Letter: BSE and censorship

Sir: Don Carleton's letter (22 December) is a useful contribution to the BSE debate, at least in part. However, he states: "You report that Iain McGill claimed that he and Gerald Wells of the Central Veterinary Laboratory discovered a spongiform encephalopathy in a cat ("BSE scientist was `censored'", 11 December)". Neither I nor The Independent has made such a claim.

The first case of a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in a domestic cat was indeed, as Mr Carleton states, discovered at the University of Bristol by veterinary surgeons: Janet Wyatt - now Janet Bradshaw - working in association with Dr Geoffrey Pearson and others. The brain sections were referred on to Gerald Wells at the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) Central Veterinary Laboratory for his expert opinion during April 1990. He passed the sections to me for comment. We presented a paper including some of the feline BSE work at a conference in Brussels under the auspices of the European Commission in November 1990.

Your news report was concerned with the "censorship" of government scientists. As reported in Dispatches (Channel 4, 11 December) a paper by Gerald Wells and myself published in the book compiled from the conference (Spongiform Encephalopathies, 1991 pp11-24) had changes made to it by senior MAFF officials. Referring to the work by Wyatt, Pearson and others, Mr Carleton states: "At no time in that process was their work in any way delayed or censored by the Ministry of Agriculture or by the CVL." Publication by academics at Bristol University is not the subject at issue.

In addition, the initial academic communication (of which Gerald Wells is a co-author) by Wyatt, Pearson and others (Veterinary Record 1990 p513) does not contain statements linking the disease in cats with BSE, the issue over which censorship has been alleged.


London SW7