16 November 2001

More cash needed or on-farm BSE test research may be hit

By Donald MacPhail

RESEARCH which could lead to an on-farm BSE test for live cattle is in jeopardy unless the government provides more funding by the end of the year.

A team led by Alan Ebringer, professor of immunology at Kings College, London, has developed a test which he claims showed 100% accuracy in a pilot study. "We could determine whether an animal has BSE before it goes to slaughter," said Prof Ebringer. "This could be done on the farm."

Such a test could prevent cattle with BSE entering the food chain, although further research is required to discover whether it could detect sub-clinical cases. But the project, based on the theory that BSEis caused by bacteria, could come to an abrupt halt on Dec 31 when funding runs out.

Prof Ebringers supporters claim scientists are seeking to halt his work because it is at odds with the mainstream theory that BSE is caused by rogue prions. He was due to present his case for extra funding to SEAC, the governments BSE advisory committee this month. But the meeting was put back until February.

Labour MP Tam Dalyell tabled a question in the House of Commons yesterday (Nov 15) asking DEFRA secretary, Margaret Beckett, whether she planned to renew funding. He told farmers weekly: "This should be given a proper hearing. My instinct is that Prof Ebringer may be right."

SEAC chairman, Peter Smith, stressed that any funding decisions would be made by DEFRA. He denied that there were any moves to sideline Prof Ebringer. "The fact that SEAC has invited Prof Ebringer to present his research indicates that we give credence to his work," he said.

A DEFRA spokesman said if Prof Ebringers findings and proposals were approved by peer review, funding could be considered in the New Year. &#42