Report: Mass slaughter of British cows may be needless
August 29, 1996
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EDT (0240 GMT)
From CNN Correspondent Siobhan Darrow
LONDON (CNN) -- British farmers are stirred up over
new scientific evidence on the mad cow epidemic that
casts serious doubt on the government's policy of mass
slaughter of cattle.
The independent report, which suggests the disease
will dissipate naturally by 2001, has prompted cattle
farmers to demand an urgent meeting with the
government to limit the slaughter while opening up
European markets to the export of British beef.
In June, European Union leaders agreed on a plan to
control mad cow disease in Britain and gradually lift
a global ban on British beef sales.
The original ban was imposed March 27 after Britain
disclosed a possible link between bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, and its
fatal human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The new report by Oxford University has emerged as a
hot political issue. Its findings are likely to
pressure British officials to renegotiate their
agreement with the EU that calls for Britain to kill
147,000 cows in exchange for rights to export its
Citing the university report, Britain's National
Farmers Union claims that number is excessive and that
only about one-third of the condemned cows need to be
"This report indicates that we can accelerate the
reduction in future BSE ... by a different means, by a
different targeting system," Ben Gill of the National
Farmers Union said.
Getting the EU to agree to that is another matter.
Earlier this week, EU officials called for more cows
to be killed in light of new evidence about maternal
transmission of the BSE disease.
Illness may fade away
The study, led by Oxford University zoologist and
epidemiologist Roy Anderson, said most cases of the
illness will be transmitted maternally, from mother
cows to their calves.
The rate of transmission -- 340 new infections and
14,000 new cases of BSE before 2001 -- is not enough
to sustain the illness, and the government's program
of slaughter makes little difference in limiting the
spread, the report said.
"The epidemic is in rapid decline before and without
any culling. That's the good news," said Christl
Donnelly, an Oxford statistician who worked on the
study. "But there's also the potential worry in
looking at the number of infected animals that entered
the food chain."
She's referring to numbers that indicate a sizable
portion of the British meat-eating population may
already have been exposed to mad cow disease. The
Oxford study said more than 700,000 infected animals
have entered the food chain since 1986.
Scientists said it's not clear if this means the fatal
disease will actually spread to some of the humans who
eat the infected beef.
Future threat remains
Donnelly said not enough about CJD is known to
determine whether an epidemic of the disease will
infect the British population. But Stephen Dealler, a
microbiologist at Burnley Hospital in northern
England, predicted that as many as 2 million people
may eventually become ill.
"What this does is confirm the skepticism and worries
of the British public," said Oxford professor Tim
Lang. "These independent scientists have now confirmed
that we have eaten a huge number of animals which
contained either low or high doses of infectivity."
Also of concern is the possibility that people may
contract the disease from simple contact with infected
animals and feed.
Scientists say the current epidemic of BSE began when
cows were fed ground up brains and other remains of
sheep infected with scrapie, their own version of the
disease. Such feed has been banned.
Regardless of the often contradictory scientific
evidence, the real issue for farmers is winning back
consumer confidence both at home and in Europe.
As scientists and politicians debate the mad cow
dilemma, some agree it's time to look at the bigger
picture, including farming practices.
"We need a radical rethink of food and farming
policy," Lang said.
(350K AIFF sound or 350K WAV sound)
Reuters contributed to this report.
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