>From another list im on, not confirmed, but still interesting enough that
I wanted to inflict it on the body fork.
February 1, 2001
Could the Scientists Be Wrong on Madcow Disease?
Filed at 9:10 a.m. ET
SOMERSET, England (Reuters) - Mark Purdey still eats beef, even ``junk'' in
pies and hamburgers, and he has no fear that he or his wife or six children
will be struck down by the deadly human form of mad cow disease.
``It's an absolute myth,'' the 48-year-old organic farmer says, banging his
fist on a large wooden table to underline his argument that much of the
accepted logic on bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is wrong.
His story unfolds -- a 16-year campaign to explore the effect of
organophosphates, the chemicals he believes are behind the spread of the
brain-wasting disease in cattle and in people.
Purdey says we should distance ourselves from ``the men in bow-ties'' who
have what he calls a monopoly on thought.
Forget the role of tainted animal feed in spreading BSE among cattle or
infected meat in passing the disease to humans as new variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).
Look instead at the use of systemic organophosphates, derived from military
nerve gas, which the UK agriculture ministry told farmers to pour along the
spine of their cattle in the early 1980s to kill a parasite called the
And those used in sprays used in Britain's countryside.
``I have been hammering the establishment theory, the so-called
meat-and-bone meal theory, since 1988 or 1989. Even then I had identified
that meat and bone meal had been sold all over the world, particularly the
Middle East,'' he says.
``If you're blaming this stuff and you're sending it all over the world, why
on earth aren't you getting more BSE?''
He agrees that other scientists would argue it has yet to appear because of
the long incubation period of disease, believed to be caused by a mutated
prion protein in the brain.
But Purdey argues there is little logic in the theory.
He also disputes the argument that BSE is passed to humans via infected
``If it was to do with eating beef we'd have lots of cases in towns, where
most burger bars are, but 60 percent of cases are in rural areas,'' he said.
``Most victims live by fields, where crops are sprayed.''
A self-taught scientist, Purdey says he acted first on ''intuition,''
refusing to treat his 60 cows with the organophosphate, called phosmet, and
going on to win a court battle with the agriculture ministry to make his
When BSE was first detected in a British herd in 1986, he immediately
thought phosmet was the problem -- a theory which after years of unpaid
research has now won respect from senior scientists, public figures and
``Like most things it was instinct. Being a farmer, I was horrified when I
was approached by a ministry official to treat a cow for warble fly by
pouring this chemical along the spinal cord and the base of the head,'' he
``It was an oil designed to seep through the skin and to change the entire
internal environment of the cow into a poisonous medium to kill off the
Purdey began to trawl through books and do field research.
He looked at the clusters of BSE in Britain, clusters of deer and elk in the
United States with a similar illness called chronic wasting disease, and
villages where many people were dying of the more common Creutzfeldt-Jakob
``I went on the road,'' he said, describing trips to the United States,
Slovakia, Calabria in Italy and Iceland.
``To me it was clearly something in the environment that was igniting these
illnesses. But what was this factor?''
He found one common factor -- high levels of manganese, a metal given to
cattle in high doses via the organophosphate.
``What I found in the environment was supported by the laboratory,'' he
said, describing tests by David Brown, a neurobiologist at Cambridge
Purdey explains the prion would normally bond with copper and carry it
around the brain to destroy free radicals. But if lacking copper, the prion
bonds with another metal -- manganese, which stops the prion from folding
He did soil analysis on the areas near clusters of vCJD in Britain and found
high levels of manganese from crop spraying. He concluded the doses of
manganese intensifies the traditional illness, giving vCJD the potency to
kill younger people.
Now all he wants is funding for more research -- something that Agriculture
Minister Nick Brown says may be ready in May after a scientist has reviewed
all work into the origins of BSE.
``In the BSE inquiry there is a caveat that it is not clear whether
organophosphates could have been a contributory factor...it leaves the door
open on organophosphates,'' Brown told Reuters.
But Purdey is worried that the funding may never come.
``No one's prepared to admit it because it would involve massive
compensation,'' he said. ``By keeping the causal agent as something
mystified, no one's to blame.''
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
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