Research Is Close to Establishing a Certain Link between BSE and CJD

Article excerpt

Take any month in the saga of BSE and it's chaos. During the current one we have the unwieldy problem of the rendered remains of more than a million cattle to incinerate. Rogues are smuggling British beef into eastern Europe. McDonald's has just re-entered the British beef market waving a big purse: the 763-outlet chain spent [pounds]58 million on beef in 1996; it foresees spending [pounds]30 million in the UK in the next year. So with British beef back in Big Macs, or half of them, the government would like to finesse it, legally this time, into Europe. Relatives of a Scottish victim of new-variant CJD (nv-CJD), possibly contracted through a beef product, have been denied legal aid to sue the government for compensation. And the usual doom-merchants stalk the fringes.

There has been some quiet reason, too. Almost unnoticed, about the same time as the McDonald's announcement, the government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac) lodged a statement in the House of Commons, headed simply "June 1997". The subject was the suspected link between nv-CJD and BSE. On 1 July the Department of Health alerted journalists to it, but the statement was not widely reported. In essence, all Seac had said was: we don't know . . . yet. It added that it was, in the interests of public health, sticking to its stance that beef products are compromised until proven innocent - at least those produced before the specified bovine offals ban of 1989.

There have been nine more British "definitive and probable" victims of nv-CJD since the announcement of 20 March 1996, bringing the UK total to 19. If there is to be an epidemic, it is still too early to predict what shape it might take.

The research Seac singles out in the recent statement appears close to producing a convincing link between BSE and nv-CJD. …