- A cluster of BSE is being investigated by scientists
who fear that contaminated feed is still being given to British cattle,
nearly 10 years after it was banned.
- The cluster involving three young cows born long after
the 1996 ban on contaminated feed is believed to have been found on a dairy
farm in England. It is only the second such cluster of young BSE cases.
- The first occurred on a farm in Wales and it too involved
three young cattle that were born many years after the Government banned
all animal feed that could be contaminated with BSE. Scientists said the
occurrence of a second cluster of BSE in young cattle strongly suggested
that the cases were not a statistical fluke and that contaminated feed
had caused the outbreaks.
- So far there have been 106 confirmed cases of BSE in
cattle born since the 1996 "reinforced feed ban" after which,
in theory, no newborn calf should have been exposed to the infectious agent
responsible for the brain-wasting disease.
- The ban involved the blanket prohibition on cattle feed
made from mammalian protein, which is thought to have caused an epidemic
of more than 150,000 confirmed cases of BSE since the 1980s.
- But out of a total of 85 confirmed cases of BSE reported
this year, 13 of them were in cattle born after the 1996 feed ban, which
should have eliminated the possibility of new infections in Britain. Eliminating
contaminated cattle feed from Britain was considered essential to the total
eradication of BSE, which crossed into the human food chain to cause 156
cases of variant Creutzfelt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the lethal brain disorder
known as "human BSE".
- At the height of the cattle epidemic in 1992 there were
37,000 confirmed cases of BSE a year, which fell to 309 reported cases
last year. Scientists hoped that the introduction of the reinforced feed
ban in 1996 would eliminate the disease completely within 10 years or so.
However, the new cases could extend the epidemic well into the next decade.
- Christopher Higgins, chairman of the Government's Spongiform
Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, said the occurrence of two clusters
of BSE in young cattle suggested that contaminated feed was still being
given to cattle. "Of course it is worrying and it's the aim of everyone
to eliminate BSE but I guess at least we know why it's happening and no
system is perfect," Professor Higgins said.
- Experiments at the Government's Veterinary Laboratory
Agency have shown that cattle can be infected by minute amounts of BSE-contaminated
feed and some farmers may be unwittingly infecting their herds by using
old containers that still contain traces of feed dating to before 1996,
Professor Higgins said.
- The risks to human health were minimal because of measures
designed to protect the food chain from BSE-contaminated material, he said.
- The Government nevertheless intends to continue with
its plan later this year to relax the restrictions on allowing cattle over
30 months of age into the food chain - which are currently banned from
- Last December the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs announced that cattle born after the reinforced feed ban
of August 1996 will be allowed into the human food chain provided they
test negative for BSE. A spokesman for Defra said that the new cases of
BSE in cattle born after the ban will not affect the "managed transition"
towards a system of testing for BSE which will replace the over-30-month
rule banning the consumption of older cattle.
- The Government also hopes to persuade Brussels to allow
the export of cattle born after the 1996 feed ban as soon as they become
eligible for sale in the UK.
- © 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.