UK CJD Cluster Linked to Similar Butchering Process

New York Times, Thursday, March 22, 2001
Five Britons' Mad Cow Deaths Traced to Butchering Methods

LONDON, March 21 - An investigation into five deaths from the human form
of mad cow disease in one English village concluded today that the cause
was a traditional local butchery method of slaughter that permitted
brain matter from diseased animals to contaminate meat.

The five people died between August 1998 and October 2000 in
Queniborough in Leicestershire - the largest cluster of victims from the
same locality in an epidemic that has claimed 90 lives in Britain. There
are five more confirmed cases of the incurable Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease, a brain-wasting malady that humans get from eating the meat of
animals with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

Dr. Philip Monk, a consultant in public health for the Leicestershire
Health Authority, said a nine-month study of farming and food supply in
the area had found that the one detail common to all five cases was that
the victims had consumed meat from one of four Main Street butchers who
used small abattoirs that, unlike larger concerns, worked with carcasses
that still had the animal's head attached to the body. Their
slaughtering techniques included a step in which the skull was split
open, and Dr. Monk theorized that brain matter from animals with mad cow
disease passed to cuts of meat either through the use of the same
knives, cleaning with the same cloth or placement on the same cutting
board. He said the boning process was "extremely tricky and very messy"
and that the brain membrane was gelatinous and difficult to keep from
oozing out.

The local butchers were catering to a clientele who ate brains as a
source of protein, a practice he said was common in Britain during the
war but had become so rare with succeeding generations that the butchers
in question gave up that part of their business by the mid- 1980's. The
incubation period for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is thought to be between
10 and 16 years, and all five victims became infected between 1980 and
1991, the only time they lived in the area.

"These were traditional craft butchering practices carried out by people
who were experts in their tradition," Dr. Monk said in defense of the
shops involved. "None of them were illegal."

The practice of butchers' having contact with animal brains was banned
in Britain in 1989, three years after mad cow disease was first
identified here, and since 1996 whole heads of animals must be disposed
of in slaughterhouses as specified risk material. The disease's capacity
to produce the fatal disease in humans became known in 1996 and led to a
three-year European Union worldwide ban on the export of British beef.
It cost the country billions of dollars in lost business, and
farmers were only just recovering from the crisis when the current
foot-and- mouth disease outbreak began four weeks ago.

Dr. Monk discussed the subject at a town meeting in a rugby club in
Queniborough, using overhead slides to outline how his team of
investigators had reached their conclusions. Their search narrowed down
to the butcher shops after discarding other possible causes including
cattle feed, water supply, dentistry and body piercing.

Asked by a member of the audience what the likelihood was of other
villagers' coming down with the disease, Dr. Monk said, "What we want
people to take away from this meeting is that we are not able to say
what will happen in the future except that the likelihood of this set of
circumstances happening again is very, very small."

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