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.

30 Jun 97 - McDonald's: Burger chain's decision lifts British producers

By Maggie Urry

Financial Times ... Monday June 30 1997

After 15 months of gloom, the clouds over the UK beef industry lifted a little last week. McDonald's, the leading burger restaurant chain, said it would start buying British beef again.

The company stopped its purchases of British beef, which had been worth almost 30m a year, days after the Conservative government announced in March last year that there might be a connection between the BSE or "mad cow" epidemic in cattle and a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the fatal human equivalent.

The decision has a two-fold impact on the beef industry. It has a symbolic significance because McDonald's reputation could encourage others to follow its example. Beyond that, its return to the market should help improve beef prices which are at their lowest levels for 17 years.

McDonald's says it always thought British beef was safe and only stopped buying it because of customers' fears. Its latest research shows that 74 per cent of customers are now keen to eat British beef again, and that is why it is returning to the UK market.

Burger King, another large chain which also stopped buying British, is considering its position. Other customers, such as schools, hospitals and the catering trade might be influenced by McDonald's move. But the greatest prize would be the lifting of the export ban imposed on the UK by the EU.

In the leading supermarkets British beef has been selling well. At J Sainsbury beef sales are 8 per cent higher than they were before the BSE crisis. The chain only sells British beef.

But retailers say it is the prime cuts, such as steaks and joints, which have recovered best from the slump in demand. Volumes of mince and stewing steak are still down on pre-crisis levels.

Burgers, like mince, are made from an animal's forequarters, while steaks come from the hindquarters. This is where McDonald's move should have its second impact.

As Mr Anthony Gibson, south-west regional director of the NFU, says: "The market has been weighed down by vast quantities of unsaleable forequarter beef."

Thus the price of the whole beast has been dragged down by the lack of a market for part of it.

Mr Duncan Sinclair, an economist at the Meat and Livestock Commission, calculates that McDonald's could buy the forequarters from 4,000 animals, about 9 per cent of the 45,000 slaughtered for human consumption weekly.

McDonald's will not be buying from the stockpile of frozen forequarters, and will only purchase from 11 selected producer groups who meet its specifications.

That raises concerns for Mr Ian Smethurst, managing director of Midland Mart, the leading UK livestock market. While he said he welcomed McDonald's move, he fears that McDonald's purchasing method "smacks of cornering the market" and could cause a two-tier market.

27 Jun 97 - EC: Brussels cracks whip on BSE

By Neil Buckley in Brussels

Financial Times ... Friday June 27 1997

The European Commission yesterday took the first step in possible legal action against 10 European Union countries which it accuses of failing to introduce proper controls on the spread of BSE or "mad cow" disease.

It began infringement proceedings against the countries, either for not fully observing new heat treatment rules designed to ensure the mad cow agent is destroyed in animal feed, or for not ensuring that animal tissue is kept out of feed.

France , the Netherlands , and Germany were all cited by Brussels as not complying properly with new rules introduced in April on heat treatment of animal waste. France has refused to implement the rules at all , questioning their effectiveness and legal basis.

Belgium , Luxembourg , Italy and Finland were cited for not taking adequate measures to ensure mammalian tissues did not get into animal feed. Spain and Sweden were criticised on both counts, while Portugal was accused of failing to co-operate with Brussels in answering its written requests for information.

Only Ireland, the UK, Denmark, Greece and Spain avoided action.

The move will fuel claims by Britain that other European states are not taking proper action against the possible spread of mad cow disease. Commission reports have suggested the true level of infection in many countries may be greater than suggested by official figures.

Mr Jack Cunningham, Britain's agriculture secretary, warned EU ministers this week he would impose import controls on beef from other Union countries unless they introduced UK-style safeguards. He gave them until July 22 to take measures to exclude from the human and animal food chain the parts of cattle most at risk of carrying BSE - largely the head and spinal cord. Mrs Emma Bonino and Mr Franz Fischler, commissioners who share responsibility for BSE issues, have issued similar proposals.

