31 March 1995

MAFF BSE claims under fire

READING University scientists are accusing MAFF of complacency over detection of the cattle brain disease BSE.

They claim MAFFs confidence that "no cases are escaping detection" is hard to accept.

In a letter to the Veterinary Record the two scientists, from the universitys veterinary epidemiology and economics research unit, say MAFF should place more emphasis on the development of a BSE test for live animals.

MAFF figures show that about 15% of suspect BSE cases are unconfirmed after post mortem. It claims this provides "confidence that no cases are escaping detection".

But the Reading scientists claim "this complacency is hard to accept" because it ignores preclinical cases. "Due to the long incubation period of BSE, many animals will have been slaughtered for other reasons while the disease was still preclinical.

"In our opinion, the significance of these preclinical cases to the epidemiology of BSE deserves more attention." The number of missed cases also depends on the sensitivity of diagnosis, they add. This relies on farmers "awareness and willingness to report clinical cases as well as the diagnostic skills" of MAFF vets.

But some farmers may be reluctant to report cases because "the income lost by becoming a BSE-affected herd is not compensated for by the money received for individual animals slaughtered".

MAFFs BSE advisory committee noted "the substantial proportion (15%) of suspect cases which are unconfirmed in its latest report.

It was important to determine what caused them and to reduce the proportion of such cases by improved diagnosis in the live animal, it said.