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EDITIONS
BSE Monday, 30 November, 1998, 18:59 GMT
Beef on bone risk 'diminished'
The committee originally said the risk was small
The government's committee of experts on BSE has concluded that the latest evidence suggests any possible risk to health from beef on the bone has diminished considerably.

The latest announcement by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) confirms that the possibility of contracting new variant CJD - the human version of BSE - from beef is tiny.

Agricultre minister Nick Brown has responded by saying the government plans to lift the beef on the bone ban early in the new year.

The SEAC report warns that it is still not known how may humans have become infected with nvCJD as a result of exposure to BSE, nor how much BSE infectivity is needed to cause the disease. The part of the beef closest to the bone, and nerve endings is thought to be the most infectious.

"Consequently it is still not possible to predict with any degree of precision the risks to public health from dorsal root ganglia nerve endings or bone marrow," the report says.

"However, with the continuing decline in the numbers of infected cattle which are slaughtered for human consumpton each year any risk from dorsal root ganglia and bone marrow is now less than it was 12 months ago."

The committe defined the risk from bone marrow infection as "likely to be very small" and from nerve endings as " also very small and negligible in comparision to the possible risk earlier in the epidemic."

Professor Sir John Pattison, SEAC chairman, said: "We have looked at the number of animals that are late on in the incubation period, which would be the animals that would cause the most risk to public health potentially.

"There are only one or two or those animals now compared to three or four 12 months ago, and five or six the year before that.

"The incidence of these animals is going down in line with predictions."

No guarantees

Professor Sir John Pattison
Professor Pattison: the risk has diminished
However, Professor Pattison said he could give no guarantees that there would not be a significant rise in the number of people contracting CJD.

He said there were at present there were 32 known cases of humans dying from nvCJD, but he could not estimate how many more there would be.

Asked what was the probability of someone who ate one of infected cattle contracting nvCJD, Professor Pattison said: "Unfortunately we don't know how sensitive the human population is to the infected material."

The beef on the bone ban was imposed on 16 December 1997 by then Agriculture Minister Dr Jack Cunningham after SEAC said that there was a small risk that nvCJD was communicable.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown: plans to lift ban
Mr Brown said: "The risk of eating beef on the bone is substantially diminished from what it was before.

"I intend to take advice from the Chief Medical Officer on how to proceed and I hope it will be possible to lift the beef on the bone ban in the near future."

Monday's report coincided with former Conservative Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell giving evidence to the inquiry into the BSE crisis.

Mr Dorrell said he had not known an earlier ban on beef offal was not being enforced.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
BBC Environment Correspondent Richard Wilson examines the former government's handling of the BSE crisis
Video
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: This announcement will provide an added boost for beef farmers
Audio
The BBC's Richard Wilson: "The beef on the bone ban was a ban too far"
Video
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore: "BSE risk is now negligible"
Audio
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown: The risk from beef on the bone is substantially diminished
See also:

23 Nov 98 | UK
23 Nov 98 | UK Politics
27 Nov 98 | BSE
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