new variant CJD being transmitted by blood products," he said. But he added that experimental animal data does (sic) not rule out the possibility of transmission by blood products".
Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the British Medical Association, supported the new measures. "Although the risks are very, very tiny, the public has a right to be informed and to be reassured that the Department of Health is taking effective action to secure a safe supply of blood products," he said. "I urge people who are blood donors to continue to give it in the normal way. Their blood is still vitally needed. For most clinical purposes, whole blood is not required.
"People know that if they need a blood transfusion they must go ahead because it is a life-saving measure. I am sure that in an emergency they will put worries about this slight, theoretical risk into perspective. "For our part, the medical profession must ensure that blood products are only used when they are strictly necessary."
PA News Thu, Feb 26, 1998 By Rachel Ellis, Health Correspondent, PA NewsThe Government today announced that 33 blood products are to be phased out to protect patients from the "theoretical risk" of catching CJD. Laboratories have been told to ditch British blood products made from plasma -- the fluid in which the blood cells are suspended -- which are used to treat haemophilia, shock and burns and tetanus, and import the fluid from abroad.
The announcement follows three recalls of blood products last November after it was revealed that blood donors had gone on to develop the human form of mad cows disease. The Government also revealed it will be extending blood product recalls to include donors, who are strongly "suspected" of having new variant CJD and not just those based on confirmed cases only.
However, Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the measures were "precautionary" and insisted there was no evidence that new variant CJD could be spread through blood. He stressed that the move did not mean that UK blood and blood products are unsafe. "We have no evidence to show that new variant CJD can be transmitted via blood products or blood -- the risk remains only hypothetical," he added. "But we must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry. "If there is even a hypothetical risk and there are available safe alternative sources of products, then it makes sense to use them."
An estimated 350,000 people will be affected by today's decision which follows advice from the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines.
Mr Dobson, accepting the advice of the CSM, has decided that the NHS Bio Products Laboratory, part of the National Blood Service, will be allowed to import plasma to manufacture blood products in a bid to maintain public confidence. Blood products are made from pools of plasma derived from between 20,000 and 60,000 blood donations. They include the clotting agent Factor VIII, used for the treatment of haemophilia, immunoglobulins, which are used in the treatment of a range of diseases such as tetanus and the prevention of haemolytic disease of the newborn through the treatment of rhesus negative mothers, and albumin, used in the treatment of burns and serious accidents and a stabiliser in some vaccines.
Vaccines used in the UK childhood immunisation programme do not contain UK albumin. These blood products will now be manufactured from the imported plasma. To avoid future withdrawals of large batches of medicinal products manufacturers have been told to avoid the use of UK albumin - an industry worth 9.4 million a year as a source in medicinal products. The phasing out process is expected to take between three and four months and the imported plasma products are expected to come from the United States.
Patients who will be affected include 100,000 surgical patients, 90,000 vaccinations, mainly for foreign travel and 50,000 for anti-tetanus vaccinations. However, the announcement will not affect blood donors and whole blood, used in transfusions, is also not affected.
Dr Jeremy Metters, deputy Chief Medical Officer, told a news conference at the Department of Health in Westminster today: "There is no new evidence about new variant CJD being transmitted by blood products, but it's a question of public health. "We must ask ourselves, `do we do nothing and just wait and see, or do we do something about it as a precaution?'. "The move will not happen overnight and for the meantime UK blood products using UK plasma supplies will be used until the switch is made."
All imported blood plasma will be subject to thorough checks and inspections by the Medicines Control Agency. The National Blood Authority has already been instructed to prepare a strategy for the possible removal of white blood cells from donations by the process of leucodepletion, should it be required, Dr Metters added.
Mr Dobson also announced that following a review of the NHS's provision of blood product Factor VIII, health authorities must ensure that the synthetic version, known as a recombinant, is made available to children under 16 and new patients.
