This is going to be an interesting issue. For anyone who is tracking bio/chem warfare, prions open a whole new range of problems, as they are proteins (not DNA, and a step above a chemical) which appear to be able to convert other like-proteins into similar dangerous forms just through molecular contact (for anyone familiar with nanotechnology, this looks like an assembler-gone-wrong, where you get a cascade threat that is geometric, as a single 'bad' protein converts others, which then convert more). Molecular chemistry isn't advanced enough to cope with this sort of threat; the real danger is that a small amount of the material could have been consumed, but the 'incubation' period is long as it requires random-path molecular conversion before you start to get effects you can recognize as a disease (as the small number of ingested protein convert other 'normal' protein in the brain to 'bad' protein, they 'stack' and form 'chains' of molecules which appear to do the real damage in the brain). The condition is non-reverseable (as of now), and the only reliable method to confirm the condition is autopsy. --MW Monday March 9 11:36 AM EST Britain Starts Probe of Mad Cow Scandal By Paul Keller LONDON (Reuters) - Britain launched a wide-ranging inquiry Monday to try to identify the causes of mad cow disease and its deadly human equivalent. The probe, set to last 18 months, will attempt to give a definitive account of one of Britain's worst public health scandals which has crippled the beef industry and dented Britain's standing in Europe. The inquiry into mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), chaired by senior judge Sir Nicholas Phillips, was ordered by Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham. The ruling Labor Party accuses the previous Conservative government of overseeing lax animal feed regulations which allowed the disease to take hold in the late 1980s, and of failing to act quickly enough to contain the crisis. Phillips has promised, however, that there will be no witch-hunt and that the aim is not to find fault, but to see what can be learned from previous errors. "This is an extremely important inquiry. Many people have been affected, some tragically, by BSE and Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD, the human equivalent). I hope this inquiry will reveal events and decisions which led to the spread of these diseases," Phillips said. The costs of the investigation, including a website which will carry daily transcripts and witnesses' submissions, are estimated at 10 million pounds ($16 million). The website started by giving an account of the early cases of BSE and CJD. The inquiry is likely to call hundreds of ministers, former ministers, civil servants, scientists and farmers in the coming months in a bid to find out why the authorities were slow to understand the risks of mad cow disease and equally slow to take action. Phillips is joined on the panel by former top civil servant June Bridgeman and Malcolm Ferguson-Smith, a Professor of Pathology at Cambridge University. His inquiry will look at government policy well before November 1986 when the first case of BSE was confirmed in Britain, and will go up to March 1996. Mad cow disease has resulted in the slaughter of thousands of cattle both in Britain and abroad. The crisis prompted the European Union to impose a beef export ban in March 1996 which is still in force. The ban was implemented after scientists identified a new variant of CJD, a deadly human brain-wasting illness which they said could be contracted by eating infected beef. The feeding of meal containing sheep and cattle offal to cows, which are natural herbivores, has been blamed for the development of the disease. The practice was banned in Britain in September 1989. So far 24 cases of new-strain CJD have been confirmed. But the disease's long incubation period means cases could date back to eating beef contaminated with mad cow disease in the 1980s, making it impossible to predict how many more will be affected, doctors say.
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