20 March 1998

Cattle burying claim unscientific – MLC

By Catherine Hughes

SELF-STYLED BSE expert Richard Lacey caused outrage on Tuesday when he told the BSE inquiry that the reason the disease was apparently in decline was because farmers were burying suspect cases on their farms rather than reporting them.

That, he added, was the cause for the recent increase in cases of E coli 0157 food poisoning. Prof Lacey maintained that farmers were burying suspect BSE cases because they received only £200 compensation for each animal and because they wanted to have a BSE-free herd status if they were to qualify for exports again.

But the NFU dismissed the comments. It would not be in farmers interest to bury BSE suspects because, despite what Prof Lacey said, compensation was more than £500 for confirmed cases.

And the date-based export scheme, being negotiated with the EU commission, which would see the ban lifted for cattle born after Aug 1, 1996, did not depend on farms having a BSE-free status.

The Meat and Livestock Commission described Prof Laceys comments as "totally unsubstantiated and unscientific". Technical director, Mike Attenborough, said the professors views were at odds with all the evidence analysed by SEAC, the governments independent BSE advisory committee.

MAFF insisted Prof Laceys claims could not be substantiated. There was no evidence that farmers were failing to notify suspected BSE cases.

On Monday, Oxford University epidemiologist Roy Anderson told the inquiry that if MAFF had supplied him with the BSE information when he requested it at the start of the epidemic, he could have shown the feed ban was not working properly and could have prevented about 250,000 cattle contracting the disease.

1m animals infected

Although only about 170,000 cases of BSE have been confirmed by MAFF to date, Prof Anderson believed almost 1m animals were infected by Aug, 1996, but that most were slaughtered before any clinical signs of the disease appeared.

About 410,000 cattle were infected with BSE after the feed ban was introduced, he calculated.

Prof Anderson said trying to get information from MAFF in the late 1980s was like "getting blood out of a stone".

Even in 1996, when the beef crisis began, his internationally recognised team of experts still met opposition from MAFF when they requested information. &#42