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BSE caused by toxic farm chemicals, inquiry told

02 April 1998
BSE caused by toxic farm chemicals, inquiry told

THE compulsory use of organophosphates (OPs) in the early 1980s to eradicate warble fly in the national cattle herd might have sparked mad cow disease, the BSE inquiry heard today.

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BSE caused by toxic farm chemicals, inquiry told

02 April 1998
BSE caused by toxic farm chemicals, inquiry told

By Boyd Champness

THE compulsory use of organophosphates (OPs) in the early 1980s to eradicate warble fly in the national cattle herd might have sparked mad cow disease, the BSE inquiry heard today.

Organic farmer Mark Purdy told the inquiry that under the Warble Fly Order of 1982, farmers were required to treat their cattle with organophosphates twice a year.

He said the doses were significantly higher than those allowed in other countries. And because of the way the OPs were applied – poured directly on to the animals back – he feared the chemicals would penetrate the central nervous system, causing long-term damage to the nerve proteins, which would manifest into an epidemic of neurological disease in years to come.

When the BSE disease emerged several years later, Mr Purdy said he couldnt swallow the Governments official line that it was created by feeding cattle infected meat and bone meal (MBM).

He said the USA and Canada both produced MBM for bovine consumption in the same way as the UK, and that British MBM manufacturers had exported their product to the Middle East – yet there have been no reported cases of BSE in these parts of the world.

Whats more, farmers in France, Ireland and particularly Switzerland were encouraged to use organophosphates to fight warble fly, but not at the same high doses. These countries have relatively higher incidence of BSE compared with the rest of Europe (except for the UK).

Mr Purdy said he originally believed that OPs were the sole cause of BSE, but he now believes that a combination of infected MBM material and the heavy use of OPs “accelerated” the disease in British cattle.

Mr Purdy must be pleased that his theory is now being taken seriously. An all-party group of MPs examining OPs has called for further investigation into the subject.

The groups chairman Paul Tyler, Lib-Dem MP for Cornwall North, said: “It seems that there is too much of a coincidence that the use of organophosphate warble fly treatments in the 1980s coincided with the enormous expansion of the experience of BSE.”

“It is absolutely essential that Sir Nicholas Phillipss inquiry tests this theory. We cannot go on with this potential hanging over peoples heads,” Mr Tyler said.

Once the MBM ban was imposed in 1988, scientists predicted that the disease would rapidly die out. But this hypothesis was discounted when thousands of cattle continued to develop the disease well after the ban.

This was put down to rogue farmers keeping bags of MBM on their farms, MBM manufacturers accidentally allowing infected material to enter new lines of protein feed and maternal transmission.

The fact that the warble fly campaign continued until the early 1990s wasnt even considered, Mr Purdy said.

“But the thinking farmer was very weary of accepting the Governments hypothesis, that BSE was caused by meat and bone meal and that scrapie had somehow jumped from sheep to cattle,” he told the inquiry.

In 1984, Mr Purdy successfully challenged the legality of the 1982 Warble Fly Order compelling farmers to use OPs. At the time, he was one of only two organic farmers in the high-risk region where the compulsory use of OPs was required. The win enabled him to use a non-OP product to fight warble fly.

Since then, he has had three cases of BSE on his farm, but all three animals were purchased from conventional farms where OPs had been used.

“Its pretty cut-and-dried. There have been no cases of BSE on any fully converted organic farms (in this country),” Mr Purdy said.

The inquiry has adjourned for several weeks to enable Sir Justice Phillips and his colleagues to consider the evidence brought forward so far.

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