15 December 1998
Government adviser saw
BSE risk to humans in 1989

ONE of the Governments top former advisers believed as early as 1989 that there was a “moderately high” risk that BSE could be transmitted to humans, the official inquiry into the disease was told yesterday.

Professor Sir Richard Southwood feared that BSE could be transmitted from cows to humans via injections of serum extracted from British cattle.

Serum from cattle was used in a range of vaccines and other medicines until 1991 – four years after the existence of BSE was admitted publicly, and six years after the first case was discovered on a farm in Kent.

Professor Southwood said in a private letter to a fellow expert dated 5 July, 1989 that he had anxiety over the danger of injections “very much in mind”.

The letter was written to Dr David Tyrrell, the virus expert who succeeded him as the Governments leading independent adviser on BSE.

The Government had not banned the use of specified bovine offals in pharmaceuticals such as vaccines at that time.

Prof Southwoods report in 1989 provided the Government with its first scientific guidance on BSE.

  • Financial Times 15/12/98 page 15 (News Digest)
  • The Daily Telegraph 15/12/98 page 8