HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1677-8W
Mr. Rosindell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures are in place to ensure that there is no new outbreak of CJD in Britain. [147712]

Miss Melanie Johnson

It has been scientifically established that the strains of agent causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) are indistinguishable, and the most plausible explanation, although not yet proven, is that BSE transmitted to humans via contaminated meat or meat products. In 2002, the World Health Organisation published consumer information, which states that the consumption of contaminated meat and other food products from cattle with BSE is presumed to be the cause of vCJD in humans.

The United Kingdom has in place stringent controls to minimise the risk of the BSE agent getting into the food chain. These include a ban on mammalian and other processed animal proteins being fed to farmed livestock; the specified risk material (SRM) controls that prohibit from human consumption those parts of the animal that might harbour BSE; and the over 30 months rule that does not permit most older animals to enter the food chain. The Beef Assurance Scheme does allow a few older animals into the food chain, if reared from grass in beef herds, subject to special rules. All measures currently in place are rigorously enforced, for example by members of the Meat Hygiene Service supervising activity at abattoirs.

The Department of Health has taken a number of measures to reduce the risks of CJD infection arising from one person passing it on to another, in particular through blood and surgery.

Mr. Havard

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research has been undertaken to establish whether an increase in sporadic CJD is connected to BSE contaminated meat. [153860]

Miss Melanie Johnson

An increase in deaths in the United Kingdom from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) from about 10 per year in 1970 to about 40 a year in the 1990s has been reported. These rates are comparable to those observed elsewhere in the world, including countries free of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The increased numbers reported probably reflects improved diagnosis, particularly in elderly patients.

Recent examination of the possible causes of the increased rates of sporadic CJD in Switzerland concluded that there was no evidence that the Swiss patients developed the disease as a result of exposure to BSE.

A laboratory study in an animal model published in 2002 (Asante et al 2002. EMBO Journal vol 21) raised the possibility that BSE infection may be linked with disease pathology characteristic of sporadic CJD in humans. Copies are available in the Library. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), the independent, international group of experts that advises the United Kingdom Government on all matters connected with transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, considered this paper in February 2003 and acknowledged that it was plausible but considered that the new work did not provide strong evidence to support the hypothesis.

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