Letter: Protect children from BSE

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Sir: I write to endorse the views of Peter Robb (letter, 10 May). The crisis over BSE and CJD is not primarily one over Europe or even farming, but one of public health. More than 12 British teenagers and young adults have contracted a new and fatal brain disease. We do not know its cause, but eating infected beef is by far the likeliest. If this is the case, it is reasonable to fear that more cases will continue to appear. We all hope that precautions taken since 1989 will reduce any transmission, but they may not have been well enforced and they have not stopped the spread among cattle. Our closest neighbours, France and Ireland, have chosen far greater precautions.

If the British measures prove inadequate, any human epidemic will last many years longer than it might have done, unless parents stop feeding beef to their children. Along with many other doctors, I believe this is a prudent option until the statistical risks are much better known.

Like Peter Robb, I am disappointed that the serious media in Britain has been deflected from paying attention to long-term health risks. Government and media have promoted a peculiar view of "science" which has blurred the distinction between facts and interpretations, and excluded any intelligent debate about how to manage uncertainty. I am puzzled that the doctors' professional organisations have not yet challenged this. Perhaps I have missed something, but where are the voices of the BMA, our royal colleges, or the British Paediatric Association?

Who will now speak for teenagers and young people?

Dr John Launer

Tavistock Clinic, London NW3

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