ecoglobe [yinyang] news (21 December 1999)

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Ten new CJD cases raise fears of cattle-cull fraud
by Jonathan Leake and Jon Ungoed Thomas

UP TO 10 more people are believed to be suffering from variant CJD, the killer brain disorder thought to be caused by eating beef infected with BSE, known as "mad cow" disease.

The victims are all still alive and mostly young, including at least one child, a 13-year-old girl. Variant CJD has already claimed 48 lives in Britain, but the appearance of new cases is particularly serious.

It is more than a decade since the government banned the use of parts of cows thought to present the greatest risk. These new cases imply either a long incubation period for the disease or that infected meat is still entering the food chain.

Dr Richard Knight, a clinical neurologist at the CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh, confirmed that the unit is dealing with a further 7-10 suspected cases.

"There is a long-term rise in the number of cases but the overall numbers are still too small to tell us the eventual size of the epidemic," he said.

The Sunday Times has established that meat banned because it could be infected with BSE is still being sold for human consumption. After the BSE scandal erupted, the government decided to slaughter all cattle over the age of 30 months. By the end of September last year, more than 2.5m cattle had been killed. Last week, however, an official involved with the cull claimed that it has been open to systematic fraud.

"It has not been monitored properly and not nearly enough has been done to stop dishonest practices," said Graham Bell, who worked at the Intervention Board, a government body. He has sent a file detailing his evidence to the French authorities.

British investigators have confirmed that they are examining more than 50 cases where farmers and cattle dealers have allegedly used bogus identity documents to conceal cows' ages in order to sell them for human consumption. Last week the agriculture ministry admitted that 90,000 cattle have gone missing from its surveillance scheme. About 1,600 cows a year are still being diagnosed with BSE.

Trading standards officers at several county councils, including Gloucestershire, Shropshire and Somerset, said last week that they are involved in dozens of investigations.

"There is a hard core of people who are trying to get animals over 30 months into the human food chain," said Nigel Durnford, an animal health inspector in Gloucestershire.

A ministry spokesman said there were stringent controls to prevent fraud. "The farming community supports this system and the enforcement of the rules is taken very seriously indeed," he said.

On Friday at the close of the official inquiry into BSE, Lord Phillips, its chairman, warned that the 48 deaths so far could be "just the tip of an iceberg". Three more people, one in Ireland and two in France, have also died from the disease. It emerged last week that a 36-year-old French woman has the disease but is still alive.

Previously, firm evidence of variant CJD could be obtained only through postmortem examinations. New tests, devised by the CJD unit in Edinburgh, now allow diagnoses to be made with some confidence while victims are alive.

The tests include tonsil biopsies and magnetic resonance imaging, which shows victims to have undergone specific changes in a part of the brain called the thalamus. Details of the tests are to be published shortly in a medical journal.

Frances Hall, secretary of the Human BSE Foundation which represents families of victims, said: "Ten new cases is truly shocking."

[Source: SUNDAY TIMES, London, December 19, 1999, http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/ news/pages/sti/1999/12/19/stinwenws010 31.html emailed to the Biotech_activists list Date Posted: 12/19/1999 jeaton@fox.nstn.ca 19 Dec 1999]
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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (21 December 1999)

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