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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 07:06 GMT 08:06 UK
BSE experts say old meat 'is safe'
Cow and calf
More than six million head of cattle have been culled since 1996
Scientists have declared it is now safe for the UK public to eat meat from cattle more than 30 months old, as fears of BSE spreading to humans recedes.

Their comments come as the government orders the rechecking of assessments that risks to humans are negligible.

Government advisers concluded nearly a year ago the risks of mad cow contamination in older cattle were practically zero.

However, the ban on these animals being sold to the public has stayed in place.

'Minimal risk'

Cattle older than 30 months have been bought by the government and taken out of the food chain since 1996.

The scheme costs the British taxpayer 300m a year in compensation to farmers.

We think our analysis is sufficiently robust and we make such pessimistic assumptions in coming to those figures that the balance of evidence is that the rule can be safely lifted
Professor Neil Ferguson
The government's advisory committee on BSE, called Seac, and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), concluded last year the risk of mad cow infection in cattle over 30 months old was almost nil.

But the ban has stayed in place amid concerns among a number of Department of Health officials that some outstanding scientific questions need to be answered.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, was among the scientists who helped carry out the study.

He told the BBC: "There are still many, many uncertainties about the whole area of science surrounding diseases like variant CJD.

"But we think our analysis is sufficiently robust and we make such pessimistic assumptions in coming to those figures that the balance of evidence is that the rule can be safely lifted."

Professor Ferguson said there was still "a process of persuasion" needed to explain the findings to "the widest range of stakeholders".

BBC correspondent Pallab Ghosh said many ministers, officials and senior scientists publicly say it is right that such a potentially large risk to public health should be properly checked out.

But privately these individuals have expressed anger and believe the Health department is being excessively cautious.

Death and paralysis

They argue it is easy for health officials to adopt a precautionary approach when another government department is footing the compensation bill.

BSE has been linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a disease that causes paralysis and death in humans.

Eighteen people died from CJD last year, compared with 17 in 2002, the National CJD Surveillance Unit disclosed last month.

Scientists said last year the worst of the infections could be over after the disease appeared to hit a high point in 2000 with 28 deaths, before falling.

There have been 139 deaths since CJD emerged in the UK nine years ago. None has been reported so far this year.

Seven people thought to have the incurable disease are still alive.


SEE ALSO:
BSE 'old meat' ban may end
07 Jul 03  |  UK
Warning over BSE infections
15 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Call for national CJD tests
01 Dec 02  |  Health
BSE linked to further CJD cases
28 Nov 02  |  Health


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