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Sunday, 29 October, 2000, 13:19 GMT
CJD death toll 'much larger'
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
Brown: Former government should have acted sooner
The number of deaths from the human form of mad cow disease could become "much, much larger", warns Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

Amid speculation that the death toll could rise to one a day, Mr Brown told the BBC that the government could not estimate the number of people who would be affected.

"When we took the decision to enhance the care package for the victims of variant CJD - the human BSE - and to put compensation arrangements in place as well, we were very mindful of the fact that the numbers to whom this applies could be much, much larger," he said.

"The reason we don't know is because we don't know the incubation period in humans.


I eat British beef, I know British beef is amongst the safest in the world

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
"It is going to be some considerable time before we know how the current condition is incubating in the population."

Saturday's revelation that a 74-year-old man has died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) - the human form of mad cow disease - raised fears of an epidemic.

Until then, all the known victims of vCJD had been aged between 12 and 55.

Mr Brown stressed there was considerable research now going on into vCJD.

"There is an enormous amount of important work under way," he said.

'National tragedy'

Asked if he now considered British beef to be safe, Mr Brown said: "I eat British beef, I know British beef is amongst the safest in the world."

The minister added that a programme was under way to eliminate scrapie in Britain's sheep "just in case on the very long-shot that it might be masking the BSE condition".

Mr Brown also explained why his statement on Thursday's Lord Phillips report on BSE failed to criticise former Conservative cabinet ministers.

"This has been a national tragedy - everybody accepts that and I thought it right to do it in a measured and restrained way," he said.

"I, frankly, think the victims and their families would prefer that rather than see the whole thing immediately become a party political fight."

Douglas Hogg
Douglas Hogg: Slammed

But Mr Brown went on to tell the BBC's Breakfast With Frost programme that the former government should have acted "a lot sooner" to stop the disease getting into the food chain and that its "response didn't work".

He also criticised former Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg for claiming the Lord Phillips report had vindicated some of his actions.

"I didn't think Douglas Hogg behaved particularly well," he said.

"To pick two bits of the report which he thought spoke well of him and not to refer to at least three other bits which did not speak so well of him was, I thought, partial and very much the wrong tone coming from a former Conservative minister who had been at the heart of this when it was developing."

An investigation in Sunday's Observer newspaper claims to have discovered that BSE-infected ash is escaping from an incinerator in Lincolnshire which is burning the carcasses of slaughtered cattle.

According to the paper, the Environment Agency fears the ash contains traces of the infective protein which transmits BSE to humans.

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CJD

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See also:

26 Oct 00 | Health
1m care package for vCJD victims
25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Blair sees CJD victim's suffering
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