In response to the French public's consternation over rising numbers of cattle infected by BSE, research minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg has announced a tripling of the budget for research into spongiform encephalopathies and prions, writes Jane Marshall in Paris.
In 2001, €32 million (£19 million) will be spent on efforts to develop new tests for detection, research into the nature of the infectious agent and the physiopathology of prion diseases, epidemiological and therapeutic research, and investigating alternative methods to incineration for destroying stocks of meat and bonemeal (MBM).
Measures will include opening more laboratories, animal houses and banks for infected tissues, and the recruitment of an extra 120 researchers and other specialised staff by 2003.
Present BSE tests had limitations, said Schwartzenberg, because they detected the condition in animals only 30 months after infection and could only be carried out after death. As a result, samples, which came from the central nervous system, were difficult to take.
The minister said there were no satisfactory tests for diagnosing sheep or, for that matter, humans. Tests will be developed that can detect the condition earlier, in living cattle and sheep, and eventually diagnose CJD in humans.
Research into ways of destroying meat and bonemeal other than by incineration is a new area, said Schwartzenberg. It will concentrate on methods to make MBM biologically and chemically inert so it can be disposed of safely, or transformed chemically or absorbed by micro-organisms.
At the end of 1996, the French set up a research programme into the diseases. The budget was designed to rise each year, reaching €10 million in 2000.