Does BSE come from the dairy herd pastures ?; Mystery case of mad cow disease in the west triggers fresh health fears

Does BSE come from the dairy herd pastures ?;
Mystery case of mad cow disease in the west triggers fresh health fears

June 21, 2001 Western Daily Press by Chris Rundle

A NEW case of mad cow disease in the West has fuelled fears that the disease could survive in pastures.

The infected animal was born after the ban on meat and bone meal feed which is thought to have spread the disease.

And scientists are now investigating the possibility that the animal picked up the disease while grazing.

One leading scientist says the possibility that a new route for the infection to travel may now have been uncovered.

The discovery has also heightened fears of a major epidemic of variant CJD, the human form of mad cow disease, which has claimed more than 100 lives.

The new case was in a Friesian from a dairy herd in Somerset which tested positive after routine post-mortem testing.

The animal was killed when 48 months old and would not have entered the food chain under the 30-month slaughter rule.

But the result could challenge scientists' predictions that Britain will be free of the disease by 2006 - because so far there is no evidence to show how the animal became infected.

The infected animal was born in May 1997, a full 10 months after the ban on feeding meat and bone meal, the ground-up remains of animals blamed for spreading BSE.

And its mother does not have BSE, which rules out another possible route for transmission.

Professor Peter Smith, the chairman of SEAC, the Government's BSE advisory committee, says it has already been established that the prion, or rogue protein, which causes BSE, can survive in the environment.

"We cannot rule that out completely as a possible route of transmission at this stage, " he said. "We know the agent survives in the environment and it is possible that it could have acquired it that way."

The State Veterinary Service has launched an investigation into the case, which is only the second recorded instance of BSE infecting a cow born since the feed ban and, says Professor Smith, until that is concluded any talk of another route of transmission can only be speculation.

But NFU spokesman Anthony Gibson says the Somerset animal could just be one of the background cases which will always occur.

"BSE was a pre-existing disease and the epidemic was caused by the feeding of a diseased brain, " he said. "You are still going to get the odd case in a million cropping up, as you always did, in the same way as you still get cases of classical CJD in humans.

And the Food Standards Agency both say there are no implications for food safety.

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