Letter: Beef cruelty crisis

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The Independent Culture
Sir: BSE, CJD and scrapie (the original brain disease in sheep which caused BSE) are all infections of the mammalian brain caused by a mysterious and almost indestructible agent still poorly understood by scientists.

What is understood, however, is that we all have been eating scrapie- infected mutton for nearly three centuries without apparent ill effect. It is also known that innumerable transmission experiments carried out by MAFF scientists on BSE-infected muscle ("red meat") since 1986 have remained negative: it is easy to transmit BSE to many other mammals using brain or spinal cord tissue but the use of muscle in such experiments has consistently failed.

Cattle brains were banned from our "meat products" in November 1989 because the infective agent is not destroyed by heating. But it is an astonishing fact that, among the plethora of pronouncements pertaining to this problem, no important political person has ever proclaimed, "The red meat of BSE- infected cattle does not transmit the disease any more than scrapie-infected meat: only the brain and spinal cord are infective and these no longer go into human food." Frequent proclamations to this effect would have avoided the ubiquitous panic about "beef," and the resulting desperate and expensive cull, to say nothing of the French incident.

We can all live with BSE, as we have done with Scrapie for centuries, as long as we don't eat the brains. Why has the public - indeed the world - never been told this?


London NW3