"The issue above flared because the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committe (SEAC) found this cluster of 10 cases of people under 42 (average age around 28 - youngest a teen-ager) with CJD. The average age for CJD is normally something like 63. Additionally, the histology of the brains in these patients was much more like the pattern seen with BSE in cows than classic CJD. SEAC looked at patient histories to identify risk factors and the like, and concluded that the most likely source of infection was BSE-infected beef. Today's newspapers (March 27, 1996) say that two more cases have come to light. SEAC have changed their opinion suddenly and drastically. They have been saying there is no evidence of risk for the past couple of years, and this latest decision by the SEAC was a bombshell."
"There are a number of problems: apparently, cattle were being fed the remains of scrapie-infected sheep to boost the protein content. The passage of scrapie through cattle is thought to have resulted in BSE. The use of sheep in cattle feed was banned in 1989, but many farmers continued using their stocks well into the '90s. Also, abbattoirs weren't sticking to the strict regulations imposed in terms of removing spinal cord and offal, and the sterilization of the instruments used to slaughter the cattle. Apparently, this means that BSE-infected meat may have continued to enter the food chain. Of course, no-one has any idea yet as to what represents an infective dose, whether a single dose is sufficient to cause infection or exposure over a period of time is required, or whether people have a genetic susceptibility to the disease or it affects anyone regardless."
"It is this uncertainty that is causing so much concern, because the Government is caught between a public health issue of unknown proportions and an economy that is being dented and is likely to become more significantly harmed. Many here feel that it is probably best to err on the side of safety and not eat beef or related products until more evidence is amassed. Some of the big food chains (McDonald's, Burger King, Wimpy, Bird's Eye, various supermarkets) have stooped serving burgers and the like until they get fresh supplies form abroad. It's interesting though that there have been reports of BSE in cattle in France and Germany and a couple of European countries, but these were isolated cases and the cattle were destroyed immediately. The EEC (European Economic Community) has banned the sale and export of all British beef and related products despite loud protestations by the UK Government."
"All of these issues are of course very disconcerting to those of us here, since regardless of whether or not one eats beef, it is extremely hard to avoid beef products short of turning vegetarian - gelatine in sweets, cakes, etc., stock cubes, oils in margarines, fats in biscuits, vitamins in supplements. The list is never-ending."
"Some of the current experiments are showing that BSE can jump the species barrier; so , for example, sheep fed BSE-infected beef develop BSE themselves, and there have been various reports of zoo carnivores developing BSE, presumably from being fed with contaminated beef. Scrapie (also a prion) in sheep has been around for two hundred years but has never caused a problem, until it got into cattle, where it presumably has mutated into this form (BSE) which can cross species barriers (or so the theory goes). Basically, no-one has much clue yet. Much of the anger and frustration of the populace is primarily directed at the Government because of the govenrment's reassurances when BSE first arose in 1986 that there was no risk."
March 29, 1996:
"A couple of more snippets. Today's papers (March 29, 1996) report another case of CJD - a 29 y.o. woman from Kent. Also, there are some figures for BSE in cattle in other European Countries - approx. 200 cases in Switzerland, 100 in the Republic of Ireland, 30 in Portugal and I think it's something like 80 in France and Germany. There have been a couple of isolated cases in two or three other countries, but these were found to be due to imported British cattle. The EEC has now imposed a worldwide ban on British beef, though the Government will today lobby to have it overturned 'to restore consumer confidence'. Apparently they are offering: (a) an immediate ban on the sale of meat from newly slaughtered cattle over 30 months old, (b) extending specified bovine offal (SBO) controls to stop possible infected cattle heads and lymph glands entering the food chain, (c) 1.5 million pounds a week compensation to the rendering industry, and (d) 50 million pounds in EEC (European Economic Community) aid for the slaughter of bull calves up to 10 days old."
"Calves (and therefore veal) are exempt from SBO controls, presumably because BSE hasn't manifested itself. There is no evidence for excluding cattle under 30 months old from the new deboning and SBO provisions. Dr Sheila Gore, a senior statistician at the Medical Research Council, was making precisley this point in today's newspapers. Apparently, a study was started 7 years ago to determine if dams could pass BSE to their offspring. It was a blind trial, but no results have been released yet."
July 26, 1996
"Heard the latest BSE scare - it can be transmitted to sheep apparently, and, furthermore, it seems that BSE-infected sheep can pass the agent on to their offspring. Scary or what? In terms of symptoms it is impossible to tell apart scrapie from BSE in sheep, so [nobody] knows what the scale of the problem might be. There are already moves to ban sheep offal and spinal cord but again, is it a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?"
"The cattle crisis seems very quiet at the moment - lots of haggling about how many are to be slaughterd, compensation packages for farmers, etc. Beef sales seem to be increasing once more (out of sight, out of mind?) but people elsewhere in Europe are still very wary even tho' their country's herds may be BSE-free."
"The story rolls on here - 6000 infected carcasses buried at *unknown* sites!!! No central records are kept! Incineration is the required disposal process. A newspaper sent a reporter to one of the sites and found streams running through it! [cut] ... many of the incineration plants can't cope. The recent E. coli is also opening a related can of worms with claims that an official report into meat rendering plants was suppressed and diluted considerably - allegedly to minimise the economic impact. Apparently, hygiene was very poor and carcassses weren't being stripped of potential BSE-infected tissue (eg, spinal cords) properly. Also, out of date minced meat returned to some processing plants was being mixed with fresh stuff and returned to supermarkets!"
For more information from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), please see: The BMJ's BSE-CJB HomePage