After shocking revelations published yesterday by, regarding the number of people infected with the Human variant of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), it is now claimed by a renowned British newspaper, the Guardian, that “the slaughter of the country’s entire sheep population could be imposed”. Britain’s sheep flock numbers 44 million animals. If, as it has been suspected, a disease like BSE is found present in these animals, then it is possible that the sale of lamb will be banned and all the nation’s sheep will be slaughtered. Sheep intestines are used for making sausages, so the danger to the human food chain is immense. Not only do people have to worry about beef, but now also lamb and indeed any product made with products from sheep, such as sausages. Because the incubation period of this horrific disease, which systematically destroys the brain, can be up to 30 to 40 years, the news is more and more worrying. Basically, anyone in Britain who has eaten beef or lamb in the last 40 years may be a future victim of the Human variant of BSE, called CJD (Creuzfeld-Jacob Disease). The practice of intensive farming, as it is called, was started in the 1970s, as farmers were put under pressure to produce more meat, faster. This involved the recycling of animal proteins in ruminant feed, including pulverised brains and bones. In short, the animals were being forced to be cannibals, herbivores eating their own kind. The alarm bells did not start ringing until something started to go wrong : animals showed signs of BSE (trembling limbs and later, systemic failure, leading inevitably towards death) and suddenly, as the animal disease passes to humans, we are faced with the possibility of hundreds of thousands of people infected with a disease which has no treatment or cure. By 2003, one death per day from CJD is expected. The whole case once again proves the weaknesses of liberal economic policies based on the theories of monetarism. The idea is to let the market bear the costs, businesses reducing their expenditure as much as possible, to increase the bottom line profit margin. Feeding herbivore animals pulverised carcasses to increase their growth and increase profitability, without the proper studies on possible knock-on effects in the area of public health, seems to be criminal negligence, at least. Now that the problem has come to be public knowledge, some truths are getting out. Truths which, for example, tell us that British sheep were being fed cows’ brains to make them develop faster. Truths which tell us that chickens are being fed pulverised feathers and chicken manure to become mature in two months instead of one year. Truths which tell us that biochemical tests on animals (to check if there is a public health hazard) take two years to produce results and cost 20,000 GBP per animal. Where will this end ? Soon, we will be told that the practice of “intensive farming” extends to pigs and fish as well…one is led to think about becoming a vegetarian…but then, isn’t there a rumour out there about genetically modified cereals?

Tim Bancroft-Hinchey, Lisbon/London.

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