Scientists dismiss CJD outbreak fears

27 March 1998

Scientists dismiss CJD outbreak fears

TWO leading scientists dismissed fears that Britain faces an epidemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Professor Alan Erbringer, an expert in auto-immune diseases, at Kings College London, and Professor John Pirt, a worldwide authority on the role of bacteria in diseases, told the BSE inquiry that beef was safe and the cull a waste of time.

The rogue “prion” proteins theory was debunked and put down to acinetobacter, a common microbe in water, sewage and soil. Erbringer dismissed the “new” version of CJD not as something new, but something which had previously been misdiagnosed.

The Financial Times writes that early expert advice was based on hunches and uncertainty remains over the causes of BSE.

The two most important measures were the ban on feeding meat and bone meal to ruminants and the removal of specified bovine offals from the human food chain. These were apparently enforced lackadaisically.

Dr Robert Will, a consultant neurologist, director of the CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh and a member of the Governments Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), realised in 1989 the offal ban was critical to protect the public. But SEAC heard six years later during a regular meeting that slaughterhouse inspectors found that spinal cord was being left on dressed carcasses.

Will is recorded in the meetings minutes as saying he was “appalled at this information”.

Ministers and civil servants will give their side of the story in the summer and autumn.

  • Financial Times 27/03/98 page 8
  • The Times 27/03/98 page 4
  • The Daily Telegraph 27/03/98 page 17

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