Monday, April 13, 1998 The Halifax Herald Limited
Ministry in U-turn on mad cow theory
By MICHAEL HORNSBY / The Times of London
London - A hill farmer treated for 10 years as a tiresome crank has been
told by the Ministry of Agriculture that his theory about
pesticides causing "mad cow" disease merits research after all.
Mark Purdey, an organic dairy farmer near Elworthy, Somerset, received a
letter from the ministry after he gave evidence earlier this month to
the BSE inquiry.
"We do now feel that this is an area where more scientific work could
usefully be done," said the letter.
The ministry had previously refused to give any credence to Mr Purdey's
claims. The change was prompted by experiments at the Institute of
Psychiatry in London suggesting that Phosmet, an organophosphate
pesticide used to kill parasites, could have made cattle far more
susceptible to BSE. These findings coincided with doubts about the
official hypothesis that BSE was caused by scrapie being passed to
cattle in feed containing rendered sheep remains.
Attempts to find a strain of scrapie that looks like BSE have failed,
and many scientists now suspect that the disease may always have been
present in cattle at a very low level. Phosmet could have been the
trigger that caused what had been a rare endemic condition to explode
to epidemic proportions.
Purdey and a small group of other organic farmers raised money from
private donors to fund the work by the Institute of Psychiatry.
The ministry first crossed swords with Purdey in 1982 when it ordered
farmers to treat their cattle with Phosmet twice a year to kill warble
fly, a parasite that harms the animals health and reduces the commercial
value of their hides. After a legal battle Purdey was
exempted from using the pesticide and allowed to treat his herd of 70
Jerseys with a non-organophosphate alternative.
"When the first cases of BSE were reported, I was sceptical that
infected feed could be the explanation," he said. "There has never been
a case of BSE in any animal born and bred on an organic farm. Yet I, and
most other organic farmers, had all given our cattle the supposedly
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