Document Directory

30 Jul 97 - Burger chain leaves France as sales fall

By Susannah Herbert in Paris

Telegraph ... Wednesday 30 July 1997

Burger King is pulling out of France after 16 years as the country's love affair with the hamburger shows signs of cooling .

The British-owned fast-food chain will close its 39 outlets by the end of the year, with the loss of 550 jobs. Last year, hamburger consumption in France stagnated after years of growth. Burger King's turnover fell from 325 million francs in 1995 (32.5 million) to 300 million francs last year.

Even McDonald's, the market-leader - found recently in a British court to be exploitative of children and cruel to animals - lost 10 per cent of its French customers, half of them frightened off by the BSE crisis .

Burger King said yesterday that the French withdrawal was not because of a popular revolt against hamburgers. A spokesman said: "It's simply that we are not making an acceptable profit. We are third in the French market, behind McDonald's and Quick and we decided we would be better off investing in Britain, Spain and Germany.

Both McDonald's and its nearest competitor, Quick, have continued to open new restaurants and launch new lines in the hope of whetting French appetites. The latest attempt to woo "sophisticated" French tastes was the McDonald's "McDeluxe", a burger in which tomato ketchup was replaced by a mustard-and-pepper sauce. Quick hit back with Le Pepper Toast, an "adult" burger.

29 Jul 97 - BSE payments: Farmers attack end of rendering aid

By Alison Maitland

Financial Times ... Tuesday July 29 1997

Farmers face further financial hardship because of government moves to end aid payments that helped the rendering industry cope with the beef crisis, the National Farmers' Union said.

Temporary compensation to renderers was introduced by the Conservative government in March last year after it banned meat and bonemeal - the main by-product from rendered-down cattle carcasses - from all farm animal feed.

The ban, together with the European Union's ban on exports of all UK beef products, left meat, bonemeal and tallow, the other by-product, without a market. The government stepped in with money to enable renderers to continue disposing of animal waste, preventing a collapse in the beef supply chain.

Now Mr Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, has decided to phase out the scheme, with payments ending next March . This is in spite of pressure from the meat industry to maintain financial support until markets for the by-products reopen.

Mr Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, said: "The costs will have to be shared among the beef chain, which is in a pretty parlous state." Abattoirs were already operating at very low margins and the strong pound was attracting cheap beef imports, preventing the extra costs being passed to the consumer. This suggested that farmers would bear the brunt.

"Nobody could claim this aid [to renderers] in perpetuity but the argument is about how quickly the phasing out should take place," Mr Gardiner said. He acknowledged that the market for meat and bonemeal would be closed for some time but new processing techniques at high temperatures and pressures offered the possibility that tallow could be used in the manufacture of soap, which could then be exported.

The government is already facing strong criticism from the farming industry over its decision to cut payments from next week to farmers putting cows into the slaughter scheme for cattle aged over 30 months.

But Mr Cunningham said that extending support to renderers would entail "considerable additional cost" for which there was no provision in public spending plans.

Government aid to the rendering industry was 87m in 1996-97 and is budgeted at 59m this financial year.

Mr Cunningham made clear when he took office in May that he was appalled at the 3.5bn-plus cost of the BSE crisis to taxpayers.

29 Jul 97 - Experts find BSE cases 'in clusters'

By Aisling Irwin, Science Correspondent

Telegraph ... uesday 29 July 1997

Scientists have uncovered a clustering of BSE cases around the country, with 10 per cent of cattle herds harbouring 80 per cent of the disease.

Large herds had higher rates of the disease than smaller ones , the new, detailed work has found. Herds with more than 100 cattle had rates of six per thousand, while herds with less than 50 cows had rates of between one and four per thousand. The researchers said they could not explain why larger herds should be at greater risk. It could be because of a small amount of transmission of the disease from cow to cow, or an effect of more intensive farming.

The research was by the team that last year said that new cases would fall dramatically, to 12 a year by 1999. Since then, they have returned to their data for more detailed analysis. As a result, they uncovered the clustering. "A small number of herds are accounting for a relatively large number of cases," said Dr Christl Donnelly, one of the team at Oxford University.

The work is published today in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The scientists showed that BSE has clustered regionally , with incidence at its highest in the South West and East Anglia; second highest in the South East and the North West; and lowest in Scotland. Their model shows that it is possible that some BSE is transmitted horizontally, for example through infected pasture or directly from cow to cow.

But this transmission is so small that it could not sustain an epidemic. Horizontal transmission could, however, account for the rate of BSE being higher in large herds than small ones. The team, led by Prof Roy Anderson, has tested its computer models against reality for the first time, because its first predictions were for last year. These calculations were accurate, Dr Donnelly said. The number of new cases this year would be half that of last year, the scientists have said.

29 Jul 97 - Sims sells red meat firm for 31m loss

By Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

Telegraph ... uesday 29 July 1997

Sims Food Group is hoping to put the BSE crisis behind it with the 12.1m sale of its retail red meat business yesterday.

Although a management buyout team was formed by a Sims director, David Gunner, the company has instead sold the division to Dawn, a privately-owned Irish group.

The sale comes after Sims's earlier disposals of its meat exporting company, First City Trading, and its loss-making catering and refrigeration operations. Sims announced a 31.1m loss on yesterday's sale, so it has now lost 60m on disposals over two years.

The losses have plunged its profit and loss account into a 10.8m deficit, preventing it from paying dividends. The company intends to ask shareholders for permission to write off the deficit by reducing its share premium account, which forms part of its reserves.

Sims, whose shares have dropped from 225p in 1993 to 33.5p yesterday, passed its final dividend payment yesterday. But the company's finance director, Tony Cearns, said that if shareholders back its plans, "we will be in a position to pay dividends again".

The chief executive, Stephen Collier, said Sims sold its retail business because "traditional red meat consumption was in long-term decline , the large retail multiples dominated sales to the consumer and there was serious over-capacity on the supply side".

After the sale, Sims will be left with the fast food business Oakland and the poultry company Lincs Turkey. The on-going business made 2.2m operating profit on sales of 40.9m last year, and Sims said it intends to grow it by acquisitions in the longer term.

Mr Collier, announcing the group's full-year results, said the pre-tax loss reduced from 49.3m to 27.5m. The reduction was partly due to improving burger sales and government aid grants during the BSE crisis, although Mr Collier would not quantify how much assistance Sims received.

25 Jul 97 - Times Letters

Letters to the Editor - Evidence on BSE

The Times ... July 25 1997

From Professor Emeritus S. John Pirt

Sir, The objection of the vice-president of the Royal Society, Professor P. J. Lachmann (letter, July 14), to the brilliant article by Lord Rees-Mogg (July 7) on research into the cause of BSE is ironical in view of the Royal Society's intention to promote discussion of science in the news media.

