Doctor says Government ignored his BSE alarm

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THE FIRST doctor publicly to voice concerns that BSE posed a significant threat to humans said yesterday that he was ignored by the Government.

Tim Holt published an article in the British Medical Journal in 1988 when he was junior doctor, saying that the issues raised by the disease were being ignored by a food industry with vested interests, a medical profession with little veterinary knowledge and a government eager to avoid a food scare.

After he and a colleague discovered that some butchers were selling cow brains, "we felt we had a strong enough case to argue that human consumers were at risk", he said.

Giving evidence to the BSE Inquiry, Dr Holt, who is now a GP in Yorkshire, said: "I appeared to be one of a very small number of people prepared to give an opinion and an even smaller number of people actually concerned by the epidemic's implications." He received several letters from the public and realised "that the ministry [of agriculture] was less interested in investigating the problem that they ought to have been".

He said he was also concerned that some cattle which did not have symptoms of BSE, but could have been incubating the disease, were entering the human food chain. "The scale of the problem was clearly larger than the public figures indicated and the number of cows incubating BSE was not known, but they were going into the human food products which was a worry."

In the summer of 1988, Dr Holt visited the Central Veterinary Laboratory, in Weybridge, Surrey, and discussed the implications of BSE with Dr William Watson, the then director. "He did not take seriously the possibility that we might end up with a human outbreak of CJD," said Dr Holt. "He said that cattle were a dead-end host like mink. I was not impressed by his lack of concern generally and chose to disregard this reassurance."

Dr Holt expressed concern that most of the work that was being done on BSE was being carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture which, he felt, was not independent enough of the agricultural industry to decide whether adequate measures were being taken to protect human consumers. "It seemed to me that the focus of research was still on animal disease but my feeling at the time was that more research should be focussed on CJD rather than BSE and scrapie."

Dr Holt said he was frustrated at the ministry's reluctance to invest research money where it was really needed and tried to stimulate debate within medical and veterinary circles.

In 1989, he applied to present a paper at the British Society for the Study of Infection's annual meeting but his "controversial contribution" was declined.

The inquiry continues.