He said: "The Haemophilia Society, amongst others, have highlighted their concern about blood-borne infections. "Though the risk of new variant CJD is hypothetical, nevertheless the fear of it is very real to this group, which has previously been affected by both HIV and hepatitis C transmitted from Factor VIII."
24 February 98 Telegraph By Toby Helm in Brussels and David BrownGERMANY and seven other EU nations could be given official "BSE free" status as part of a plan to help break the deadlock over the British beef ban.
The idea - being discussed by the European Commission and the British EU presidency - would involve waiving proposed new meat hygiene rules for countries which have had no cases of mad cow disease in domestically bred cattle. The plan follows warnings by the Bonn government that it will oppose moves to ease the ban on British meat unless Germany is exempted from the new scheme.
An agreed list of banned beef parts is supposed to be in place by April 1, but Germany has made it clear it does not expect to be penalised for a mad cow outbreak in another member state. It is leading calls from the non-BSE nations to be exempted from any restrictions agreed by EU experts and the Brussels Commission.
With no hope of reaching an EU-wide deal, the commission is believed to be planning a two-tier system, with tougher measures against countries with a record of BSE. Britain has the worst record but now has the toughest hygiene controls as a result - and exclusion from the terms of any ban for the rest.
One EU diplomat said: "The Germans know the new rules will cost their industry money and they are linking this to the British ban when there is no link." The other EU countries which claim to have suffered no cases of BSE in domestically bred cattle are Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Spain and Austria.
Previously Britain had insisted that all countries be required to remove so-called Specified Risk Materials - such as spinal cord and brain - from meat before sale. But a British official in Brussels said the UK had decided to examine the new proposals. "We are looking at this because things have moved on," he said.
Officials in the European Commission believe Brussels may back a recommendation imposing a regional approach when it meets tomorrow . Meanwhile, the EU's Scientific Steering Committee has backed Britain's ban on beef-on-the-bone - delivering a blow to farmers and butchers fighting to end the restriction.
Telegraph 26 February 98 By Toby Helm in Brussels and David BrownBRITAIN and six other European Union countries have been put on a BSE "danger list" under controversial plans announced by Brussels yesterday.
The others are the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal and France, all of which have admitted to cases of BSE in cattle born and bred there. The remaining eight EU member states will effectively be declared "BSE free". They will not have to enforce the tough meat hygiene rules already in force in this country because any cases of BSE confirmed by their vets have occurred in imported animals.
In a move which raised the political spectre of a double-tier among member states - in defiance of the EU's self-proclaimed policy of equality for all - Germany, Austria, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Greece and Spain would be able to apply for exemptions from the requirements.
This would effectively give them BSE-free status, even though there are fears among many veterinary experts that the true number of BSE cases has been grossly under-reported on the Continent. The proposals form part of a new regional approach by the European Commission to dealing with mad cow disease.
The abandonment of an EU-wide strategy follows heavy pressure from Germany, which has pushed for "BSE-free" status before it will consider voting for any easing of the worldwide ban on British beef exports. The move is seen as a trade-off to placate German farmers and consumer groups.
The plans accompanied a decision by Brussels to postpone until next year the full imposition of hygiene rules for meat, including a ban on beef on the bone, which Britain has insisted should be adopted across the whole of the EU immediately.
Irish officials in Brussels said the new scheme could have a devastating effect on their country's beef exports. "We will be classed officially as a danger zone which is hardly great marketing," said a source.
Critics of the scheme also said it would reduce the willingness of countries to reveal their first cases of BSE. British officials in Brussels said the Government was considering supporting the regional approach to the meat hygiene rules in the hope that it would help to accelerate progress towards lifting the ban.