Nothing in science could be more controversial than what causes BSE. The fury raised by the challenge to the prion theory by the auto-immune theory of the disease reminds me of Machiavelli's dictum:

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new.

Yours faithfully,

S. JOHN PIRT, 50 Chartfield Avenue, Putney, SW15. July 16.

23 Jul 97 - Survey shows lax abattoir control

by Michael Hornsby, Agriculture Correspondent

The Times ... July 23 1997

Only two countries in the European Union, Ireland and Portugal, enforce abattoir controls against "mad cow" disease which meet British standards fully, a survey by The Times shows.

Most member states have no requirement for removing "specified risk materials" from cattle carcasses before these are sent from slaughterhouses to butchers' shops and meat-cutting plants. In Britain abattoirs remove brain, eyes, spinal cord, spleen, thymus, tonsils and intestines, which have all been identified as potential carriers of BSE.

Britain is unique in the number of its cattle that have died of BSE : more than 167,000 since 1986. But seven other EU member states have reported a total of 321 cases of BSE , only 28 in cattle imported from Britain.

Ireland: has reported 217 cases of BSE , 12 in cattle imported from Britain. Since April last year abattoirs have removed the same list of "risk" organs as in Britain.

Portugal: (67 cases), seven in cattle imported from Britain. Since December last year abattoirs have had the same BSE controls as followed in Britain.

France: (27 cases), all in home-bred cattle; removes brain, spinal cord and eyes from all cattle over six months old, but takes thymus, tonsils, spleen and intestines only out of cattle either born or imported before July 31, 1991.

Germany: (five cases), all in cattle imported from Britain. no risk materials are removed.

The Netherlands: (two cases), both of British origin. Since March has removed cattle brain, eyes, spinal cord and spleen but not thymus, tonsils or intestines.

Italy: (two cases), both said to be of British origin. No removal of risk materials.

Denmark: (one case), said to have been imported from Britain; no removal of risk materials.

None of the other EU members Austria, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Greece admits having cases of BSE.

23 Jul 97 - Britain fights to widen anti-BSE controls

from Charles Bremner in Brussels

The Times ... July 23 1997

Britain seemed close last night to winning its fight to force continental states to apply strict anti-BSE methods in its slaughter houses, a move that would avert a threatened ban on European beef imports.

Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, said he was cautiously optimistic that enough ministers would support a request by the Commission for a regulation requiring all potentially risky material to be removed from the carcasses of animals before sale to consumers. This would spare Britain the need to act against meat imports. Belgium, among others, appeared to be moving towards the Commission's view that tougher rules were needed.

The resistance of Germany and seven other of the European Union's 15 states would be enough to reject the Commission's proposal that abattoirs should remove all "risk material" before beef , sheep and goat meat is sent for human consumption.

The material is mainly the brain, spinal cord and the spleen . Britain, which is required to apply the measures as part of the fight against BSE , says its consumers could be at risk from beef imported from countries that do not apply the full anti-BSE treatment.

Dr Cunningham told EU colleagues yesterday that he would have no alternative to seeking parliamentary backing for a ban on all beef that is not subject to the stringent treatment . "I am on very strong grounds in European policy terms and in safeguarding the health of the British people to do exactly that, and that's what I will do," Dr Cunningham said.

Brussels officials gave a warning, however, that Britain would be breaching EU rules if it imposed a unilateral ban, and could face proceedings in the Court of Justice. Germany, which insists that it has no native cases of BSE , argues that it is unnecessary to apply a remedy for a disease that does not affect its livestock.

Similar arguments were being used by Belgium, Italy, Greece, Finland, Austria, Denmark and Portugal. France supports the British approach, along with The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Luxembourg. Ireland, which already applies British-style measures, also supports the move. The Commission argues that the tough processing rules are necessary to stop any possible outbreak of BSE and they point to the widespread existence on the Continent of scrapie, the longstanding sheep equivalent of BSE.

Continental officials argue that the "mad cow" epidemic was entirely the consequence of the feeding of animal-based feed to cattle and that Britain must take the financial consequences of enforcing the more costly processing procedures.

Britain has the highest standards of meat processing in Europe and it was only reasonable, on grounds of science as well as fairness, to expect imports from the EU to come up to the same mark, Dr Cunningham said.

British experts believe that BSE is more widespread on the Continent than the handful of cases that have been so far officially reported .

18 Jul 97 - Beef back on the menu

BBC News

BBC News ... 18 July 1997

Despite the confirmation that BSE is transmissible to human beings and the possibility of an epidemic raised in a recent Nature article, burger chains and some schools anounced that they will use British Beef again.

18 Jul 97 - Expert Rules Out mad cow epidemic

PA News

PA News ... 18 July 1997

The man who warned that the human form of mad cow disease could kill hundreds of thousands of people said that as a result of new research fears of an epidemic were unfounded.

Professor John Paterson, head of the government scientific team investigating BSE said: "I think our worst fears are not going to be realised. Last year I said that there might be a few more cases or there might be hundreds of thousands.

"I now think that the probability of hundreds of thousands of cases is so low I have discounted it. But one can't really go any further than that at this stage ," he told The World at One on BBC Radio 4.

On the same programme former health minister Stephen Dorrell said that at the time he and Professor Paterson made their announcement cases could have gone either way.

"We both said to ourselves many times that it was important that the words we used then were accurate on the basis of the science that was available then and we both recognised and said many times that those words would be re-examined years later when people knew what we didn't know then."

Mr Dorrell said his concern was not to apply a spin to the Professor's figures which was not justified.

17 Jul 97 - Proof that BSE can cause CJD published

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 17 July 1997

Scientific proof that bovine spongiform encephalopathy - mad cow disease - can affect humans is published today.

It has been estimated that, because millions ate BSE contaminated beef, as many as 100,000 cases of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease could in theory emerge. Today's findings in the journal Nature suggest that the incidence, currently no more than 19 cases, will remain extremely low.

The study shows there is no theoretical molecular barrier to infection of people by bovine spongiform encephalopathy , but that incidence will remain extremely low because of barriers between the species.

BSE, scrapie - the analogous spongiform disease in sheep - and the new variant form of CJD, which has been linked with BSE, are thought to be caused by an abnormal form of a brain protein called a prion. The researchers showed prion proteins from animal brains infected by BSE or scrapie can convert human prion protein to the abnormal insoluble form linked to disease.

But the likelihood of this reaction between BSE infected tissue and human prions is very low, as the differences between prions in cows and humans affects the efficiency of transmission between the two. This agrees with studies on animals of the "species barrier".

