§ Mr. Whittingdale
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on recent deaths of cattle from unidentified viral brain diseases. 
§ Mr. Bradshaw
[holding answer 14 June 2004]: Following a post-mortem examination of a suspect case of botulism in a Holstein yearling heifer in September 2003 on a farm in Cumbria, the Veterinary Laboratory Agency (VA) identified a viral-type encephalomyelitis on histological examination. Examination for the most common neurotropic viruses in the UK proved negative. It was decided that veterinary practitioners 947W should be informed by a letter to the Veterinary Record that suspect botulism cases in cattle might be viral in origin. As background for the letter an examination of VLA records with similar histological findings was carried out. This revealed 21 similar cases of polioencephalomyelitis in cattle and sheep (20 ovine 1 bovine) but with different clinical presentations from 13 premises in England over the past 10 years. The Cumbrian case was reported to the UK Zoonoses Group (UKZG) which considers possible public health action with regard to existing and emerging zoonotic infections. The UKZG suggested that the Health Protection Agency (HPA) be asked to use its recently developed risk assessment algorithm to assess public health implications once more information on the case has been collated. In the light of this decision and the 21 other cases Defra has now asked the HPA to lead a risk assessment to human health on the new condition.