The beef question

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The Independent Culture
Among the hype about BSE, some may have noticed the lone voice of an organic dairy farmer and BSE researcher, Mark Purdey. For those who haven't, he deserves amplifying. Mr Purdey believes the trigger for the British epidemic was mandatory use of systemic organo-phosphate pesticides, used to treat an outbreak of warble fly in dairy herds in 1984. Organo-phosphates, or OPs, share basic unit chemicals with thalidomide and Iraqi nerve gas.

Mr Purdey took the Ministry of Agriculture to court in 1984 and succeeded in stopping treatment of his cows. He, and fellow organic farmers, have not had any cases of BSE in home-reared cattle (nor has it been common in beef herds, which were not treated). Of European countries, only Switzerland employed systemic OPs, and it is the only other European country where baffling cases of BSE are also appearing.

While evidence suggests that the mutant prion protein responsible for BSE may pass through the placenta from mother to calf, there is no evidence that BSE travels across herds, like a virus or bacteria. Even so, current proposals favour slaughter of entire herds, and the restocking of them from imported cattle. But cattle imported to replace slaughtered herds are doused with OPs as they enter British ports, to eliminate warble fly.

Mr Purdey, in association with Friends of the Earth, is now fundraising to start tests in which prion proteins are exposed to toxic metabolites, as would occur in the system of a cow doused with OPs. He needs just pounds 5,000 to begin. Send donations to Mark Purdey, Friends of the Earth, 26-28 Underwood Street, N1 7JQ.