Today's findings suggest that if BSE is transmitted to humans at all, it will only be at a level comparable with that of the agent of scrapie, which has never been known to affect humans. The study was conducted by Dr James Hope at the BBSRC Institute for Animal Health, Compton Laboratory, Newbury, Berkshire, UK, and colleagues in the Netherlands and America.

17 Jul 97 - Lab tests prove BSE can pass to human tissue

by Nick Nuttall, Technology Correspondent

Times ... July 17 1997

BSE can be transmitted to humans beings , British scientists have found. The research shows that infectious proteins, or prions, from contaminated beef can, in laboratory tests, transmit to human tissue to trigger brain infections. The findings may also have implications for lamb infected with scrapie.

The researchers have found that the proteins involved with scrapie can also infect human proteins. James Hope, who led the research at the Institute for Animal Health in Newbury, Berkshire, said yesterday: "We have shown that change in a particular human protein can be induced by the bovine infectious agent."

However, he said the findings should be treated cautiously. "To extrapolate this to say that bovine spongiform encephalopathy has been, or is being, transmitted to humans discounts a lot of other factors that are involved in cross-species transmission," he said.

The scientists, whose work has been approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and is published in Nature, also found that scrapie can be transmitted to humans to trigger a change in proteins. However, scrapie can be traced back 200 years, yet there is no evidence that people eating lamb have been affected by scrapie. The scientists found that scrapie and BSE were equally good at infecting human proteins . "So you might actually infer that since the sheep and the bovine material convert the human ones at similar efficiency, BSE is not a risk factor for the disease. That would be the positive message," said Dr Hope, who is funded by the government's Biological and Biotechnological Sciences Research Council.

A more pessimistic conclusion is that scrapie-infected lamb is a threat to humans and should be treated in a similar way to beef. "It really depends on whether you wear rose-tinted or doom-laden glasses," Dr Hope said. He pointed out that outside the laboratory a multitude of additional factors such as the dose, strain, and route of infection would affect transmission.

Beef infected with BSE is thought to have triggered a new strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which strikes people at a much younger age than the normal version, causing symptoms of dementia leading to death. The Department of Health has recorded 19 confirmed and probable cases of "new variant" CJD. The patients are thought to have become infected in the late 1980s, before strict controls came in to stop BSE-infected beef entering the human food chain.

Because of the disease's long incubation period, experts do not know if this is just the start of an epidemic that may kill thousands of people. Whether there is a serious epidemic will depend largely on how easily BSE can jump the species barrier and infect humans .

Brain diseases such as BSE , scrapie and CJD are thought to be caused by alterations to the molecular structure of proteins called prions. Normally harmless prions become defective, and cause other prions with which they come into contact to alter in the same way, thus setting up a chain reaction of infection.

Dr Hope and his team showed that prion proteins from both BSE and scrapie-infected animal brains were able to convert human prion proteins into the dangerous form. But the efficiency of this reaction was much lower than the conversion of human prion protein by the defective prion associated with "normal" CJD.

Dr Hope said: "We have shown that there is a molecular barrier between cows and humans, but it's not an absolute barrier. It's just a question of efficiency."

16 Jul 97 - CJD experts fear 100,000 new cases

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 16 January 1997

Scientists warn today that there remains the potential for an epidemic of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, approaching 100,000 cases , even though only four cases have been confirmed since last March.

Although the link between "mad cow disease", BSE, and the new variant CJD has yet to be proven, and scientists remain ignorant of the disease process, the team said "substantial uncertainty" over the potential shape of the epidemic will remain for five years.

Making many assumptions and using simple mathematical models, scenarios are examined in today's issue of Nature by Prof Peter Smith and Simon Cousens of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, with Dr Robert Will of the National CJD Surveillance Unit, Edinburgh.

"This is not an enormously reassuring paper ," said Prof Smith. "There are going to be more cases, whatever the cause." Since 10 cases of the new variant of CJD were reported in March there have been a further four confirmed cases and one in France, and another probable case was reported last month in Britain, said Prof Smith.

The following tentative conclusions are drawn, "backcalculating" from the number of known cases and making various assumptions, for instance that the number of people infected each year was proportional to the number of BSE cases, and about how peaked or flat is the distribution of incubation times.

Even though there have been only 14 confirmed cases in Britain, we cannot rule out the possibility of an epidemic involving many thousands of cases, if the average incubation period is long, say 20 years or more.

The number of cases with onset in each of the next years may enable preliminary estimates to be made of the eventual size of the epidemic, but uncertainty will remain.

If the number of cases with onset in each of the years 1996 to 1998 remains low, below about 20 per year, then we would become more confident that the eventual epidemic may involve 100 cases or fewer and, under the models we have examined, it is unlikely that it would exceed a few thousand.

However, if the number of cases with onset in 1996 is 25 or more and there is a doubling or tripling of new cases in each of the two following years, then this would be compatible with an epidemic of many thousands .

On the other hand, 20 or so cases with onset in 1996, 30-35 in 1997 and about 50 in 1998 would be compatible with an epidemic of about 1,600 cases under some scenarios or nearly 16,000 under others, depending on the shape of the distribution of incubation periods.

The worst case scenario of 80,000 cases depends on there having been 32 new cases last year. Even though it can take up to a year to diagnose, this looks unlikely to be realised because there are fewer than 32 potential cases.

Even in three or four years' time there will still be "substantial uncertainty" about the future course of the epidemic.

Best case scenario if BSE is linked to CJD is 75 cases, assuming the offal ban was 100 per cent effective, a mean incubation time of 10 years, and a certain distribution of incubation times. The worst case scenario is 80,000 cases, assuming the offal ban was only 90 per cent effective, with a mean incubation time of 25 years. If the incubation period is longer, there could be even more cases.

16 Jul 97 - Scientists: BSE can infect humans

by Nigel Rosser

Evening Standard ... Wednesday, 16 July, 1997

mad cow disease can be transmitted to humans , scientists revealed today for the first time. Experiments have proved that BSE can jump from species to species , something the Government and the medical establishment had previously denied was possible. However, the scientists stress that the chance of contracting the disease is still remote. Scrapie, a similar disease in sheep which has been known about for 200 years and can be transmitted in the same way, has never been known to occur in humans. In new laboratory tests, human proteins mixed with infectious BSE material became infected with the disease and began destroying other cells. Previously, some experts had argued that BSE transmission from cows to humans was impossible because of the different amino acid structure of human and bovine proteins. Now they are being forced to admit that, technically, BSE can get into humans . The Ministry of Agriculture has been informed and is believed to be reconsidering its research on BSE. However, like the scientists at the Institute for Animal Health in Reading who made the discovery, officials believe it remains extremely difficult to convey the disease from cow to human.

