Pesticides caused BSE, says farmer

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The Independent Online
A FARMER who believes BSE in cattle and "new variant" Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease in humans were due to powerful chemicals used in pesticides rather than infected cattle feed, tried to warn the Government about his theory, writes Charles Arthur, Science Editor.

Mark Purdey, a dairy farmer from Taunton, Somerset, told the BSE inquiry yesterday that he had argued since the early 1980s that organophosphates (OPs), used in a range of treatments from sheep dips to human shampoos against head lice, could cause nerve damage. Mr Purdey, 44, said at the hearing in south London that he did not believe the widely accepted theory that BSE was caused by cattle feed infected with the BSE-like sheep disease scrapie.

"When BSE first came on the scene I was very sceptical about the various theories put forward for it, such as scrapie infected meat and bone meal fed to cattle," he said.

"British meat and bone meal were sold all over the world, including the Middle East, where there has not been a single case.

"I started looking at chemicals as the cause for the disease, because I had a hunch, I suppose. I then heard that people who work with pets or farm animals were most susceptible to new variant CJD and they are also most exposed to OPs, as it is used on cats and farm animals."

In 1985 Mr Purdey won a legal battle with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (Maff), so he did not have to treat his cattle with OPs.

Despite this he had two cases of BSE on his farm - though in animals he had bought from farms using OPs. "I felt there was a kind of alliance between the Government and the chemical companies which produced OP pesticides," he said.

Although he repeated his theory many times, Maff officials either said that it had been researched and rejected, or that it had no merit.