Even if those new controls are not implemented, Mr Fischler yesterday signalled his determination to ensure existing legislation on mad cow disease is implemented "meticulously", through legal action if necessary.

The countries accused have a month to submit information in their defence, and must then take any steps demanded by Brussels. Failure to do so could lead to action in the European Court.

The Commission, which in February was given nine months by the European Parliament to tighten its food safety rules or face a censure motion, said it would be sending veterinary inspectors regularly to EU states to ensure the rules were being followed.

27 Jun 97 - British beef: McDonald's to end its boycott

By George Parker

Financial Times ... Friday June 27 1997

McDonald's said yesterday that its UK branches would start using British beef again over the next few weeks. The decision by McDonald's reopens an annual market for British beef worth around 30m, ($49.5m) and leaves Burger King as the only major outlet continuing to boycott the product.

Mr Jack Cunningham, the agriculture minister, said yesterday that he would press Burger King to follow the example of its rival when he met company executives next Tuesday.

Burger King, a subsidiary of GrandMet, yesterday hinted it might be prepared to follow suit. It said it would examine the results of a survey of 1,000 fast-food customers at the weekend before taking a decision.

Burger chains bought about 30 per cent of total British beef production before March 1996, when the government first announced a possible link between BSE, or "mad cow disease", and Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease, its human equivalent.

As public confidence in beef collapsed in the aftermath of the announcement, McDonald's announced that it would stop using British beef - a move followed shortly afterwards by Burger King.

Yesterday, Mr Andrew Taylor, managing director of McDonald's Restaurants, said public confidence had gradually returned over the last 15 months, and that latest research showed 74 per cent of customers wanted to eat British beef.

"We will begin buying British beef immediately and the new supplies will start to be served in restaurants over the next few weeks," he said.

McDonald's estimates the BSE crisis cost the company 5.5m in beef stocks written off last March and between 5m and 7m from the additional costs of importing supplies.

The decision to resume the use of British beef will generate some much-needed positive publicity for the company, after its pyrrhic victory in the "McLibel" court action against two environmental campaigners.

The announcement was welcomed by Mr Cunningham, who said he hoped the vote of confidence from McDonald's would help to persuade other EU countries to lift their ban on UK beef exports.

"Corporate and consumer confidence is returning," he said. "British beef goes through the strictest controls in the world and it most certainly can be eaten with confidence."

But Mr Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat party food spokesman, blamed the American-owned company for fuelling the BSE food scare last March. "The ban should not have been imposed in the first place," he said. "McDonald's must now apologise to British farmers." ">

27 Jun 97 - BSE cull costs 'out of control'

By George Jones, Political Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 June 1997

Gordon brown, the Chancellor, has been warned that the costs of the mass slaughter of cattle to eradicate BSE are spiralling out of control .

According to the Treasury's latest estimates, the total costs could amount to 4.2 billion - nearly double the original estimates. The figures were announced on the day that the McDonald's burger chain said it was lifting its 15-month ban on British beef.

Treasury insiders claim there is mounting evidence that farmers are exploiting the compensation scheme . Some farmers are alleged to be fattening up cows deliberately to get higher payments, which are based on the weight of the slaughtered animal.

As a result, Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture, is seeking approval for a reduction in the level of compensation payments . It could result in a cut of about 100 in the average payment of 300 per cow killed under the eradication programme.

The Ministry of Agriculture is now budgeting for the costs of the slaughter programme to rise to 2.7 billion over the three years to the beginning of 2000. This is 700 million more than previously estimated.

However, before BSE is effectively eradicated from the national herd the cost could reach 4.2 billion . Urgent discussions are now under way between the Treasury and the ministry on ways of limiting the cost and preventing farmers boosting their payments through what officials described as a growing number of "scams".

