Latest reports from the UK state that the figures released recently about the number of people infected by BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, also called “mad cow disease”) could be misleading. The figure of 85,000 people infected by the disease, reported by two days ago, may have to be revised. Unfortunately, the revision will have to be made upwards and not downwards. New data forecasts that a more realistic figure will be 136,000 people affected by BSE in the next 40 years and even this is being contested as being too conservative. According to Nick Brown, the British Agricultural Minister, “the number of people infected by BSE can be much, much higher” than the 85,000 reported by The minister stated that the connection between BSE and CJD, the human form of the disease (Creuzfeld Jacob’s Disease), was due to a misunderstanding by the previous Conservative government of the possibilities of transmission of the disease to human beings. Nick Brown pointed out that “today, British beef is among the safest of meats in the world” due to the efforts made by Tony Blair’s Labour government. However, he assumes the position that the BSE scandal is “a national tragedy. It is preferable for the victims and their families that this is not made into a party political issue”. The word “tragedy” follows evidence that nobody is safe. Recently, a 74-year-old man died of the disease. It is possible that he was infected by it 30 or 40 years ago and a girl of 14 (Zoe Jeffries) this week became the youngest victim. It is reported that she may have contracted the disease from eating cheap beefburgers. Her mother said she was filled with remorse for having fed her daughter with food which gave her BSE but she blamed the situation on lack of information at a government level regarding BSE. The onset of the disease was frightening : two years ago, “One morning Zoe got up and just didn’t do anything. She just cried. It was as though she went to bed one person and got up a different one”, said her mother, witnessing the dramatic personality change that CJD victims suffer. Basically, anybody who has consumed beef in the UK between the mid 1970s and the mid 1990s may be a walking time bomb. CJD can take up to 40 years to appear and today’s worries are feared to be the tip of the iceberg. Government scientists state that they expect “a death rate of one person per week by next September” (2001) “rising to one per day by 2003”. Scientists had believed that most people were infected in the 1990s but there is now evidence presented in the report made by Lord Phillips, released last week, that BSE may have entered the human food chain in the 1970s. Other scientists regard these statistics as extremely conservative also. Dr.Stephen Deallar, of Burnley Hospital, Lancashire, England, stated that this statistic “is going to keep on doubling for a number of years to come”. No comment.

Tim Bancroft-Hinchey, Lisbon/London

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