22 December 1995

Lack of confidence despite assurances

"RELENTLESS media exposure" and "scandalous reporting" has knocked consumer confidence in beef, despite government assurances that it is perfectly safe to eat, according to Meat and Livestock Commission chairman Donald Curry.

Mr Curry said he was satisfied with the governments handling of the issue and rejected calls made last week by Labours agriculture spokesman, Gavin Strang, for a complete ban on brains, spinal cords and other specified offal of cattle under six months.

Speaking at the Royal Agricultural Societys Cirencester conference, Mr Curry said scientists had not found any evidence of BSE in cattle under 12 months old. "The earliest signs of the disease have been found at 15-16 months," he stressed.

Mr Curry told more than 100 delegates that while there had been transmission between species, there was no proof of BSE being transmitted vertically.

"It is difficult to explain the explosion of cases in cattle, but it seems likely that stock were fed meat and bonemeal infected by scrapie-affected sheeps brains."

He said scientific research had shown it was easier for the BSE agent to cross between certain species than others, citing the example that there has never been a case of encephalopathy in pigs unless they had been given massive artificial doses in laboratory tests.

Lack of vertical transmission of BSE in cattle had been substantiated in trials at ADAS Mowthorpe, North Yorks. Up to 350 cattle imported from New Zealand four years ago were implanted with embryos taken from BSE-proven cows, but so far all the 260 offspring are completely free of the disease.

Under attack in Commons

Meanwhile, MAFF came under attack in the House of Commons for ordering redundancies at the Institute of Animal Health in Edinburgh, which has been at the forefront of research work on BSE.

Gordon Prentice (Lab, Pendle) asked how the government could reassure the public when redundancies were taking place.

Farm minister Douglas Hogg stressed there were no financial restrictions on research, adding that an additional £1m had been placed into research for 1996.