The disclosure of another "black hole" in the Government's finances is likely to fuel speculation of tax increases in Labour's first Budget on Wednesday.

27 Jun 97 - McDonald's buys British beef

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 June 1997

McDONALD'S, the world's biggest burger chain, ended its 15-month ban on British beef yesterday.

Andrew Taylor, managing director of the 760 McDonald's restaurants in the United Kingdom, said the company had placed its first orders with suppliers and customers would be eating British beef "within weeks" .

The company, one of the biggest users of British beef, before the BSE crisis broke in March last year, expects to buy about 30 million worth of beef by the end of the year. The news, which gave farmers their biggest boost since the crisis began, was confirmed at a press conference at the Ministry of Agriculture in Whitehall.

Farmers were delighted at Britain's biggest cattle market, Banbury, where prices of beef steers rose by about 30 an animal, to between 660 to 715. Ian Smethurst, managing director, said: "Farmers are relieved that McDonald's have listened to the facts that British beef is safe. Cattle have been in short supply so prices were firming anyway, but this news is helping to boost confidence."

Mr Taylor said a survey had shown that 74 per cent of customers wanted McDonald's to supply British beef. "In March 1996, 70 per cent of people surveyed said they did not want to buy British beef products from McDonald's. Recovery in confidence has been slow over the past year, but the results of our latest research, conducted this month, show that 74 per cent of consumers now want us to sell British beef.

"We have always maintained that British beef is safe. However, in response to the unprecedented collapse in consumer confidence in March 1996, we temporarily withdrew it."

The decision is of huge importance to the farming industry. Before last year's crisis, McDonald's bought 25 million worth of British beef from the equivalent of 7,000 cattle. Burgers are made from the forequarters and flanks of cattle. Prices of prime steak in shops and supermarkets have remained remarkably high, because retailers have been compensating themselves to cover the costs of the forequarters, which were unwanted by burger-makers.

Mr Taylor said McDonald's would continue to buy some beef in other European countries but hoped to restore British beef to meet 60 per cent of its needs .

Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture, said it was "good news for farmers, the food industry and consumers". British beef went through the strictest controls in the world, he said, and called on others to follow the McDonald's example. "The sooner the European Union takes action towards lifting the export ban on British beef, the better."

Tony Blair was said to be "delighted". Mr Cunningham said he had spoken to Mr Blair as soon as he was informed of the decision. "The Prime Minister expressed his delight at the news," he said. "We have been in touch with McDonalds for some time and we have had a very productive and constructive meeting."

Mr Cunningham called McDonald's to see him yesterday after receiving a report from the Meat and Livestock Commission indicating that more than 60 per cent of consumers wanted McDonald's to return to British beef.

Burger King, Britain's second-biggest chain with 440 restaurants, is also considering lifting its ban. David Williams, a managing director, will meet Dr Cunningham next Tuesday, after a customer survey this weekend. "Our last survey showed there were still a significant number of consumers voicing concern about British beef," a spokesman said.

Wimpy, the original British burger chain and now number three in the market with 272 restaurants, started selling British beef again in May last year. Max Woolfenden, managing director, said: "We were very pleased with the response of our customers, and now we are equally pleased that our competitors have followed our lead."

Sir David Naish, President of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales, said: "We have been in close touch with McDonald's in recent months. I am delighted that they have listened to their consumers and to us, and have returned to the market. They are hugely important customers."

