Letter: Questions that scientists must answer on mad cow disease

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The Independent Online
IN 'Mad about cow disease' (30 January), Steve Connor advises us to 'trust scientists, rather than emotional newspaper headlines and television programmes to tell us the truth'. But which scientists? The ones at the Ministry of Agriculture who did not see that feeding cows with protein made from dead sheep, cows, pigs and chickens was asking for trouble? Or the ones who believed (wrongly) that there was no risk from human growth hormone?

For the last five years the government line (based on the best scientific advice) is that there is no risk from eating beef. But during the same period, many mammals have died of spongiform encephalopathies. Clearly this bug has little problem leaping the barrier between species.

There is no biological reason why humans should be uniquely immune. Many people will already have consumed a great deal of meat containing the infective agent. For the time being, 'scientific' estimates of whether many or none will die are little more than guesses.

We are now at the crossroads. Two dairy farmers (out of 115,000) have died of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD), which affects only one in a million, and a teenage girl is dying of a spongiform encephalopathy, a condition usually confined to the elderly. It was clear from our research that few (if any) doctors or scientists working in this area eat burgers, sausages or processed meat. If they would rather not take the risk, shouldn't they share their concerns with the rest of us - or would that not be very scientific?

Richard Belfield

Producer, 'Dispatches'