Recent reports suggest that France has some four times the number of
BSE cases in the national herd than was previously thought.
France has always had a culling policy such that a single case results in the automatic destruction of the entire herd. France would therefore always have had a lower number of reported cases relative to countries such as the UK where individual cases confirmed with the disease have been slaughtered and recorded as BSE cases.
In the UK several animals in any herd may have contracted the disease over a period of years but in France the first reported case would result in the premature death of any potential further cases.
The UK situation will therefore give a much better idea of the spread pattern and incubation period for the disease.
UK farmers have long thought that "JCB disease" was present on the Continent and that this represented itself on farms threatened with the slaughter of the entire herd if a single cow contracted the disease. In such cases it would be of great financial advantage to the farmer to kill any suspect beast and bury it on the farm so as to avoid the loss of the entire herd simply because of what may be the only BSE case the herd will ever have. Hence "JCB Disease" named after the mechanical digger used to dig the hole.
The low reporting rates are more likely to be due to the slaughter policy having destroyed the herds which may have had more cases.
Both Switzerland and France have carried out tests which show a
sub-clinical level of BSE in the herds. It is not known if those
cases will have gone on to develop the recognised symptoms of BSE.
However it is becoming clear that the frequency of reported BSE cases in France is rising and there is much speculation as to the cause of these cases.
This makes the French ban on UK beef seem even more illogical since it
is clear that their own beef exports present the same risk. In fact
the UK has imported beef from countries which have BSE and yet do not
employ the strict controls on offal, nerve tissue and bone, or the
feeding standards inflicted on UK beef farmers supposedly in order to
protect the public.
France introduced feed controls in 1990 for cattle but did not restrict the use of the suspected feeds for other animals and the continuing rise in cases brought the beginning of the whole herd slaughter policy in 1996. This also failed to halt the rise in cases.
Now the French scientists fear that there may be other transmission mechanisms as yet unidentified and speculation is rife as to what those means might be. It is strange that the other mechanisms proposed in the UK are not included in the list of possible suspects.
The first possibility suggested in France is that the disease is
transmitted from mother to calf.
Although the authorities suggest that this may be a possibility it is difficult to see why so many different herds with unrelated cattle in the UK have had single cases with no family links. It is also likely that if this maternal transmission was a true problem the statistics from the UK epidemic would have proven such effects already.
Current information suggests that although a few cases might suggest maternal transmission this is not common.
Those few cases may simply be that both mother and offspring were exposed to the same triggering agent or agents and not simply that the disease passed to the cow in the womb.
Another suggestion is that the prions, which it has been suggested
cause the disease, do not break down in the gut of the animal and
would be found in the faeces, and therefore in the soil.
The suggestion is that this would then cause a re-infection of the
herd when the cattle graze the grass.
If this was the case then the UK epidemic would have grown much faster than it did and there would have been many more cases in individual herds. Clearly the majority of herds have suffered with one or two cases and many have had just one case. Those with larger numbers seem to be high yielding herds where the animals are pushed to the limits of production. Most are dairy herds where grazing is intensive and feed levels high and in these circumstances any "infection" of the land would be likely to infect the entire herd.
There would also be evidence of re-infection if new herds are established on farms which have previously suffered from the whole herd slaughter policy. To date there seems to be no evidence to support such theories and if there was such evidence then it is clear that any humans involved in cleaning cows, disposing of the manure, tilling the land and cleaning ditches would be at greater risk of the disease.
Additional risks to the other animals during housing would also be found and there would also be the risk of infection for suckling calves and those exposed to the faeces during milking, transport or at slaughter.
There is no evidence for that either.
A further suggestion is that the prions could gather together on mites
and other insects which live on the hay which farmers feed to cattle
in the winter months.
This is a very dubious suggestion since the main risk, if we are to believe the claims about the "infectivity" of prions, would be from the passing of the prion from one "infected" animal to another.
It is suggested that surgical instruments cannot be sterilised in ways which guarantee safety. The prion has apparently been found in the spleen and tonsils with serious questions asked in respect to the safety of blood products.
