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Saturday, 4 November, 2000, 06:30 GMT
CJD and eating beef 'not linked'
Cows PA
Cattle first showed signs of BSE in the mid-1980s
A study by experts into the case histories of 51 sufferers of vCJD has reportedly failed to produce a positive link with eating beef.

The report from the National CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh also found little evidence to support the theories that medical treatments or victims' occupations could be a factor in developing the disease.

"We have found no evidence of any dietary, iatrogenic or occupational risk for vCJD," said the report, quoted in the Daily Telegraph.

The report findings go against the grain of the general scientific consensus that the most likely means of vCJD transmission is through eating infected beef.

The number of confirmed deaths from the new variant of CJD - the human form of mad cow disease - has been rising steadily since it was first identified in the mid 1990s.

So far this year, there have been 18 confirmed deaths, with another four deaths probably due to vCJD but not confirmed by post mortem examinations.

Victims' histories

For the latest study, the UK Government surveillance unit compared the dietary and medical histories of 51 known victims, with 27 patients who were not suffering from the disease.

Only one of the 51 victims was not a beef eater, and 88% of the sample group had eaten burgers - statistics which appear to match with the population as a whole.

Of the vCJD victims, 54% were found to eat beef more than once a week, compared to 37% of the non-sufferers.

Scientists BBC
Scientists have conflicting theories about the cause of vCJD
But the scientists ruled that these figures were not "statistically significant".

The report also found no direct association between the amount of beef eaten and the incidence of the disease, but said it could not exclude the possibility of a link.

On Friday, the Department of Health admitted the evidence that eating beef was to blame for vCJD was "circumstantial".

Public 'misled'

The Meat and Livestock Commission, which was slammed by the recent BSE inquiry report for overplaying the safety of beef, said the latest report made "interesting reading".

According to the official BSE inquiry report published on 26 October, conservative ministers and their officials repeatedly misled the public about the threat to human health posed by mad cow disease.

Former health secretary, Stephen Dorrell, who was one of the ministers criticised in the report, expressed regret over statements he made relating to the safety of British beef during the BSE crisis.

He said he made a mistake when he said there was "no conceivable risk from beef".

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See also:

26 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
BSE: lessons for science?
25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Blair sees CJD victim's suffering
02 Oct 00 | Scotland
BSE crisis sparks father's anger
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