Scientists criticise BSE coverage

30 August 2000

Scientists criticise BSE coverage

By FWi staff

SCIENTISTS have condemned media coverage of research which suggests BSE could jump the species barrier without obvious symptoms.

The study, led by John Collinge of the Medical Research Council, raises fears that poultry, sheep and pigs could harbour invisible BSE.

This could in turn be passed on to humans through the food chain, say researchers.

Extensive newspapers and news bulletin coverage reported this as an important new development in the understanding of BSE.

But Alan Dickinson, the founding director of the Neuropathogenisis Unit in Edinburgh said the research contained little that was new.

Its an interesting addition to what weve known intrinsically for a long time, he told the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme.

Dr Dickinson said it was misleading to say the disease jumped from one species to another, as it had been pushed under laboratory conditions.

In any case it was difficult to predict the variables of transmission, said Dr Dickinson.

He said reports had been unscrupulous in terms of the real worries of the livestock community.

Peter Smith, who chairs the governments SEAC advisory panel on BSE, told Farming Today the research was interesting.

But he added: Its not clear to me that there are any implications with regards to the control measures to protect public health.

Prof Smith said the coverage devoted to the story indicated there was a shortage of other news.

He admitted that when stories like this were analysed in the media there was a severe knock-on effect on farming.

Research into whether BSE could cross species barriers was carried out 10 years ago.

In tests pigs only contracted BSE if it was injected into their brains and researchers found it impossible to infect poultry.

These studies also found no evidence of sub-clinical infection in the species.

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