February 25, 1998 Europe Information ServiceTallow is deemed to pose no threat of transmission of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in BSE-free areas and in "areas with a negligible risk " so long as it has been "purified " and the source certified as "fit for consumption ". That is the essence of a preliminary opinion published by the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) after its plenary meeting on February 19-20. The scientists were nevertheless unable to make the same case for gelatine, the other main cattle derivative thought to carry a risk of contamination. Its status remains less clear cut after the SCC specified that cattle bone meal may be used in the gelatine manufacturing process only if the cows originate from BSE-free countries. But BSE-free status itself will be hard to determine. The SSC could not accept applications by several Member States and non-EU countries claiming to be completely free of mad cow disease, on the grounds that there is not enough reliable data to prove that their herds are not harbouring the disease, which can have an incubation period of several years. The Committee also adopted a final opinion on the revised UK date-based export scheme submitted for consideration last October.
The various beef derivatives containing Specified Risk Materials (SRMs - offal such as the brain, spinal cord, eyes and spleen deemed to pose a particularly high risk of passing on the BSE agent) cannot be treated alike. That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion to emerge from a range of preliminary opinions from the EU's Scientific Steering Committee on BSE risk in general, and the safety of tallow, gelatine and bone meal in particular. Brain, spinal cord and trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia constitute 96% of the infective load of a BSE-infected cow, so any listing of SRMs should take this specific infectivity of animal tissue, its total weight per animal and the age of the cow or calf into account, the SSC concluded.
The scientists are satisfied as to the safety of tallow providing certain measures are carried out but remain cautious over giving gelatine a clean bill of health. The SSC considered three major issues when compiling its opinions: the risk of human exposure to BSE from direct consumption of potentially -infective material; the risk incurred in being exposed to processed infective material such as tallow (use in making soap, candles and machinery grease, for example) and gelatine ( used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food additives); the risk of infection through recycling infective material via its use in animal feed.
The preliminary opinion on tallow issued by the SSC states that if it has been derived from ruminant tissues it can be regarded as safe for human use or animal consumption in BSE-free areas or in areas with negligible risk, "if the animal is certified as fit for consumption and the tallow was purified ". However, in lower-risk areas SRMs should also be excluded. For high-risk areas the experts have called for additional heat treatment (at 133o. C for 20 minutes at a 3 bar pressure), a treatment also recommended for all industrial uses of tallow. Heat treatment to kill off the prions thought to carry mad cow disease is clearly regarded as essential as the opinion states that "tallow derivatives can be regarded as safe if the BSE agent is inactivated by validated methods during the production process ".
The situation is not so rosy as far as gelatine production and use is concerned. The Committee considered the question as to whether gelatine could be considered to be free of carrying any risk of BSE infection. The experts' view is that bones from cattle may be used "as long as the animals originate from BSE-free countries ". However, if the risk of an animal is defined as "low " via its geographic origin, SRMs (and in particular the brain and the spinal cord) "have to be excluded " from the production process before the bones of the cattle may be used. In high-risk areas, no cattle bones may be used at all in making gelatine, the SSC opinion underlines.
As far as the use of meat and bone meal is concerned, the scientists have specified that it should never be used as feed for mammalian animals if its geographic origin turns out to be a high-risk area. Additionally, SRMs must not be used in the production of meat and bone meal in low risk areas.
The international scientific community now has until March 16 to respond to the preliminary opinions (which are available on the Internet) before the Committee submits final opinions to the Commission and Council of Ministers for consideration. In the meantime, the preliminary opinions will provide food for thought at the European Commissioners' February 25 "orientation discussion " on implementing the SRM ban from the end of March onwards.
The Associated Press By MARK BABINECKAMARILLO, Texas (AP) - The defense in the Oprah Winfrey trial rested Tuesday after just four days of testimony - far less than the four weeks it took the Texas cattlemen suing her to make their case.
Ms. Whyte had testified that said the cattlemen actually made money when the beef market plunged after Ms. Winfrey's show because they were able to buy livestock at lower prices.
After the defense rested, cattlemen recalled Wayne Purcell, an agricultural economics expert at Virginia Tech who questioned Ms. Whyte's use of daily cattle prices instead of weekly averages in her calculations.
