IN ANOTHER CASE OF A DISEASE SPEADING FROM ANIMALS TO HUMANS THERE HAVE BEEN 86 DEATHS FROM THE HUMAN VARIANT OF BSE (BOVINE SPONGIFORM ENCEPHALOPATHY) ALSO KNOWS AS “MAD COW DISEASE”. In a government enquiry as to how it was possible for a disease which previously affected cattle to enter the human food chain and cause 86 deaths, to date, the report by Lord Phillips was made public on Friday. The need for more meat in a shorter period of time forced scientists to look for new ways to speed up the growth of cows – one was to pulverise dead cows’ brains and bones and feed them to young calves, mixed with other hormones in their feed. This practice seems to have caused an outbreak of mad cow disease (BSE) in the cattle. It was not believed by senior civil servants that if a human being consumed meat from infected animals, the result would be the same – the human variant of BSE, called Creuzfeld-Jacob’s Disease. This disease is called by a special kind of protein, called a prion, which travels round the body until it lodges itself in the brain, which it systematically destroys. First signs of the disease in humans are twitching movements of the arms, followed by a behaviour change, as the patient becomes wildly aggressive in severe bouts of personality disorder and finally, as the brain degenerates, total motor incapacity and death, between one and two years after the first symptoms. There is no treatment or cure. Despite fears from veterinary scientists, the previous Conservative government did not act and instead told the public that British beef was safe. The result is 86 dead and possibly, tens of thousands of people carrying the disease. It can take up to 30 years for the first symptoms to appear. The authorities think there could be between 6,000 and 85,000 people affected. “The public was deceived for years about the dangers of the meat and the risks of the disease spreading to human beings”, said Lord Phillips’ report. It is claimed that the previous Conservative governments (1979 – 1997) launched false campaigns of confidence, avoiding a collapse in the billion-pound British beef industry. The Labour government of Tony Blair ordered the report to be made immediately after taking office in 1997 and has now set up a fund of millions of pounds to help the families of victims. “BSE caused a devastatingly fatal disease for human beings. The victims and their families have suffered terribly. Many other families all over the United Kingdom are now asking themselves whether they will suffer the same fate” (in the future). “People heard the repeated guarantees by the government about the meat and thought it was safe because BSE could not be transmitted”, says the report. The report criticises the former conservative agriculture ministers John Gummer and Douglas Hogg and the former Health minister Stephen Dorrell. Mr. Blair has not ruled out judicial action against those responsible.
Tim Bancroft-Hinchey Lisbon/London