16 Jul 97 - New laws to prevent illegal beef exports

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 16 July 1997

Tougher laws to prevent illegal exports of British beef were promised yesterday by Dr Jack Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture.

He assured MPs that checks at ports would also be stepped up in a move designed to reassure other EU countries that everything possible was being done to safeguard consumers.

His announcement followed the closure , on Monday, of two meat plants suspected of being involved in exports of beef from Britain in defiance of the export ban imposed by the EU after the beef crisis broke in March last year.

The closures were announced after ministry officials raided the Heine meat cutting plant at Hoddesdon, Herts, and the Mill End cold store at Audley, Stoke on Trent.

It is alleged that about 1,600 tons of beef have been exported from Britain to Holland in defiance of the ban and that some was then re-labelled as Belgian meat and re-exported to Russia and Egypt.

The Government is currently challenging the legality of the EU beef ban in the European Court. But Dr Cunningham said: "The UK is under an obligation to enforce the export ban firmly and effectively for as long as it is in place."

Toby Helm, EU Correspondent in Strasbourg, writes: Dr Cunningham appeared to back away from threats to ban beef from other EU countries yesterday as he struck a conciliatory tone at a meeting with Euro-MPs investigating the beef crisis.

He told the European Parliament's committee of inquiry into mad cow disease in Strasbourg that he was not proposing to "ban" European beef if other countries refused to implement strict safety controls in force in Britain. He explained that he would take action short of a ban if Europe's farm ministers refused to agree to EU-wide action on the removal of so-called Specified Risk Material such as central nervous tissue from beef.

15 Jul 97 - Meat plants closed for 'breaching export ban'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 15 July 1997

Two meat plants suspected of breaking the EU's worldwide ban on exports of British beef were closed by the Government yesterday after it received threats of legal action from Europe.

The EU Commission had also said that the alleged breaches were thwarting efforts to lift the restrictions even though the Government, farmers and the meat industry are currently fighting in the European Court to have the ban declared illegal.

Jack Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture, said he had ordered the "immediate" closure of the plants after inquiries by the ministry's special investigations team and the commission's anti-fraud unit in Brussels.

He refused to name the businesses but it is understood that one is a meat cutting plant in Hertfordshire and the other a cold-store in Staffordshire.

Dr Cunningham said: "We have uncovered very poor hygiene standards, meat which isn't properly labelled, meat which has apparently been labelled with documents from other countries and a whole number of other completely unsatisfactory activities . Operations of this kind involve risks to the public. I am determined to crack down hard on anyone who runs risks with public safety. I am serving notices on two companies requiring them to stop the relevant business immediately."

The ban was imposed 16 months ago following fears of a link between BSE and a new form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in young people. The commission said its veterinary inspectors had uncovered evidence which "confirmed suspicions" of an export fraud and accused Britain of failing to police the ban effectively.

It claimed that about 1,600 tonnes has recently been exported to Holland, some of it seized by Dutch officials, and the rest exported to Russia and Egypt after being re-labelled as Belgian meat. This enabled traders to fraudulently claim EU export subsidies. There have also been claims that British soldiers were involved in smuggling beef from Ulster to the Continent. Britain claims to have made 14,000 spot-checks on lorries leaving British ports to prevent beef shipments.

Dr Cunningham flies to Strasbourg today to give evidence to the European Parliament's committee of inquiry into the beef crisis. Sources in Brussels and Strasbourg said last night that he had been "bounced" into closing the plants after warnings from Franz Fischler, EU agriculture commissioner, and Emma Bonino, EU commissioner for consumer affairs, that they would expose them first if he didn't.

Mr Fischler told a meeting of farmers in Wales on Friday that the "illegal" exports were undermining efforts to reassure consumers about the safety of beef . He said: "It is essential that member states redouble their efforts to ensure proper control. Clearly, the United Kingdom has a key role to play in this respect. Indeed, there is a vital interest at stake since a breach of the export ban does not bring any closer the day when consumer confidence is fully restored."

The suspect beef was apparently seized in May, but details of the discovery were suppressed during a police investigation in Britain, Holland and Belgium.

Behind the scenes, Britain is furious with the way the commission has appeared to hijack the investigation to answer severe criticism from the European Parliament that it wasn't doing enough to tighten safeguards for consumers.

Senior Whitehall officials say a series of leaks about the inquiry jeopardised a joint operation involving Britain, the commission, Holland and other EU countries and put at risk chances of bringing prosecutions for a range of alleged offences.

The ministry said: "We have given our full co-operation to the commission throughout. We have been working on this for a number of weeks and action has been taken as soon as possible to prevent further activities. Inquiries are continuing."

15 Jul 97 - 'Beef smuggling' plants shut down

by Michael Hornsby and Polly Newton

Times ... July 15 1997

Two meat plants suspected of being part of an international smuggling ring shipping British beef to the rest of Europe have been closed down.

Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, has ordered the two companies to stop operations immediately as a result of a joint investigation with the European Commission's anti-fraud unit. The companies are thought to be a cold store in Stoke-on-Trent and a meat-cutting plant at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.

The announcement came as Dr Cunningham prepared to appear before a committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg today to explain how hundreds of tonnes of British beef reached the Continent falsely labelled as being from Belgium.

The European Commission imposed the beef embargo nearly 16 months ago after the disclosure that ten British victims of a new strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease probably developed the fatal brain condition after eating beef infected with BSE, or "mad cow" disease.

Dr Cunningham said: "Operations of this kind involve risks to the public. I am determined to crack down hard on anyone who runs risks with public safety."

He later told ITN: "We have uncovered very poor hygiene standards... and a whole number of other completely unsatisfactory activities."

15 Jul 97 - Labour set for EU clash over beef and hours

by FIONA CAIRNS, Political Reporter

Evening Standard ... Tuesday, 15 July, 1997

The government was today set on a -collision course with Europe, as rows loomed over both British beef and a plan to limit millions more workers to the 48-hour working week.

Brussels chiefs were expected to adopt new proposals today extending the limit on working hours to even more employees, including junior doctors. British doctors work some of the longest hours of any employees in Europe, but senior Government sources warned that Britain would not be prepared to see the limit extended to them.

At the same time, Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham faced a rough ride from MEPs over how hundreds of tons of British beef were allegedly exported illegally into Europe. At a meeting in Strasbourg, he called for a "fresh start" over the issue and promised to crack down on illegal exports by introducing new legislation. The Government yesterday closed down two meat factories suspected of selling British beef abroad, and it was hoped the promise of legislation could head off criticism from Europe.

In a bid to speed the lifting of the ban, Dr Cunningham also offered to bring in a new computer tracing system for cattle a year earlier than planned. However, he repeated a warning that European beef could be banned from Britain unless strict controls placed on this country were extended to other EU nations.

