- LONDON (AFP) - Two scientists have been granted government funds to
attempt to prove that the human form of mad cow disease is contracted from
soil, not from eating beef, the British agriculture ministry said Tuesday.
- The pair believe that Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy (BSE) is caused by a common microbe found in muddy water,
sewage and human skin, and that the microbe is the link between BSE and
its human equivalent, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD).
- The two scientists, Alan Ebringer, a
professor of Immunology at King's College, London, and Professor Jon Pirt,
have been given 216,000 pounds (315,000 dollars) to research their theory
over two years.
- They believe the microbe explains why
nvCJD is contracted by vegetarians and farmers.
- If they are right, it will mean Britain's
entire 3.5-billion-pound programme to protect the public from the disease
will have been in vain.
- Millions of cattle have been slaughtered
as part of anti-BSE measures and beef farmers have experienced an unprecedented
slump in their fortunes, with many driven into bankruptcy.
- "This is not a change of policy,
and the money is a fraction of the 13 million pounds (21 million dollars)
we spend each year researching BSE," said a spokeswoman for the Ministry
of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
- "But we cannot discount anything."
- The theory challenges the accepted wisdom
that eating meat contaminated with BSE is the cause of nvCJD, a fatal brain
disease for which there is no known cure.
- It was the British government's acceptance
of this explanation in March 1996 that prompted the European Union to impose
a worldwide ban on the export of British beef.
- The embargo is to be lifted only after
a European inspection mission gives the go-ahead. Northern Ireland, which
has a more sophisticated system for tracking cattle, has already resumed
- A year and a half ago, the British government
also banned the sale of beef on the bone, such as T-bone steaks, over fears
that bone marrow could contain BSE which could be released during cooking.
- When the measures were announced, they
provoked fierce opposition from beef farmers, butchers, restaurateurs and
the public, who argued that the risk to public health was too small.
- To March 1999, Britain has recorded 40
definite and probable cases of nvCJD.