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Science is enough: BSE researchers' report

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Feb 10, 2005
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nw manitoba
Science is enough: BSE researchers' report
this document web posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005 20050224p84

By Barry Wilson
Ottawa bureau

Those who are skeptical of Canada's BSE control efforts are either ignorant of the science or misinformed, says researchers at the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ont.

The agricultural research centre issued a report last week insisting Canada's BSE response has been more than adequate to control the disease and to ensure public safety.

"The public discussion around the issues appears to have taken a more desperate tone with suggestions of a mass cull of cows and exaggerated reports of feed contaminated with animal byproducts," said a report written by Al Mussell and Larry Martin of the centre.

They insisted perspective is needed to sort out fact from fiction and to understand the logic of the science-based rules now in place.

"If we are to avoid muddled deliberations, the logic of regulation and the science behind it need to be clarified," the centre said in a statement accompanying the report.

The centre's analysts say the science is simple. BSE can only be spread through specified risk material from an animal's central nervous system. With the federal decision to exclude SRMs from the food chain, the risk of BSE is gone.

"Because scientific evidence confirms that the prion (BSE-causing protein) only exists in the SRMs in cattle, BSE control begins and ends with the removal and destruction of the SRMs," said Mussell after release of the report.

Debate about further control measures is redundant because proper measures have been taken and Canada has gone beyond what is scientifically required, he said.

American critics of the Canadian feed ban and BSE control efforts, supported by domestic critics such as the Canadian Health Coalition, argue that BSE dangers exist because animal protein is still fed to animals. They call for a complete ban on animal protein in animal feed and suggest contaminated feed is not the only source of BSE infection.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has taken a halfway step, proposing a complete ban on SRM content in any animal feed, not just ruminant feed, to end the potential for inadvertent cross-contamination. The packing industry, including the American industry, opposes a complete ban, arguing it will add cost and create a waste disposal nightmare. The centre's study insists no further control measures are necessary to ensure human and herd safety.

"The scientific discussions outlined in this report suggest that removing and destroying prions is sufficient to halt the spread of BSE and the risk to human health," said the report.

However, in a separate section of the report, the analysts also sought to cover their tracks if the science they are using to dismiss the critics turns out to be wrong.

"We cannot rule out that the best science, for whatever reason and however remote the possibility, may simply be wrong regarding BSE," said the report. "Adherence to science as the reference in policy decisions is, after all, a social choice, although the alternative of not adhering to science is unclear

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