- ROME (Reuters) - Britain
may face a future wave of the human form of mad cow disease among people
whose genetic make-up could have delayed the onset of the deadly illness,
the incoming head of the EU's new food watchdog said Friday.
- "At the moment the deaths seem to be almost plateauing,
although it is very early to reach a final judgment," said Geoffrey
Podger, outgoing chief executive of Britain's official Food Standards Agency.
- "Because vCJD may occur at different periods in
life for people of different genetic predispositions, we can't yet be sure
that we have seen the totality of the likely numbers who will be affected,"
he told Reuters during a visit to Rome to host a food safety seminar.
- "In other words, there is this horrible possibility
that there might be a second wave of people with a different genetic make-up,
and that an outbreak could occur among them after a longer period."
- Up to May, 128 cases of the degenerative variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease (vCJD) had been reported in Britain, France and Ireland, the vast
majority of them Britons.
- But many more people could be infected with the illness,
which affects mainly young people and which scientists believe is caused
by eating meat infected with mad cow disease.
- Podger, who will lead the new European Food Safety Authority
from February, said all those who had so far died from vCJD had a characteristic
- "Other forms of genetic make-up might later on prove
to be susceptible to vCJD after a longer period," he said.
- Podger could not rule out the possibility of future exponential
growth in incidence of vCJD but declined to project the number of cases.
- "It is certainly premature to take the view that
the problem is diminishing for ever. We can't say that," he said.
"We can't quantify it."
- Podger said it was vital to continue to take all possible
precautions to prevent mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy...BSE.
- "It does not mean not eating beef, providing that
beef has been through all the procedures that are laid down, as beef in
the UK certainly has," he said, referring to controls such as removal
of "specified risk material" -- tissues that might harbor BSE
-- and testing of older cattle.
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