He gave a deadline of later this month for a Europe-wide ban on parts of the central nervous system being left in beef. Otherwise, he said, Britain would act on its own.

While the Government is eager to develop a more co-operative relationship with Europe, as opposed to the regular wrangles under the Conservatives, Tony Blair is determined not to be seen as a soft touch.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that Britain will stand up for its interests, even if it means upsetting our European partners.

If the new Euro proposals on the working week are adopted, it will mean that very few employees will be exempt from the 48-hour maximum. Brussels believes only "mobile" workers - such as oil rig or long-distance transport employees - should be excluded.

EU officials are hopeful the Government will be sympathetic to the law, but one admitted: "Even if the British are broadly sympathetic there may be other problems with other governments."

14 Jul 97 - 'Best' scientific evidence on BSE

From Professor P. J. Lachmann, FRS

The Times ... July 14 1997

Letters to the Editor

From Professor P. J. Lachmann, FRS

Biological Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society

Sir, William Rees-Mogg's article on BSE (July 7) is most unfortunate in that it gives prominence to Alan Ebringer's preposterous thesis that BSE is an auto-immune disease. This is comparable with Peter Duesberg's false hypothesis that Aids is not the consequence of infection with HIV another story which had extensive coverage in the press and on television. While maverick views on science exceptionally turn out to be right, the reverse is usually the case. Lord Rees-Mogg would have done well to consult more widely before rushing into print.

There is overwhelming evidence that BSE and related spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are transmissible in a way that auto-immune disease is not. The pathological appearances are also quite different. Furthermore the experiments of the Zurich investigators on the susceptibility of immunodeficient mice to TSEs are misrepresented by the Ebringer thesis which claims that such mice cannot be infected with prions (the infective agent).

However, immunodeficient strains of mice can be infected with prions and do develop the disease if they are injected with appropriate prions directly into the brain proving conclusively that the disease is not auto-immune. It is only when these mice are injected with prions elsewhere (eg, into their muscles) that they fail to become infected. This is because components of the immune system are needed to "transport" the agent to the brain.

I strongly endorse Lord Rees-Mogg's view that the public needs to be sure that BSE policy is supported by the best scientific evidence. That evidence gives no credence to any idea of auto-immune involvement in the disease.

Yours faithfully, P. J. LACHMANN (Chairman, Royal Society Group on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies; Professor of Immunology, University of Cambridge), The Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, SW1. July 10.

13 Jul 97 - Beef scam beats BSE export ban

by Nicholas Rufford, Home Affairs Editor

Sunday Times ... July 13 1997

An international smuggling ring sold millions of pounds worth of old British beef , disguised with false French labels and packaging . The beef went to customers abroad and in Britain despite an export ban imposed after the BSE scare.

Raids by Ministry of Agriculture inspectors last week on premises across the country, including a cold store near Stoke-on-Trent and a food processing company in south London, unearthed what is believed to be the biggest commercial scandal so far in the "mad-cow" affair.

Whitehall officials fear that publicity about the operation may delay the lifting of the export ban on British beef . The ban was imposed last March after the discovery of the possible link between BSE and the human brain disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Victims of the elaborate deception apparently included McDonald's , the fast-food outlet which was a customer of one of the premises raided last week. It bought British beef disguised as continental beef during its self-imposed embargo on using British meat in its products, investigators believe. Some of the British beef was exported to Belgium and then imported to make it look authentic. There is no suggestion that McDonald's bought unsafe meat from BSE-contaminated herds.

The scandal could lead to a case being brought against the government by the European commission in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for failing to uphold the export ban on British beef.

"The beef was reboxed, relabelled, rebanded and health certificates in French produced as well," said a senior investigator. "Some went to Belgium from where it was exported, and some went directly on to the British market."

Earlier this month, Belgian officials raided two Belgian companies. The checks followed the discovery that 1,600 tons of British beef had turned up in Russia, Egypt and the Netherlands in contravention of the export ban.

There were accusations from MEPs that a criminal conspiracy involving an international " beef mafia" may be involved in disguising the source of the beef and claiming EU subsidies for its onward sale.

Last week's raids, which recovered no beef but found French labels and certificates and company documents, indicated the deception was on a much larger scale than previously thought and extended to retail outlets in Britain. "What we found is the tip of the iceberg ," said one European official. "This will further complicate Britain's chances of getting the beef ban lifted."

The case is likely to prove highly embarrassing for the government, which assured Brussels that it would rigorously uphold the EU export ban. Still worse for ministers is the possibility that the British firms involved may have found legitimate ways to circumvent export and health controls.

The smuggled beef was more than 30 months old, but was probably slaughtered before the crucial cut-off of midnight on March 28, 1996, meaning it was not caught by government curbs on the sale of "old" beef. It could therefore be sold legally for human consumption.

It is unlikely that the firms breached export regulations because the EU ban was never adopted in British law. The latest raids were carried out under the Trade Descriptions Act, rather than food hygiene or customs regulations.

Britain now faces costly compensation claims from countries where the beef was sold, which could even be deducted from millions of pounds in EU reparation due to British beef farmers.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture said he could not comment on the case, but confirmed that inspectors were "visiting plants in the UK". He said the ministry was working closely with officials from the EU fraud unit.

12 Jul 97 - Beef smuggling will prolong export ban

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 12 July 1997

Claims that British beef has been smuggled to Europe in defiance of the European Union's 16-month export ban have damaged efforts to have the restrictions lifted , Franz Fischler, the EU Farm Commissioner, said yesterday.

"Recent discoveries in relation to illegal export of British beef undermine our efforts to assure consumers that precautionary measures taken to protect them will indeed do so," he said during a visit to Wales.

"It is essential that member states redouble their efforts to ensure proper control. Clearly, the United Kingdom has a key role to play in this respect. A breach of the export ban does not bring any closer the day when consumer confidence is fully restored."

EU officials claim that at least 1,600 tons of British beef have been sent illegally to Europe in defiance of the ban imposed last March, when the crisis over BSE broke. Some of the beef, they say, was consumed in the EU, while the rest was re-stamped as non-British and exported to Eastern Europe to enable exporters fraudulently to claim export subsidies.

Mr Fischler was speaking during a visit to the Royal Welsh Showground at Builth Wells, Powys, where more than 200 farmers demanded to know when the beef ban would be lifted. He said he hoped that other member states would not use the smuggling row to delay progress on lifting the ban.

He hinted that revised Government proposals to lift the ban on beef from cattle born after August last year - when all stocks of the suspect cattle food blamed for causing BSE were cleared from British farms - could be more successful than previous efforts.

"This idea seems, on the face of it, to have the merit of simplicity," he said.

But he disappointed the farmers, led Sir David Naish, president of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales, by failing to guarantee an early end to the ban .

