Fight to rid country of foot-and-mouth raises spectre of new misery;
diseased pyres pose CJD threat

April 6, 2001 The Express by Anthony Mitchell

SMOKE from the burning carcasses of slaughtered animals is spreading potentially fatal mad cow disease, the Government has admitted.

People living close to the foot-and-mouth pyres will be breathing in BSE prions - the particles that cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The Government say the risk of catching vCJD from the pyres is "low" but accept there will be some exposure to BSE particles.

The admission came as a mass incineration at Tern Hill Airfield near Market Drayton, Shropshire, was temporarily halted after nearby residents threatened legal action in protest at possible health risks.

The Government findings are based on a report by scientists that took just 24 hours to compile. In the document, seen by the Daily Express, the Government estimate 17 cows out of 1,000 could be infected with BSE. It is based on calculations that a BSE cow burnt on a fire has enough doses to infect 35 people. The prions are spread by smoke and ash, the scientists working for the Ministry of Agriculture claim.

They believe people could also be exposed by eating crops that have not been washed. Exposure could come through water supplies, too. They assume that nine tenths of the deadly virus would be destroyed in the fires - leaving one tenth in the atmosphere. Last night Dr Richard Lawson, the Green Party's foot-and-mouth disease coordinator, criticised the findings saying it was based on guesswork. He called for all workers building pyres to wear protective breathing apparatus and nearby homes to be evacuated.

Dr Lawson, a Somerset GP, said the calculations were based on incinerators which burn carcasses at a much greater heat than pyres. They also lift smoke from the ground and spread it more thinly.

He said the calculation by the Government, which said the risk of breathing in BSE prions was low, did not apply to people tending the fires or living nearby, who were at much greater risk. The scientists even admitted some of their risk assessment was based on guesswork.

The report, by consultants DNV, said: "This would be spread over a fairly wide population and so the individual risk of exposure would be low." The assessment was carried out on February 28 - eight days after foot-and-mouth was found in the UK. The scientists were under pressure to get the report to ministers quickly and used data from three years ago.

A spokesman for MAFF said: "There are risks in breathing in all sorts of things in the air - it really is a matter of balance."

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