Brussels, 29 March 2002
European Commission sources have indicated that the EU Scientific steering committee will hold to its 'standing opinion' that BSE prions do not infect cattle muscle. This strengthening of conventional wisdom on the issue follows the release of supporting evidence - in the form of new test results - by the French food safety agency, AFASSA.
A twist in the BSE debate was provoked last week when research released by Nobel prize winner Stanley Prusiner of the University of California raised fears that the scientific basis of current anti-BSE measures could be mistaken.
Prusiner's team discovered prions in the hind legs of mice, indicating that BSE prions might be able to infect the muscle of cattle. Up until now, measures against BSE have been based on the assumption that prions are transmitted only through the nervous systems or lymphatic tissues of cattle.
The French authorities decided to launch new tests on cattle following the publication of Prusiner's findings. However, their food safety agency, AFASSA, found no prions in the muscles of the BSE-infected cattle that they tested.
A European Commission spokeswomen said yesterday that this confirms earlier tests carried out in Britain. She indicated that Prusiner's research was irrelevant on two counts. Firstly, it was carried out on mice and the structure of mice cannot be compared with humans or bovines. Secondly, Prusiner's research concerned scrapie prion which, although it is similar to BSE prion, is not the same protein.
'The implications of this research have been totally exaggerated in the press,' she claimed. 'Stanley Prusier is a good scientist but he is also a good PR man.'
She predicted that although the EU's Scientific steering committee would discuss his research at its next meeting, his findings would have 'no concrete impact' on its standing opinion that BSE prions do not infect the muscle of cattle. 'Muscle is pretty safe to eat,' she said, 'this has not changed that.'
The EU Scientific steering committees meet every six weeks. They consist of members of research institutes and universities are not paid by the Commission, but give their opinions on a voluntary basis.
For background information, please consult the following address http://www.euractiv.com/cgi-bin/cgint.e xe/458130-515?targ=1&204&OIDN=1503163
See also http://www.liberation.fr/quotidien/sema ine/020328-030022084SOCI.html