EU consumers had to be certain that "all measures necessary for their safety are being taken", he said. This was why the EU Commission was preparing legal action against 10 member states for failing food safety rules currently applied in Britain.

10 Jul 97 - BSE horizontal transmission likely

BBC News

BBC ... Thursday July 10 1997

Professor Roy Anderson from Oxford has stated that horizontal transmission of BSE from cow to cow is the most likely explanation for the higher proportion of BSE cases in large herds. However, he thought that the numbers were small and would not impact the overall decline in the number of BSE cases.

UK Correspondent's comment: The playing down of the number of horizontal transmission cases and its importance is to be expected from research which was MAFF funded. However, horizontal transmission represents one of the last major MAFF shibboleths to crumble, vertical transmission from cow to calf being the previous one. The reality is that the reduction of BSE cases is to a large extent due to changed rearing and slaughter patterns which result in cattle being brought to market before the disease has time to cause visible symptoms.

07 Jul 97 - Beef Trade: Brussels to appeal over hormones

By Neil Buckley in Brussels

Financial Times ... 07 Jul 97

The European Commission is set to appeal against a ruling that its ban on imports of hormone-treated beef breach world trade rules. The commission said the ruling could have far-reaching implications for consumer protection.

A confidential report from the World Trade Organisation has backed US and Canadian complaints that the European Union ban was illegal and unjustified. The ban was imposed in 1989 because of fears that hormones widely used in North America to promote animal growth could cause cancer and other abnormalities in humans.

The ruling was met with dismay by European consumer and farming groups. But it was welcomed by US trade and agriculture officials, who have consistently challenged the ban and claim US beef imports to the EU could be worth $250m a year.

The Commission said it had to consult EU states before launching an appeal, but was confident of their backing.

An appeal could delay the conclusion of the case until late in the year. But it is unlikely to overturn the conclusions of a report said to contain a forthright and systematic rejection of the EU's case.

If its appeal fails, the EU would either have to lift its ban, or pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to the US and Canada for lost trade.

Officials hinted yesterday the Commission was prepared to pay fines rather than expose EU consumers to a product it insists is dangerous.

Brussels is also under pressure from consumer groups, farmers and EU states such as France not to allow in hormone-treated beef.

"Under no circumstances should the EU lift the ban," said BEUC, the Europe-wide consumers' organisation. "Consumers don't want it, it brings them no benefits, and it could have disastrous consequences for consumer confidence in beef."

Farmers are similarly fearful that concern over hormones could destroy confidence in beef, just as it is starting to return after the "mad cow" crisis.

The US, however, has indicated it would not accept compensation, but would insist on the principle that the EU should open its market. It says growth-promoting hormones in animals are not dangerous for humans if used correctly.

The WTO backed that view, accusing the EU of failing to carry out a proper risk assessment before imposing its ban. It suggested the EU was applying double standards by banning beef hormones, but failing to control naturally-occurring hormones in food products, or to ban synthetic hormones used in pigs.

Brussels accused the trade organisation of ignoring its scientific evidence.

It also warned that the report apparently challenged the right of governments to determine acceptable "risk thresholds" for their consumers - a right supposedly protected by WTO rules.

The ruling could make it difficult for governments to ban potentially dangerous products without amassing scientific evidence first, it added.

"The precautionary principle is out," said one EU official. "This ruling suggests you can't ban something until you can show people are dying from it."

07 Jul 97 - Is BSE science's greatest blunder?

William Rees-Mogg

Times ... July 7 1997

Is BSE an infectious disease? Last Wednesday I attended an inaugural lecture at King's College London, given by Professor Alan Ebringer. He is the professor of immunology at King's and is an authority on autoimmune diseases; his theories have on occasion been the subject of scientific controversy. In the inaugural lecture he outlined his new theory of the causation of "mad cow" disease. If he is right, there is no risk of a human epidemic, no question of an infectious agent from mad cows crossing the species barrier, no need for the European ban on British beef, and no need for the cull. If he is right, there has been a multi-billion-pound blunder.

Obviously I am in no position to judge whether he is right or not. Yet when a professor of immunology, with a substantial research record behind him, puts forward a new theory about the causation of a particular disease, the public has to take it seriously. I am not myself sure that his new theory answers all the questions, but then the existing theory does not do so either.

Professor Ebringer has come to believe that BSE is not a so-called "prion" disease; indeed, he does not accept that prion diseases exist at all. He thinks the evidence points to BSE being an autoimmune disease, ultimately caused by a bacterial infection, in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. He advanced this theory in the lecture and in an article in the June issue of Immunology News.

There are a number of human autoimmune diseases which are indeed associated with an original bacterial infection. In simple terms, the body is infected by bacteria which share molecular sequences with particular human tissues. The immune system attacks these bacteria, but it subsequently fails to distinguish between them and the tissues which they resemble. The result is like a failure of aircraft identification leading to "friendly fire". The friendly aircraft has a similar profile to enemy aircraft, so it is fired on as well.

The classic example of such an autoimmune disease following a bacterial infection is rheumatic fever. An infection by the Streptococcus organism, often in the throat, leads to the development of anti-streptococcal antibodies. These bind to cardiac tissue and cause inflammation, which damages the heart. This condition is now uncommon because of the widespread use of antibiotics against the original infection, but it was quite common before antibiotics were invented. It caused, for instance, the economist John Maynard Keynes's cardiac problems.

Professor Ebringer's research has helped to establish that two other major diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, have a similar character; they also result from this molecular mimicry. The microbe Proteus mirabilis is the causative agent in rheumatoid arthritis, and Klebsiella in ankylosing spondylitis. In both diseases, antibodies to these microbes are found in the majority of patients, although they are much rarer in the general population. These are both very widespread diseases; ankylosing spondylitis affects about a quarter of a million people in Britain and rheumatoid arthritis about a million.

How strong a case does Professor Ebringer have for suggesting that BSE might be another of these diseases of the immune system? He does show, first of all, that the characteristic spongiform deterioration of the brain had already been observed in earlier laboratory cases of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE), which cannot possibly be associated with the BSE epidemic. There is a recorded case in rabbits dating from 1969 and in guinea pigs from 1974. Both are illustrated with contemporary photographs of the spongiform brains.

Professor Ebringer has found three common bacteria in the faeces of cattle which mimic molecules in the brain tissues of cows. They are Acenitobacter, Agrobacterium and Ruminococcus. "Preliminary studies indicate that the sera of BSE-infected cattle contain antibodies against Acenitobacter." He agrees that the BSE epidemic in cattle followed the changes in the rendering of supplementary feed which occurred around 1982. These feeds contained "green offal" which included faecal material from slaughtered animals. Ingestion of such material would undoubtedly have spread infection by these organisms. Before 1982 these bacteria would have been killed by the higher temperatures of the earlier system of preparing feed.

