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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, as a member of the medical profession, I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that the Government take advice from the medical and scientific community. We would not act without that.
As regards the individual cases, I do not have that detailed knowledge. However, I can tell the noble Lord that none of the 10 cases is the result of growth hormone or other medical interventions. These 10 cases come from the sporadic group. He will know that with this disease there are several groups, including iatrogenic, familial and GSS.
The committee and the other advisory committee which we set up, the National CJD Surveillance Unit, often submitted papers to the Lancet and to other learned medical journals. Perhaps they will do so in this case, but that is a matter for them; it is not a matter for me.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is there any recognisable symptom, apart from the onset of dementia, that a parent or anyone else can appreciate? Is there any effective antidote? If so, is the antidote or the treatment freely and generally available? I ask in ignorance; I really do not know.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, this is, of course, a very rare condition. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, it is found in only one in a million; it is extremely rare. I am not sure whether it has ever been found in young children, but there have been cases in teenagers. The group being looked at involves those under 42. As my noble friend said, very often it is found in elderly people.
Not only dementia, but also an uncertain gait, and sight and speech impairment are physical symptoms of this disease. As regards an antidote, there is not one. There is not a test either. That is why it is a quite difficult disease to identify and to control.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, is a man for whom I have the highest regard? However, it does no good for Sir Kenneth to say that he will continue to eat beef. That reflects shades of Edwina Currie saying that she will continue to have a boiled egg while telling the nation that eggs caused salmonella poisoning. I appeal to the Minister to use her not inconsiderable persuasive powers to stop public figures from making such statements which do not reassure the public. Millions of people will not rush into restaurants either tonight or Saturday night saying, "Sir Kenneth Calman will have a steak so it must be all right for me to have one too". It does not work like that.
Perhaps I may ask two practical questions. First, will the Government provide the resources necessary to fund additional research? Secondly, does the issue of food labelling have any implication for the consumer?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I really resent the comments made about the Chief Medical Officer. I share the noble Lord's view that he is a man of enormous integrity. However, the Chief Medical Officer on frequent occasions has been asked by the media whether he would eat beef. Therefore, as the media feel it an important question, it seemed appropriate that he should answer it straightforwardly in his statement.
The Government have set aside £4.5 million for research. That is in addition to the MRC and other funding bodies. It will be up to the research and development division to commission the research and to ensure that its protocols and submissions are speedily considered.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, first, perhaps I may return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, about the position in relation to parents and local education authorities. What should a local education authority do tomorrow? Does it serve beef or not? As I understand the noble Baroness, so far as the Government are aware there is no particular risk as regards children. Notwithstanding that, the committee is having a weekend meeting to discuss that precise question. I do not wholly understand the logic of that position. Perhaps the noble Baroness will clear it up for us.
Secondly, the noble Baroness kindly said that she would look into the circumstances in which the statement of the Chief Medical Officer was not available in the Printed Paper Office. I hope that that will be done. I am sure that she will follow it up. It is very disturbing that a statement of this considerable public importance is not available to Members.
As regards advice to local authorities and parents, the scientific committee advising us has said that there is at present no evidence of age sensitivity. Those findings do not change the scientific evidence of developing CJD in those eating meat in childhood. The committee will, of course, provide further advice, as the noble Lord said. At this moment it sticks with its current advice.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, will my noble friend give me some advice on the plethora of figures? Do I understand that these cases involved people below the age of 42? Is there any significance in that specific age; and, if so, why?
Lord Gladwin of Clee: Lords, it is not a question of whether the Chief Medical Officer will eat beef, or whether we will eat beef. Is not the question whether young children in schools should be given beef products and products made from offal? Is that not where the doubt arises?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I believe that I have answered that question several times this afternoon. There is at present no evidence of age sensitivity; and the findings do not change the scientific evidence of developing CJD in those eating meat in childhood. I think that that is quite clear. Clearly there is anxiety on this issue. That is why we have asked the scientific committee to consider the issue again and to come back to us with its findings. As I said, it will be meeting over the weekend.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will my noble friend clear up some confusion in my mind? The abattoir regulations were introduced in 1990. First, if those regulations have been strictly enforced from 1990 to the present day, should there be no worry for people eating beef now? Secondly, are the Government utterly convinced that the abattoir regulations are being strictly enforced?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the statement by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee is that the most likely explanation at the moment for the 10 cases is that they are linked to exposure to BSE before the introduction of the ban in 1989. As to the second part of my noble friend's question, I shall leave it to my noble friend, who will pick up the agricultural issues in a moment.
Lord Blease: My Lords, has the Minister any information about the implications on the international scene? Has any information or have any statistics been brought forward on what is happening in EC countries or internationally? It is important for our business associations and for cross-Community relations that we should be aware of what is happening in other countries.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, CJD is no more prevalent in this country than in other European countries. Indeed, it is no more prevalent in countries that do not have BSE. That is a telling statement.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the Government have taken action in removing the offal that was thought to be a carrier of the disease. As to my giving specific advice this afternoon, I would not do so. I want it to be based on the scientific evidence that we shall receive shortly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on BSE which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Statement is as follows:
"The additional recommendations just made by SEAC that most immediately affect agriculture departments are that carcasses from cattle aged over 30 months must be deboned in specially licensed plants supervised by the Meat Hygiene Service and the trimmings kept out of any food chain; and that the use of mammalian meat and bonemeal in feed for all farm animals be banned.
"I do not believe that this information should damage consumer confidence and thus the beef market. But I should say that support mechanisms exist in the common agricultural policy and the Government will monitor the situation closely. I will naturally report developments to the House.
"I recognise that there will be public concern, but the Government's Chief Medical Officer advises us that there is no scientific evidence that BSE can be transmitted to man by beef. Indeed, he has stated that he will continue to eat beef as part of a varied and balanced diet, as indeed shall I. In view of what I have announced, we believe that British beef can be eaten with confidence."
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