Letter: BSE in sheep

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The latest bleatings from the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), concerning the possibility of BSE in sheep and the "national emergency" that might attend any confirmation of this scenario, should be dismissed or, at best, treated with profound scepticism (report, 8 September).

Twenty-seven human cases of new-variant CJD, probably of bovine origin, have been confirmed to date. However, since the incidence is falling, there will not be an epidemic, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of individuals will have eaten BSE-infected beef at some time in the past. When the eventual total number of confirmed cases is known, we can virtually guarantee that it will be tiny. Certainly, when compared to deaths from smoking for example, BSE pales into insignificance.

SEAC is becoming adept at maintaining the highest possible public profile for BSE, with dire knock-on effects both for farmers and consumer confidence. Undoubtedly we need more information about BSE transmission and infectivity but in the meantime SEAC should refrain from spreading alarm and despondency. Unlike scrapie, anxiety is a proven killer!

Dr JOHN RILEY

Department of Biological Sciences

University of Dundee

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