13 September 2001
Probe into BSE pasture link

By FWi staff

SCIENTISTS are investigating whether BSE is being spread to young cattle by grazing pasture contaminated with excrement from infected cows.

Although the main cause of BSE is still believed to be contaminated feed, scientists say they have not ruled another route through the environment, reports The Guardian.

Peter Smith, chairman of the committee that advisers the government on BSE, told the paper that the deaths of cattle born after August 1996 were worrying.

“We have to look at explanations other than maternal transmission or feed transmission for these cases,” he said.

Professor Smith said scientists were “a bit vague” on how BSE might be spread through pasture, and it was too early to come to any conclusions.

He added the number of cases born after 1996 was small and “it may be very difficult to tie down the cause”.

Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University pointed out that previous experience with scrapie suggested the disease could be spread through pasture.

“One cannot be optimistic about quick answers. I think the risk to people is very low, you would have to be eating soil or doing something outrageous to stand a real risk.”

“The real problem is, if it is passed by this route, it will allow the BSE epidemic to persist at a low level, ” he said.

Government officials are currently testing to see whether soil is contaminated with the prions but results of the research are not expected before 2007.