BSE test fails to detect early signs

November 8, 2001 The Times (London) by Valerie Elliott
A PROMINENT government adviser gave warning yesterday that "mad cow" disease could be far more widespread throughout Europe than official statistics suggest.

Roy Anderson, of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), is concerned that tests on cattle to detect BSE are missing the disease. He told MPs yesterday that urgent action was needed to verify their reliability. Random testing of cattle in EU abattoirs started in January, but Professor Anderson fears that the tests show BSE only in its later stages and not when animals may be incubating the disease.

He said that Germany had tested 900,000 cattle and found the disease in less than 10 per cent of the animals. He said: "I have a horrible feeling that there is an underestimation of the figures in Europe."

Professor Anderson, the head of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College, London, raised the issues with MPs on the Select Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after failing to spur the Government into action. He was trying to enlist their help in putting pressure on Margaret Beckett, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, to address the issue. She is to be questioned by the committee next Wednesday.

He said after the hearing that SEAC had raised the problem months ago, but nothing had been done. "I want to know what the sensitivity of this test is by the stage of incubation of the animal."

Results to August this year show that of 4,154,659 tests on cattle entering the food chain in the European Union, 145 tested positive for BSE, and no cattle in the UK tested positive.

An official of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last night that the Government was working with other EU states to develop a more sensitive test "as soon as possible".

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