BSE does, therefore, have the same pattern as an autoimmune disease, whether or not that is the correct explanation for it. Bacteria which mimic the nervous tissue of cattle have been identified; the change in feeding did result in a much higher degree of exposure to them; BSE-infected cattle have, in fact, developed antibodies to at least one of these bacteria; the tissues which show damage in BSE are the ones which the bacteria mimic. The question is whether this damage is done by a prion agent, which cannot be detected by electron microscopy, cannot be grown in the laboratory and is supposed to be self-replicating by a method otherwise unknown to molecular biology. There may well be difficulties in the autoimmune theory of BSE, but there are also difficulties in the prion theory which have prevented it winning universal acceptance.

The example of SCID (severe combined immune deficiency) mice is interesting. These mice are bred for experimental purposes with deficient immune systems. They can catch almost any disease because they have no natural resistance, and they have to be kept in a sterile atmosphere. Yet so far no one has been able to infect them with BSE. Of course, if BSE is an autoimmune disease, mice without an immune system cannot be harmed by it: no immune system, no autoimmune disease. These mice do, however, have normal prions; if this really is a prion disease, there is no obvious reason why these mice should not catch it.

At the end of his paper, Professor Ebringer reaches quite moderate conclusions. "The autoimmune theory predicts that no CJD epidemic is expected since humans do not consume 'green offal' material, and the cattle cull is unnecessary since the disease is an autoimmune disorder resembling chronic EAE. The 'prion' hypothesis predicts that a CJD epidemic is expected in the human population and extensive culling of cattle is required to destroy the animals infected by 'prions'. Clearly the two theories give different predictions and experimental studies should be carried out to distinguish between these two models."

This must be right. Without further experimental studies, no body, layman or scientist can be sure which theory is correct, if indeed either is. There is bound to be strong resistance to the autoimmune theory, even if it should be correct. It would mean that major scientific bodies had been seriously mistaken and that the consequence had been disastrous official policy. That makes it all the more important that the new theory should be thoroughly investigated.

I came away from the lecture more willing to eat a steak than when I went in, but not foolish enough to imagine that any layman could make an informed judgment. I was convinced that Professor Ebringer had made out a prima facie case. Science advances by testing different theories. In terms of orthodox microbiology, the autoimmune theory requires a smaller leap of faith than the prion theory. Both need the experimental verification which Professor Ebringer has called for. The public needs to be sure that the enormously expensive policies on BSE are supported by the best scientific evidence.

04 Jul 97 - TWO DIE from new type of CJD

Charles Arthur, Science Editor

The Independent ... Friday 04 July 1997

Two more people have died of the "new variant" of the fatal Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD) believed to be caused by "mad cow disease" or BSE. The deaths, in the past month, brings the total number of British victims of "v-CJD" to 19 , including one, Vicky Rimmer, who is still alive and in a coma.

The news will be a blow to both McDonalds and Burger King, which recently announced that they were reinstating British beef in their hamburgers.

They stopped using it in food in March 1996 after the Tory government was forced to admit that the most probable explanation for the new disease was exposure to the disease agent - which has never been isolated - that causes Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy (BSE).

The latest announcement, to be made officially by the Department of Health on Monday, comes from figures compiled by the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh.

Scientists of the government's advisory body SEAC are increasingly convinced that BSE is the direct cause of the disease.

UK Correspondent's note : McDonalds and Burger King decided use British beef again after direct intervention from MAFF supported by the new Labour Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. CJD is a long and lingering death and the CJD Surveillance Unit would have been aware of the two recent deaths for at least 12 months, the Unit is MAFF funded and although only actual deaths are announced to the public MAFF would have known at much earlier stage. It is almost certain that the announcement of the deaths was delayed to assist the negotiations with McDonalds and Burger King. The burger chains reaction to being taken in remain to be seen.

04 Jul 97 - Beef fraud re-opens row with Europe

By Toby Helm, EU Correspondent, in Brussels

Telegraph ... Friday 4 July 1997

A Belgian "beef mafia" has exploited lax controls at British ports to smuggle out at least 1,600 tons of meat in contravention of the European Union's export ban, according to Brussels.

Disclosures about the gang's activities follow warnings about illegal exports issued by the European Commission on Wednesday. They have led to new fears over the safety of meat on sale on the Continent and caused the Spanish government to impose an import ban on beef from Belgium.

After refusing to give firm details 24 hours earlier for fear of disrupting police inquiries, European Commission officials said 700 tons of the beef had recently been seized by officers in Holland.

The other 900 tons was thought to have been passed on to Russia and Egypt to collect export subsidies. It is believed that those responsible cut off the British stamps on the consignments, restamped them as Belgian and gave them false Belgian papers.

The sale of British beef abroad is in breach of an export ban imposed by Brussels in March last year after evidence was found of a possible link between the "mad cow disease" BSE and a fatal brain condition in humans.

Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, a German Euro-MP, who chairs a European Parliament committee investigating the BSE crisis, said it seemed that a Belgian company was set up last year to profit from sales of banned British beef.

Meat was smuggled out of Britain to Holland with the intention of selling it on. Once it reached the Continent the beef became eligible for EU export subsidies.

Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, has written to Emma Bonino, the commissioner for consumer affairs, expressing his concern over her claim on Wednesday that checks at British ports have been "manifestly inefficient ".

A Commission spokesman said legal proceedings were now being considered against Britain for failing to ensure that the beef export ban was enforced. Ultimately this could lead to a case against the Government in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

However, no legal measures were being considered against Belgium or Holland. A British official in Brussels said British authorities conducted twice-monthly spot checks on loads for export. Loads were also inspected when there was reason for suspicion. Mrs Bonino maintains that checks should be routine procedure.

David Brown, Agriculture Editor, writes: British officials were furious with Brussels yesterday for wrecking an undercover investigation into illegal beef shipments.

One official said: "The last thing we wanted to do was alert people that we were on to them. The impression has been given that Brussels had found something we didn't know about. That is rubbish."

02 Jul 97 - Medical research hit by lack of academics

by David Charter, Education Correspondent

The Times ... July 02 1997

A shortage of medical academics threatens the country's ability to respond to public health scares such as Aids and BSE , an independent inquiry said yesterday.

Doctors and dentists avoid becoming clinical academics because the twin demands of teaching students and treating patients can leave little time for research.

The task force set up by university vice-chancellors found that one third of clinical professor posts could not be filled last year because no suitable candidates came forward.