27 Jun 97 - BSE punches a 700m hole in Brown's Budget

by Patrick Hennessy Political Correspondent

Evening Standard ... Friday, 27 June, 1997

Gordon Brown faced a fresh black hole in his Budget plans today after it was revealed the cost of the BSE crisis could soar by an extra 700 million . Treasury officials warned the Chancellor that the bill for tackling "mad cow" disease was likely to total around 4.2 billion . The news came five days before next Wednesday's Budget and piled even more pressure on Mr Brown to raise extra revenue with tax increases. He is already facing a hike of 20 billion in the amount the Government has to borrow over the next five years because of the new way the Treasury audits its own figures. Labour MPs are braced for tax rises in the Budget, which could include increases in stamp duty payable on sales of homes and shares, as well as rises in duty on petrol and alcohol.Its centrepiece will be a windfall tax on privatised utilities to raise around 5 billion to fund the Government's welfare-to-work scheme aimed at getting young people off the dole. The axe will fall hardest on BT, whose executives estimate their company alone will face a 1 billion bill. Mr Brown learned of the latest BSE shortfall in a memo from his civil servants, which warned that the crisis was now costing 1 million a day . The soaring costs come from a serious underestimate of the number of cows which would be slaughtered, the cost of their destruction, and storage for carcasses awaiting incineration. When the compensation scheme was unveiled last year there were no official estimates of the number of older cows which would have to be slaughtered to ensure infected meat did not get into the food chain. Unofficially, it was thought that about 400,000 animals would have to be destroyed but the compensation package has proved very attractive to farmers and some 1.5 million animals have been slaughtered. It is thought abuse of the scheme has played a part, although the scale is not known.

21 Jun 97 - EC plot against British beef

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 21 June 1997

Farmers' leaders in Scotland accused the European Commission in Brussels yesterday of plotting to ban British beef exports for at least eight years .

Sandy Mole, president of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, said that the union was prepared to take legal action against the commission to block the plans. He said that the commission was trying to "cut a special deal" which favoured Northern Ireland producers who have benefited from a computerised cattle tracing scheme for the past eight years.

The commission's Scientific Veterinary Committee has indicated that it would not agree to lift the beef export ban, imposed in March last year, until a similar system was set up for the rest of the United Kingdom. Mr Mole, speaking on the second day of the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, near Edinburgh, said: "It is disgraceful the way the commission is trying to persuade our government to collude in a scheme to discriminate against British beef producers.

"Unnecessarily strict rules will freeze British producers out of markets for years." Lord Sewel, Scottish Agriculture Minister, urged farmers to accept a simple computerised cattle-tracing system which could be in force "within 18 months".

18 Jun 97 - Oprah sued as her 'mad cow' burger pledge hits beef prices

By David Sapsted in New York

Telegraph ... Wednesday 18 June 1997

Oprah Winfrey, host of America's highest-rated television talk show, is being sued by Texas cattlemen who claim they lost millions after she swore never to eat another hamburger following an interview with a vegetarian on Britain's "mad cow disease" crisis.

Beef prices plunged the day after last year's show, which looked at the possibilities of a BSE scare hitting the United States, where no cases of the brain-destroying disease have been discovered. During the show, Howard Lyman, of the US Humane Society, said 100,000 American cows died each year without explanation and were then ground up and fed to other cattle, providing a possible path for the spread of BSE.

Though other guests on the programme played down the threat, Mr Lyman said, according to the Texas lawsuit: "If only one of them has mad cow disease, that has the potential to infect thousands ."

After hearing this, Miss Winfrey exclaimed, to applause from the Chicago studio audience: "It has just stopped me from eating another hamburger."

Prices for cattle began to fall the next day, soon knocking 10 per cent off the value of beef. More than a dozen cattlemen are now suing the chat-show host, her television production company and Mr Lyman under a Texas law that protects agricultural products from slander.

Barry Peterson, Mr Lyman's attorney, said yesterday: "We don't believe Mr Lyman or Miss Winfrey ever said US beef was infected. He only said that practices within the industry were potentially threatening."

Earlier this month the US Food and Drug Administration banned the feeding of herds on meat and bone meal from other cattle because of BSE fears.

17 Jun 97 - Scrapie research: New eradication project wins funds

By Maggie Urry

Financial Times ... Tuesday June 17 1997

Funding of 3.8m for a new research project into eradicating scrapie in sheep has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The disease is thought to be transmitted to cattle, causing BSE, which in turn has led to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The money will go to the Institute for Animal Health, which will investigate how scrapie develops and is transmitted, and how genetic factors make some sheep more susceptible. Professor Ray Baker, chief executive of the council, said: "We need this detailed scientific information if we are ever to eradicate scrapie."