February 25, 1998 By JUDITH CROSSON, ReutersDENVER - An animal rights group has taken a new approach to persuading consumers to give up meat: Jesus was a vegetarian, they say, and his followers should imitate him. But, judging by the early returns, it looks as though it might be easier to turn loaves into fish and water into wine.
Reston, Virginia-based People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), known for headline-grabbing
photo opportunities, is waging a campaign to persuade leaders of
Christian faiths to counsel their members to shun meat. More than 400
Catholic bishops, archbishops and cardinals as well as evangelical
Protestant leaders Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Oral
Roberts have received letters from the group's vegetarian coordinator,
"... I am writing to ask that you encourage your diocese to follow Jesus by adopting a vegetarian diet throughout Lent and beyond," he wrote to the Catholic leaders.The timing could not be better as Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday, when Catholics must abstain from meat. They are also obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, a period of sacrifice and reflection leading up to Easter.
"If anything, PETA is a master of timing," said Steve Kopperud, senior vice president at the American Feed Industry Association. Friedrich's big argument for forgoing meat is a disputed claim that Jesus was an Essene, a Jewish sect that Friedrich says avoided meat, and that early Christians did not eat meat.
"The stream of meat darkens the light of the spirit," he wrote, quoting St. Basil, in the letter to Catholic bishops."It's a kooky idea," said biblical scholar Joseph Fitzmyer, a Jesuit theologian and professor emeritus at Catholic University in Washington. "There's nothing in the New Testament that would suggest he was a vegetarian," Fitzmyer said, adding that there was also no proof Jesus was an Essene.
While nobody seems to be jumping on the vegetarian bandwagon, Friedrich said he was encouraged by some responses he has received. "I'm heartened by the people who will pray over the issue," said Friedrich, who has received about a dozen written replies that range from bestowing a blessing on him to challenging his argument that Christ was a vegetarian.
"I certainly will give your recommendation serious consideration and I am grateful to you for bringing this matter to my attention," Catholic Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, Pennsylvania, wrote him in a politely worded response. A representative of evangelist Billy Graham said that while it is "important that animals be treated kindly, not cruelly," there was no evidence that Jesus was a vegetarian.
The meat industry has had to deal not only with low prices but with bad publicity generated by a lawsuit by Texas cattlemen who claim an Oprah Winfrey television show on mad cow disease caused the price of beef to fall.
While the industry would never presume to comment on a religious practice, Kopperud said, it was a bit "naive" for PETA to believe "it had the inside track on what Jesus ate.
"More people giving up meat is not what ranchers would like to see on the menu. Total annual red meat consumption in the United States has dropped from an average of 127 pounds per person in 1980 to an estimated 63.3 pounds in 1997.
PETA's latest anti-meat campaign is not the first time the animal rights group has tangled with the meat industry. A PETA member dressed as Satan was arrested this month for spray painting on the walkway outside the hall where the National Cattlemen's Beef Association was holding its annual meeting.
And when the Oscar Meyer meat company's "Wienermobile" -- a sausage-shaped motor vehicle -- was auditioning children for a television commercial, PETA members were out yelling "meat is murder," Kopperud said. "The mothers were furious," he added.
February 26 1998 Charles Bremner The TimesTHE stage was set yesterday for a fresh fight over "mad cow" disease when the European Commission bowed to pressure from Germany, the US and other countries and announced plans to exempt them from measures to ban beef on the bone and other BSE "risk materials".
The Commission's decision, bitterly attacked by Ireland, raises the prospect of a European Union challenge to Britain's unilateral block on the sale of imported meat which has not been deboned. It could also complicate the laborious negotiations to ease the export ban on British beef.
In a classic EU compromise, the Commission sought to defuse a fight over anti-BSE measures which has been going on since it decided last July that all member states, plus countries sending meat to the EU, must remove "specified risk materials" (SRMs), including the brain, spinal cord and eyes of cattle, sheep and goats, at the abattoir.
