DoH letter `copied' from drug lobby firm

Official accused of lifting denial over chemical spray link to BSE
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The Department of Health has come under fire after one of its civil servants used large chunks of text supplied by drug company representatives in a letter to a concerned member of the public.

The use of extensive wording from the National Office of Animal Health Limited (Noah) by the middle-ranking official raises questions about the department's independence. Noah represents the companies which make veterinary drugs.

The letter was written to Dr Peter Gold in East Brent, Somerset, by Dr Tim Marrs, a branch leader in the department covering pesticides and veterinary medicines. Dr Gold had sent a letter to the department calling on it to investigate an alleged link between the use of organophosphate (OP) chemicals as a veterinary medicine and the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The Independent has seen Dr Marrs' reply, written last month and aimed at demolishing any suggestion of a connection.

Three quarters of his 500-word letter is virtually identical to a "position paper" on the alleged link between OPs and BSE published earlier this year by Noah. There were minor changes in sentence order, a few extra words inserted (such as ``you should note that'') and a few sentences were cut.

Having seen the letter, Noah's communications executive Alison Glennon said: ``They [the Department of Health] have taken it from our document.'' She said Noah had no problem with the department doing this. ``We're quite happy about it - what we said is all in the public domain.''

But the department denied Dr Marrs had simply duplicated most of the text from Noah, claiming that both his words and those used by the drugs companies' representative had been cleared by the Government's Veterinary Medicines Directorate and had used information from the European Commission.

``The facts in both documents are true and you'd expect them to be very similar if they drew on the same sources,'' said a spokeswoman.

The match between the two was spotted by Mark Purdey, the Somerset dairy farmer who first suggested the OP-BSE link, after Dr Gold, a university lecturer and Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, sent him the correspondence. ``As Government continually insists on their totally non-hand-in-glove relationship with the chemical giants, this letter sadly betrays their true position,'' he says.

Mr Purdey believes the pouring of OP chemicals, which are powerful insecticides, onto the backs of cattle to control warble fly infestation in the 1980s sparked the BSE epidemic. OPs are the chemicals used in sheep dip which are alleged to have destroyed the health of many farmers and are thought to be behind Gulf War syndrome.

The Government, the OP manufacturers and most scientists studying the epidemic say the OP-BSE theory fails to hold water. They prefer the theory that the epidemic originated when feed containing the remains of sheep with scrapie was eaten by cattle.

According to this the disease agent, a protein, became established in cows and spread rapidly as rendered, ground-up cattle remains were then fed to cattle. But Mr Purdey says further important evidence to back his alternative will soon emerge. ``I'm really excited about the future of it,'' he said.