01 April 1998
BSE inquiry hears evidence of OP trigger

ORGANOPHOSPHATE pesticides (OPs) may have provided a trigger for the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), according to evidence presented at the inquiry into the disease, in London.

The theory had been discounted by scientists and government officials until yesterday.

But Institute of Psychiatry research showed that exposing human neural cells to the OP Phosmet increases the level of prion protein, the agent linked to BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by up to 10 times.

Dr Stephen Whateley, from the institute, told the inquiry there was a need to discover whether the trials were replicated with animal cells and whether other OPs caused the same effects.

The Soil Association said it felt there was sufficient merit in the theory to cast doubt on the official line about the cause and spread of BSE. The National Farmers Union said the theory could not be dismissed.

Tim Holt, the doctor who published the first warning about the risk to people from BSE 10 years ago, accused the Ministry of Agriculture of failing to take the threat seriously. He recalled how a woman who had asked about the dangers of handling BSE-infected cattle carcasses at a conference in 1993 had been publicly ridiculed by Ray Bradley, a senior pathologist at the Central Veterinary Laboratory.

The inquiry also heard how in June 1988 Dr Holt and Julie Phillips, a dietician, had recommended cattle brains should either be banned for human consumption or clearly labelled as an ingredient in foodstuffs, but that it was another 17 months before such action was taken.

  • The Scotsman 01/04/98 page 30
  • The Guardian 01/04/98 page 1
  • The Independent 01/04/98 page 6