Scrapie was not a cause for concern until it jumped the species barrier into cattle. Scientist believe this happened through sheep remains being used as protein in cattle feed.

Earlier this month, the government took advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee to reinforce scrapie surveillance. In future sheep suffering from scrapie will be compulsorily slaughtered and farmers compensated. This move is likely to increase reporting of scrapie, currently running at about 400 to 500 cases a year.

17 Jun 97 - Scrapie research: New eradication project wins funds

By Maggie Urry

Financial Times ... Tuesday June 17 1997

Funding of 3.8m for a new research project into eradicating scrapie in sheep has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The disease is thought to be transmitted to cattle, causing BSE, which in turn has led to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The money will go to the Institute for Animal Health, which will investigate how scrapie develops and is transmitted, and how genetic factors make some sheep more susceptible. Professor Ray Baker, chief executive of the council, said: "We need this detailed scientific information if we are ever to eradicate scrapie."

Scrapie was not a cause for concern until it jumped the species barrier into cattle. Scientist believe this happened through sheep remains being used as protein in cattle feed.

Earlier this month, the government took advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee to reinforce scrapie surveillance. In future sheep suffering from scrapie will be compulsorily slaughtered and farmers compensated . This move is likely to increase reporting of scrapie, currently running at about 400 to 500 cases a year.

12 Jun 97 - EU finds BSE claim flawed

from Charles Bremner in Brussels

The Times ... 12 June 1997

Britain's attempt to win a softening of the European ban on its worldwide beef exports ran into trouble yesterday when the EU's scientific committee said it was not satisfied by its application for the exemption of cattle from herds deemed to be free of "mad cow" disease.

The committee, which is a key part of the EU's decision-making machinery on beef, said it had found five deficiencies in the request by the Ministry of Agriculture last February for the exemption of "BSE-free" herds from the ban, imposed 15 months ago.

The main concern lay in uncertainty over methods used to identify and trace animals. There were also doubts about measures to prevent contamination and the quality of Britain's veterinary controls . The committee's statement indicated that it would approve the request if the Government remedied the problems which it had found.

The decision was not a surprise because the EU authorities have raised repeated questions over the reliability of controls on British cattle. Herds from Northern Ireland, where cattle have been subjected to a tighter system of identification, are expected to benefit first from a relaxation of the export embargo.

At the same time, the committee yesterday gave a warning to Germany, France, Sweden and Spain that it would start court proceedings against them within a month for their alleged failure to obey EU rules on eliminating the risk of BSE in animal feed.

09 Jun 97 - BSE in chickens - independent advice sought

BBC News

BBC News ... Monday 9 June 97

The government has sought independent expertise to assess the danger of BSE in chickens. This is a sign of a government lack of confidence in MAFF.

08 Jun 97 - BSE may have spread to chickens

Edward Welsh

Sunday Times ... Sunday 8 June 97

Government scientists are investigating whether "mad cow" disease could have spread to chickens .

Scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been studying the brains of two hens that suffered from a debilitating illness with symptoms similar to those of BSE. Pathologists have also been called in.

The discovery that the disease may have spread to chickens was made by Dr Harash Narang, a prominent BSE scientist, after he was contacted by a Kent farmer who had a hen that was unable to keep its balance.

Narang monitored and examined the hen, which shook, staggered about and showed other signs typical of mad cow disease. He also examined a bird from south Wales that appeared to have the same condition. He has since been contacted by other farmers reporting that some of their hens have displayed similar symptoms.

The animal feeds believed to cause BSE have also been given to chickens. But Narang admits it is still unclear whether the chickens have BSE or an unrelated disease with similar symptoms.