01 Jul 97 - BSE in the air - MAFF reforms in doubt

UK Correspondent

... 1 July 1997

The New Labour administration came in with promises to reform the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries (MAFF) and separate out Food into a completely separate organisation. However, it is now clear that Food will remain in MAFF's remit and it is business as usual in all other respects with regards to BSE. That is to say that human safety plays second fiddle to agro-industry interests providing (of course) that any deaths are not directly attributable to MAFF.

Astoundingly, Richard Packer (the MAFF Permanent Secretary, the Ministry senior Civil Servant) who has presided over the BSE fiasco for some time remains in post and continues to dominate. The new Minister (Jack Cunningham) appears to have come under his spell and gone native.

After the food safety backdown, the second sign that nothing has changed was an announcement from the Department of the Environment (DoE) that research indicated that it was safe to incinerate the mountain of remains generated by rendering hundreds of thousands of culled cattle in power stations. At first site this seemed to be an independent scientific view, but why did all the power generators refuse to have anything to do with it (they quoted unacceptably high fees)? Quite simply, because the DoE has not carried out any research at all!

Despite the fact that the announcement deliberately gave the impression that there had been new research, this was not the case. The "research" was not new research at all (if indeed it exists), nor had the data been independently interpreted by DoE scientists. The data and its interpretation both originated with SEAC, the MAFF funded pet scientific committee. How fortuitous that incineration in power stations is the cheapest method for MAFF to dispose of the cattle remains!

SEAC is, of course, famous for its phrase "there is no evidence of risk to human health" about BSE, reiterated for 10 years despite ample evidence to the contrary. With a startling lack of originality the same phase was used in the DoE statement, and of course the game was up.

There is no evidence of BSE risk from power stations simply because MAFF have not not looked for it, just like it did not look for BSE/CJD2 linkage evidence for a decade. The power generators refused to burn the remains because of the consequential financial risk.

However, MAFF are not going to let minor setbacks like PR disasters and risk to human health stand in the way of cheap disposal of its mountain of cattle ramains. It is going to purchase an unused power station and run it itself!

Seventy percent of UK power generation emissions come to earth in Scandinavia, how fondly Scandinavians will look back on the days when acid rain was there only problem. They can always object that the cattle detritus ending up in Scandivavia is in violation of the European Union export ban!

On a more serious note, the obvious cooperation between the DoE and MAFF is a new feature since the change of government. Hitherto the DoE took an independent stance taking human safety into account. Our new government seems not to be as principled as it would have us believe.

01 Jul 97 - Power station may be reopened to burn BSE cows

by Michael Hornsby

The Times ... 1 July 1997

A redundant power station may be used to burn hundreds of thousands of tonnes of BSE-infected carcasses, turning them into electricity. Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture, said that energy companies had wanted to charge exorbitant sums for the job.

Buying or leasing a power station would be a way of recouping some of the huge costs of the "scandalous" mismanagement by the previous Tory administration of the BSE crisis, he said.

Speaking after opening the annual Royal Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, Dr Cunningham said that the companies' proposed charges had been "off the scale". "One of the alternatives I have asked should be examined is whether we, the ministry, should not acquire a redundant power station ourselves."

Last week the Environment Agency published a report which said that cattle waste could be burnt alongside coal in power stations with negligible risk to public health . The chances of any person contracting CJD , the human equivalent of BSE , from exposure to power station emissions would be as low as one in 30,000 million, it said.

The Government is estimated to be spending more than 250,000 a week on storing 220,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal and 122,000 tonnes of tallow at sites around the country. Several thousand more tonnes are added every week. The waste comes from slaughtering 1.5 million cattle older than 30 months since May of last year.

Older animals are regarded as more likely to be harbouring BSE. The peak of the slaughter has passed, as most farms have got rid of their backlog of older animals. But about 15,000 cattle, mainly elderly dairy cows, are still being culled every week.

Jeff Rooker, the Food Safety Minister, said there were several redundant coal-fired power stations that might be available. "If the waste is burnt at 850C, the resulting ash is safe and can be disposed of in landfill sites," he said.

Earlier Sir David Naish, president of the National Farmers' Union, said that he was outraged by the Government's decision to cut farmers' compensation for culling from 500 to 320 an animal.

Burger King, Britain's second biggest burger chain, may follow McDonald's in ending a 15-month ban on British beef. David Williams, the company's managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is to meet the Agriculture Minister this afternoon to discuss the situation.

29 Apr 97 - Report on BSE in dogs suppressed

Paul Brown, Environment Correspondent

Guardian ... 29 April 1997

The Ministry of Agriculture has ruled out further research into the possibility of dogs being infected with BSE after it was revealed that a six-year-old report which suggested dogs were at risk had been suppressed , a ministry spokeswoman confirmed yesterday. The ministry said no conclusive evidence existed and it had decided to take no further action. "We don't eat dogs so even if they did get BSE there would be no public health risk . The ministry looked at the issue six years ago and decided it was not worth finding out," a spokeswoman said.

Unpublished work done in 1991 on the brains of 444 dead hounds suggested that some had developed the first symptoms of BSE , but the survey was not definitive. The evidence was reported verbally at the time to the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which decided no further action was necessary.

The ministry said yesterday that to establish whether dogs developed BSE it would be necessary to inject some with the disease. This was rejected for fear of a public outcry.

It has already been established that cats (75 confirmed cases ) and zoo animals contracted BSE, but there was felt to be no public health risk. In the six years since the decision to discontinue research into dogs, 15 cases of potential BSE in dogs had been referred to ministry researchers but none had proved to beBSE. It was felt the risk of cases was fading because in 1990 bovine offal - thought to be the main potential infective agent - was banned from pet food.

The abnormalities found in the brains of the original 444 hounds are called fibrils. They are similar to those found in sheep infected with scrapie, a form of spongiform encephalopathy.

Stephen Dealler, a consultant microbiologist critical of the Government's reluctance to publish information on BSE, said the lack of information about research dogs was typical. "You can be absolutely certain that the presence of scrapie-associated fibrils shows these dogs had the disease ."

Harash Narang, another critical microbiologist, said the fact that dogs might suffer BSE was not a surprise. "The ministry has a policy of hiding such things . The public and farmers are paying a heavy price because of this shambles, and there continues to be a pressing need for a public inquiry."

The Government's undisclosed research came to light because Norwegian scientists last week diagnosed a golden retriever as suffering from BSE. They said the dog, which died aged 11, had been fed on British tinned dog meat made of beef , which might have been the cause.

The ministry said most Scandinavian dogs ate British dog meat, and the one case could have occurred naturally. It did not intend to change its policy.

The shadow agriculture minister, Gavin Strang, said the work was funded by the public and should be published. "The Conservatives' secrecy cannot be justified."

The Agriculture Minister, Douglas Hogg, said the research, which had just come to light, "adds nothing to human knowledge".