The Commission decided to delay for the second time the implementation of the SRM ban until next July, and said states could delay the move for a further six months if they applied for an exemption. At the same time, it extended the SRM list to include meat linked to the spinal column - the rule that bars T-bone steaks and mutton chops in Britain.
Member states which have reported native cases of BSE must apply the original shorter SRM list from July 1 while awaiting the outcome of any request for "derogation". This involves Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. All states will be given the opportunity to prove that they have a low enough BSE risk to be permanently exempted.
There is no chance that Britain, with by far the biggest number of BSE cases, would win an exemption. The Commission believes it had no alternative to giving way to pressure not just from Germany, which insists that it is free of BSE, but also from the United States and New Zealand. They argued that the conditions imposed an unnecessary burden and breached international trade law.
However, the plan, which needs endorsement by a majority of member states to become law, will create a two-tier system that could damage the trade of those which are ruled to have enough risk of BSE to be required to comply with the SRM list. Ireland, in particular, fears that its meat exports, already badly hit by the British epidemic, will effectively be blacklisted.
The Government said yesterday it was pleased that the EU was endorsing its argument for outlawing beef on the bone but it was unhappy with the further delay in applying the rules and with the prospect that countries would be given unjustified exemptions. Privately, officials hoped the concession to Germany would smooth the way for Britain's application for the export ban to be lifted for beef from certain herds in Northern Ireland.
Germany, which is fiercely opposed to any resumption of British exports, and with its own industry now effectively protected from the burden of applying anti-BSE measures, is thought unlikely to be any more willing to make a concession to Britain.
[British farmers were cheered yesterday by an unexpected government reversal of plans to make the beef industry pay the £70 million cost of introducing a computerised cattle tracing system to combat BSE. Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, said the Treasury would pick up the £35 million bill for the start-up, and first year's running costs, and would pay a further £35 million to implement extra controls at abattoirs. ]
February 27, 1998 By PATRICIA REANEY, ReutersLONDON - Britain has authorized its National Health Service to import blood plasma to protect the public against the "theoretical risk" of contracting the human equivalent of mad cow disease.Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the move came after three recalls of blood products in November because donors contributing to British-made plasma developed Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
"This will reduce the possibility of repeated recalls of blood products in the future and thereby help to help to maintain public confidence in these products," he said in a statement on Thursday in which he stressed that the measures were purely precautionary."We have no evidence to show that nvCJD (the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) can be transmitted via blood products or blood - the risk remains only hypothetical. But we must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry," Dobson said.
Britain decided on the move on the advice of the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines which also suggested blood from donors suspected of having nvCJD should be recalled. Previously recalls were limited to confirmed cases of the brain wasting disease.Dobson also announced that only synthetic versions of the blood clotting agent Factor VIII would be given to hemophiliacs.
"Though the risk of nvCJD transmission is hypothetical, nevertheless the fear of it is very real to this group which has previously been affected by both HIV and Hepatitis C transmitted from Factor VIII," Dobson added. The British Medical Society and medical experts welcomed the move. "Although the risks are very, very tiny, the public has a right to be informed and to be assured that the Department of Health is taking effective action to secure a safe supply of blood products," the professional organization said.
We have always taken, and will continue to take, all practicable precautions to protect patients and the public health," Dobson said."If there is even a hypothetical risk and there are available safe alternative sources of products, then it makes sense to use them."
The measures are the latest safety precautions since the government announced that there could be a connection between the new strain of CJD and mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), nearly two years ago. The news led to an EU export ban on British beef.
Last year scientific studies confirmed that eating contaminated beef was the likely cause. Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham earlier this year banned beef on the bone as another safety measure.Scientists think BSE, which first broke out in British herds in 1986, was caused by the use of cattle feed containing material from the carcasses of sheep that died from a related brain disease to cattle.