Letter: Sheep, cattle and CJD

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The Independent Online
Sir: "We need an independent assessment of the dangers posed to humans by BSE in cattle" (leading article, 6 December). Quite. And the soothing official voices heard on the subject today are, directly or indirectly, employed by the Government or the meat industry.

Being retired, I am independent, and as a neuropathologist I spent about 30 years in London's hospitals teaching about the pathology of brain diseases, including CJD. I deal in facts. Facts are what the public are not getting and facts are what they need to help them decide whether to eat beef or not. Here are some facts:

1. BSE, CJD and scrapie (the disease in sheep that infected cattle between 1981 and 1988) are all caused by the same sinister and almost indestructible agent. Experiments carried out on scrapie since the last war reveal that it is easy to transmit to many mammals, including primates.

2. The oft-repeated official statement that BSE cannot cause CJD is incorrect. Correct is: "It is not known whether BSE can cause CJD." And we will not know until about 2005 AD: if the number of CJD cases in the UK then suddenly jumps by, say, a factor of 10, we shall know.

3. It is the brain that is infective - even in (outwardly healthy) animals that are incubating the disease. Adult cattle brains were banned from our "meat products" (meat pies, pates, stock cubes and tinned items) in November 1989 but calves' brains were and still are exempt although calves may be born incubating BSE.

4. Unlike cattle brains, sheep's brains were never removed from the skull in the abattoirs to be added to our foods. That is why we have not had much bother with scrapie-infected meat over the centuries.

Yours faithfully,

H. C. Grant

London, NW3

6 December