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World over-reacting to BSE, says expert

5 February 2004
World over-reacting to BSE, says expert

The world is over-reacting to the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and more lives would be saved by better management of other deadly foodborne illnesses.

That’s the opinion of Professor Stuart MacDiarmid, who was invited to join an international expert panel to report on measures taken in the United States following the detection of a cow with BSE just before Christmas. Professor MacDiarmid is Principal Adviser, Zoonoses and Animal Health at the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

The report of the expert panel was released today in the United States. Professor MacDiarmid was on the panel with other internationally recognised BSE experts Professor U Kihm and Dr D Heim from Switzerland, Professor W Hueston from the US and Dr D Matthews from the UK.

The expert panel has made several recommendations including banning the use of specified risk materials such as brain, spine and nervous system tissue in cattle over 12 months old, banning the mechanical recovery of meat and putting systems in place to prevent contamination from specified risk materials in feed for ruminants.

Professor MacDiarmid says while the panel has recommended measures to control the spread of BSE in the US, he believes the world is over-reacting to this animal illness and its human form vCJD (variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease).

“The Brits had 180,000 cases of BSE and 150 people have died. No other country is going to have that risk to humans. Every year thousands of people die from other conventional bacterial foodborne illnesses and every dollar more that is thrown at BSE is a dollar not available to spend on these other diseases. All that extra money that is poured into BSE could be spent saving a lot more lives lost through conventional foodborne diseases,” Dr MacDiarmid says.

“In 1996 when the first cases of vCJD were identified as being due to BSE it was absolutely proper that people should put all sorts of measures in place. What’s happened over the years is, as cases of BSE are detected in more countries, people keep wanting to put more and more safeguards on those already in place. The number of vCJD cases in the UK appears to be going down. Whatever the risk to humans of BSE, it is not as great as was first feared in 1996. It is time to take a deep breath and put things in perspective,” he says.


The panel’s report is available at

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