02 April 1998
Farmers under-report BSE cases — Dealler
By Boyd Champness
MANY farmers would send their cattle to slaughter at the first sign of BSE symptoms, according to controversial microbiologist Dr Stephen Dealler.
In his written evidence to the BSE inquiry yesterday, Dr Dealler claimed that, for every cow diagnosed with BSE, another seven made it through the food chain. He made these claims in 1993 prior to the introduction of the over-thirty-months scheme.
His estimations were more modestly backed up by Mike Richards from the Veterinary Epidemiological Society, who indicated that between 1.5 and 2.5 suspect cattle were eaten for every one that showed symptoms.
Dr Dealler said farmers were always the first to notice the early signs of the disease, which included a change in the animals “personality”, coupled with weight loss and reduced milk production. He said because of the stigma attached to having BSE cases on their farms, many farmers would rush these animals to the abattoir.
A survey he carried out of farmers at the Great Yorkshire Show in 1994 found that: “nobody wanted a case of BSE, no matter what the price paid by MAFF, partly because of the potential damage it did to the value of the rest of the herd.”
Dr Dealler told the inquiry that he even spoke to one farmer from Skipton, Yorkshire, who bought cattle in the early stages of the disease from other farmers at low prices, and then waited for their symptoms to become full-blown so he could receive compensation.
The farmer who owned the infected cow would benefit because he wouldnt have to report the case and lose the right to export, Dr Dealler said.
On hearing this, Dr Dealler said he phoned the local branch of the Department of Agriculture in Leeds and told them what was going on.
“I asked them if they realised what was happening, and they said `Yes, we are doing all we can to stop it,” he told the inquiry.
“Its amazing what farmers will do for very little money. Although they got money from the Department of Agriculture, the value of their herds would drop if they were found to have BSE,” he said.
But veterinary officers also played their part in the cover-up, according to Dr Dealler. He said he had spoken to one farmer who said a VO inspected his BSE-infected cow and deliberately turned it down because he had been told not to find any cases. He urged the inquiry to talk to VOs about this.