Despite this veterinary surgeons use the same needles for entire herds when testing them for tuberculosis and instruments used for surgery are commonly used on other animals seemingly with no transfer of the disease.
If transfer of such "highly infective" material is the risk we are told it is then why would the scientists be concerned about mites in hay. Hay has largely been replaced by conserved grass, or maize, as silage in the UK. Why do they blame mites and not the sucking insects which plague cows all summer and which pass from one cow to another in search of blood. Those insects also bite humans and they pass substances into the blood stream which aid feeding.
If insect transfer of BSE was a possibility then there is little doubt that these insects could have passed the disease to entire herds.
There is no evidence for this either.
The scientists are therefore at a loss to explain the rising incidence
of BSE in France or the continued levels in the UK where animals born
well after the ban on the "infected" meat and bone meal are still
diagnosed with the disease. The experts claim that farmers in France
are storing and feeding the "contaminated feed" but that is the same
failed argument which was used in the UK.
If farmers are to gain high yields from their cows they must feed them with food of high quality. Such food has a shelf life after which it begins to go mouldy and will be rejected by cattle.
Despite this the theorists claim that farmers have fed such feed believing that it could cause a deadly disease in the cattle upon which they depend for their livelihood. Such suggestions show a complete ignorance of the way that farms are run and the science does not support the claim because the feed turnover is greater in big herds which show the greatest numbers of born-after-the-ban (BABS) cases.
The French farmers are now accused of the same with the suggestion that their rising BSE numbers may be due to the feeding of "infected" feed and are ignoring the ban on feeding meat and bone meal to cattle.
It is unlikely that the French will find the evidence for this either.
Interestingly the "French Third Way" suggestions make no mention of the proven risks found in the injectables commonly used on cattle which are made from material taken from other dead cattle. High yielding herds often suffer from fertility problems for which hormone injection treatments are used for corrective therapy. Those herds will also be the ones producing sufficient profit for the owner to justify the use of embryo transplants which allow the breeding of several calves from the same dam in the same year. Such techniques also depend on hormone treatments and there is also the possibility that some farmers may have made use of the milk yield enhancing BST hormone or the genetically modified version rBST in trials.
Injecting hormones derived from the dead is a proven transmission method for CJD and yet these hormonal substances were taken from dead cattle and injected into healthy cattle despite that knowledge.
The discussion also avoids the scientifically sound arguments which
suggest that some pesticides, and especially Organophosphates, can
also induce these diseases. Science has recognised that chemicals
such as heroin, which also acts on the central nervous system, can
induce a form of CJD.
It is surprising that such an important potential cause of what has been the most expensive disaster in European agriculture in modern times is being ignored by the scientists involved. What is more surprising is that the scientific theory that BSE was caused by "Infected" feed has been willingly manipulated so that even though the original theory has been disproved by events it still remains the only officially accepted view of causation.
We do not know what the "Third Way" is as yet but it would seem that there is a determination to avoid any inference of injectable drug or chemical pesticide involvement.
The UK BSE Inquiry reported in October 2000.
Despite some £27 million in cost the conclusions they reach suggest that the cause of BSE is not known. Despite further research suggesting inconclusively that BSE may have come from scrapie the Inquiry suggested that there was no evidence supporting this theory.
With no evidence in support scientists suggest that BSE originated in a single animal due to chance mutation of the prions.
Scientists in New Zealand suggest that BSE originated in an antelope imported from Africa despite the fact that no BSE-like diseases have been reported in those animals in their native environment. The theory is said to be based on a mathematical model but appears to have no supporting evidence.
What is perhaps surprising to those who have not understood the involvement of pesticides in this disaster is that the Inquiry suggested that organophosphates may have played a part in the disease.
With no firm conclusions drawn despite all that effort the Inquiry has called for more research into the cause of BSE.
More millions will be handed to the scientists but by the time they have reached their conclusions it is likely that the Foot and Mouth Disease Cull will have destroyed much of the evidence, both in the form of herds with BSE and sheep flocks with scrapie.
Dated 16/9/2000; Updated 27/5/2001
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