How one cow's death led to an epidemic

The chain of events
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Indy Lifestyle Online

1970s Somewhere in south-west England, the first cow dies of BSE - and is used for cattle feed (known as MBM), starting the epidemic.

1970s Somewhere in south-west England, the first cow dies of BSE - and is used for cattle feed (known as MBM), starting the epidemic.

1985 "Cow 133" on farmer Peter Stent's farm dies, having earlier developed head tremor and incoordination. In September it is decided to have died from a "spongiform encepalopathy" - the first identified case of BSE.

1986 BSE was first identified as an entity, says subsequent Southwood Report, set up by Department of Health.

1987 William Rees, then Chief Veterinary Officer, tells Maff about BSE - after a time lapse that the BSE Inquiry calls "concealment". After six months studying the epidemic, John Wilesmith of the Central Veterinary Laboratory concludes BSE is spread by contaminated MBM.

1988 Sale, supply and use of certain food products for feeding to ruminants is banned; this should have stopped the BSE epidemic but was widely flouted. Slaughter policy announced, to kill all animals showing clinical symptoms - but only offering half of market price for killed cattle. Farmers hurry to sell infected cows at market.

1989 Southwood Report says offal should not be used in baby food. Generally soothing about effects on adults but warns that "if we are wrong we are very wrong". Government says all its recommendations "have or will be" introduced. Offals ban, stopping use of various organs from any cow for human or pet food, announced by Government.

1990 John Gummer, then Minister of Agriculture, feeds his six-year-old daughter Cordelia a beefburger at an agricultural fair to display his feelings about British beef. First cat dies of "feline BSE". Sir Donald Acheson, Chief Medical Officer at the time, declares that beef is safe to eat.

1992-1993 Peak of BSE cases: 36,771 animals in a year, or 0.3 per cent of the national herd.

1993 Dr Kenneth Calman, Chief Medical Officer, repeats his predecessor's 1990 claim that beef is safe to eat. 100,000th confirmed case of BSE in the United Kingdom.

1995 Stephen Churchill dies aged 19: first known victim of vCJD. His was one of three vCJD deaths in 1995.

1996 CJD Unit informs Seac of findings of vCJD. Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, tells Parliament that the best explanation for cases of vCJD is exposure to BSE.

1997 Jack Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture, announces a BSE inquiry will start in January 1998 and will report "in a year". The inquiry is extended twice. Jack Cunningham bans beef on the bone.

1998 BSE inquiry opens. It has 138 hearing days, calls 338 witnesses, and costs £16m. Three people from Queniborough, in Leicestershire, die of vCJD; Government scientists begin investigating the "cluster". The ban on beef on the bone is lifted.

26 October 2000 BSE report is published. So far, more than 80 Britons have died of, or have, vCJD. An unknown number may yet develop the disease.

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