Food safety chief plays down study on 'hidden' BSE

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The Independent Online

The head of the Food Standards Agency says there is no need to introduce further BSE controls despite warnings that the disease may jump more easily than previously believed from one species to another.

The head of the Food Standards Agency says there is no need to introduce further BSE controls despite warnings that the disease may jump more easily than previously believed from one species to another.

Professor Sir John Krebs gave the reassurance last night in response to claims that other animals could harbour the disease without any symptoms. He said there was no need for people to change their eating habits in response to the findings.

Sir John, chairman of the agency, also said the study had no new evidence that BSE was entering the food chain.

Scientists led by Professor John Collinge said that not only cattle, but sheep, pigs and poultry exposed to BSE via animal feed may have developed a "subclinical" form of the disease that remained symptom-free and hidden.

Animals thought to be healthy and incapable of acquiring BSE could in theory pass on the disease to humans.

The agency welcomed the study, which it said needed to be considered by the agency's advisers on the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee on 29 September before being made public. Sir John said: "However, we do not believe there is any immediate need to introduce further controls given that existing ones are already very extensive.

"The new study on its own does not provide any evidence of BSE entering the food chain. Nor is there any evidence of BSE infection spreading through pigs or poultry. What the study does do is support the precautionary approach being taken to protect public health."

The agency argued that the possible presence of infectivity in apparently healthy animals was already taken into account in present controls.

These include removing specified risk material (SRM) from cattle and a ban on the sale of beef from any bovine older than 30 months. SRM controls also apply to sheep as a precaution, but no sign of BSE in sheep has been found. Testing on sheep continues.

* News of the research came as a man was critically ill in hospital after contracting the human form of mad cow disease. The man, whose name and age are not being released, is being treated in the Princess Royal Hospital, Telford, Shropshire.

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