- GENEVA (Reuters) - The World
Health Organization (news - web sites) (WHO) on Friday expressed concern
about what it called ``exposure worldwide'' to mad cow disease and its
fatal human form, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).
- The United Nations (news - web sites) health agency said
it would convene a major meeting of experts and officials from all regions
on the neuro-degenerative diseases striking cattle and humans. It will
be held in Geneva in late spring, probably in May.
- WHO officials spoke after an informal meeting of experts
reviewed scientific evidence on a variety of issues amid growing consumer
concern in countries including Germany and Canada.
- Experts' concerns center on British meat and bone meal
exports in the 10-year period between 1986, when bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE (news - web sites)) surfaced in Britain, and 1996, when an export
ban was imposed on British beef. There are also wider concerns about European
Union (news - web sites) exports.
- ``Our concern is that there was sufficient international
trade in meat and bone meal and live cattle that there actually has been
exposure worldwide already,'' Dr. Maura Ricketts, of WHO's animal and food-related
public health risks division, told a news conference.
- BRITAIN'S TOLL: 180,000 BSE, 87 vCJD CASES
- Since 1986, 180,000 BSE cases have been confirmed in
British cattle, with 1,300 to 1,400 cases elsewhere in Europe -- all but
several dozen cases in four countries (France, Ireland, Portugal and Switzerland),
according to WHO. Small numbers of cases have been reported in Canada,
Argentina, Italy and Oman, but in each of these countries this was only
in imported British bovine, it added.
- In all, 87 cases of vCJD have been reported in Britain,
three in France and one in Ireland, according to the agency.
- ``We know potentially contaminated materials were exported
outside the European Community...We are trying to identify the countries
that we should put our largest effort into,'' Ricketts said.
- ``The only way to know whether or not different countries
are at risk is to ask them...These countries themselves have the information
that is required to determine if they are at risk.
- ``We are concerned some countries which received materials
do not have surveillance systems to detect the disease in animals or the
human population,'' she added. ``Countries of the world need to be developing
surveillance systems for these diseases.''
- But Ricketts, a Canadian, conceded it would be difficult
to trace exported beef and meat products, often repackaged or transformed
before being re-exported with new labeling.
- ``It become very difficult, the trail grows cold,'' she
- Extra Vigilance On Rendered Materials
- Experts reviewed issues including: slaughterhouse practices;
''chronic low dose exposure'' of humans to BSE; mechanically-recovered
meat which may contain infected nervous tissue; exposure of sheep and pigs
to BSE; testing; and meat and bone meal.
- ``We thought we had to review how feed moves around the
world because of the importance of cattle feed in the transmission of BSE,''
- ``We felt we had to review these tissues that are called
'specified risk materials' and include brains, eyes, the spinal column,
parts of the gut content...to find how these materials are being sold for
- ``We are very interested in the movement of 'rendered'
materials around the world since it is quite possible that rendered materials
contain infectivity,'' she added.
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