Cheap Meat Said Cause
Of Mad Cow in Humans
By June Preston

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A British scientist whose research linked mad cow disease to a deadly strain of a brain-wasting disorder in humans said Wednesday that cheap hamburger was to blame for the outbreak. Microbiologist John Pattison, whose work led researchers to conclude a variant strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans was tied to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, told Reuters ground beef was to blame for the deaths of 24 people in the United Kingdom in late 1995 and early 1996. ``In the U.K., the big outlets like Burger King and McDonalds actually use minced muscle meat in their burgers,'' he said. ``But if you buy very cheap frozen burgers or you buy something out of a van, I have no idea what's in those. ``At the lower end of the market, it's very hard to know what's in the food. That includes cheap hamburger, possibly the hot dog and some of our meat pies. They're not governed by any sort of regulations or recipe or whatever,'' he said. Scientists from 70 countries were in Atlanta for a conference on emerging infectious diseases, and Wednesday morning Pattison told them he fears human-to-human spread of the CJD variant is possible through contaminated blood transfusions. But he later told Reuters the greatest culprit of all in transmission of the disease to humans is hamburger. The first cases of variant CJD diagnosed involved teen-agers, leading scientists to wonder what dietary preferences might contribute to the disease. Pattison said cheap ground beef was the common bond. ``It's a common thing, really,'' he said. ``We have this huge drive toward cheap. The (profit) margins are small. Some people make a living off of small margins by putting everything in, every part of the animal. And, even though it's on the label, we buy it anyway,'' he said. Pattison chairs Britain's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee. His recommendations led to the British government's controversial ban of beef on the bone in December. Earlier in the day, Pattison told fellow scientists that although variant CJD has not claimed a single fatality in Britain since 1996, it could resurface through blood transfusions. ``We continue to use whole blood products in the U.K,,'' he said. ``There is no thought being given to importing blood, because there is a huge counterbalance to be considered involving other diseases that would be far worse than the danger of CJD.'' It is not impossible that CJD could be transmitted through the blood supply because it has a long incubation period and consumption of the affected cattle did not stop until 1996, he said. The first case of BSE was confirmed in Britain in 1986, a result of contaminated feed. Since then, 170,000 cattle have died of the disease, according to Pattison's report. He said the likely culprits in the continued BSE spread were family farmers who gave their cattle feed intended for poultry and pigs. BSE cases among cattle have dropped dramatically since meat products were banned from all feed, Pattison said, but it has not been eliminated. ``The BSE epidemic is under control,'' he said, ``However, there are still going to be about 1,500 to 2,000 cases in the U.K. this year.''

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