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From: TSS ()
Subject: Mad cow research to continue
Date: August 19, 2006 at 9:39 am PST

August 19, 2006 - 6:34 PM
Mad cow research to continue

One of the world's leading experts on mad cow disease tells swissinfo why the Swiss government will continue research into the disease despite its near disappearance.

Adriano Aguzzi, director of the Institute of Neuropathology at Zurich University, says research will now focus on preventing human-to-human transmission of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis).

Aguzzi headed research five years ago which discovered how prions – the infectious agents believed to cause BSE and its human equivalent, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – reach the brain.

The government has decided to discontinue the BSE unit he heads in its present form at the end of the year, due to the near eradication of the disease in the country. The unit was created in 2001 to deal with the healthcare emergency.

However, the Italian scientist says research and monitoring will continue.

swissinfo: How do you view the decision taken by the cabinet to dissolve the "mad cow" unit?

Adriano Aguzzi: I think the decision to scale down the unit is the right one. But I'd like to point out that the research unit will not disappear, it will simply be restructured in order to respond to other needs. We could even say that the "mad cow" unit has become a victim of its own success. In Switzerland, thanks primarily to the Federal Veterinary Office, the goal of wiping out the disease has been reached.

Mad cow disease has virtually disappeared and detailed controls, such as the one conducted up to now, have become less of a priority. However, this does not mean that we can let our guard down completely.

swissinfo: Can we consider the disease to have been eradicated once and for all or are we still threatened?

A:A.: There are some indicators suggesting that mad cow disease can never be overcome completely. Indeed, sporadic cases may still occasionally crop up. What counts is to be sure that the high-risk organs do not enter the human food chain. And this certainty has existed in Switzerland for over ten years.

swissinfo: What balance can be drawn from the work done by this unit?

A.A.: The result is very positive, also in terms of my personal experience as a scientist and researcher. I would actually like to underscore the excellent working environment at all levels. I have no doubt that if we have achieved these results it is due in part to the direct link between science, politics, administration and those called upon to take practical and specific decisions.

In all these years I have enjoyed seeing how it is possible to conduct a dialogue and cooperate at different levels. And, believe me, this is not something one can take for granted.

Thanks to these synergies, important decisions and initiatives were taken in real time. The politicians were able to translate scientific progress into specific measures aimed at wiping out the disease.

swissinfo: What should be the focal point in future?

A.A.: In future, research and preventive activities will focus on the transmission of the disease not so much from cows to people but from one person to another. We must remember that 160 people have died from the disease. This is not a particularly high number although it was of course a tragedy for each person concerned.

Although there were no deaths in Switzerland it would be illusory to think that nobody was infected. Our efforts will now concentrate on preventing these people transmitting the disease to others.

swissinfo: In hindsight, do you think the concern surrounding mad cow disease was exaggerated?

A.A.: No, not at all. On the contrary, I think the level of concern helped to generate the right reaction. Because scientists and political bodies took it so seriously, we were able to take preventive action. And, let me repeat, with great success.

swissinfo: Do you believe that research in Switzerland is sufficiently well developed and able to deal with emergencies such as mad cow disease – and to find a response?

A.A.: In the field of research in life sciences (biology, medicine), Switzerland is certainly one of the forerunners. The number of important discoveries here in relation to the size of the population is in fact higher than in the United States.

However, it would be a serious mistake to rest on our laurels, because our future well-being will be based precisely on the quality of research and scientific and technological progress. In this sense, I am afraid that things may develop in the wrong direction. At the moment, in fact, Switzerland is no longer competitive in terms of investment in research.

If we think of what is currently being done in countries like China, India and Singapore which can count on high-calibre universities that concentrate on developing new technologies, Switzerland runs the risk of standing still – and suffering the consequences.

Obviously, these savings are minor in the immediate future. But believe me, our children and grandchildren will not thank us at all for the decisions we take today.

swissinfo, interview: Françoise Gehring

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swissinfo - Edititorial

This message is not an unsolicited e-mail. It was sent in reply to a question submitted on

Our answer:
Dear Mr. Singeltary,

Thank you for your comments. We hope you will continue enjoying the stories on the swissinfo website.

Yours sincerely,

swissinfo/Swiss Radio International

Your question:
Date: Aug 17, 2006 2:04:00 AM

Name: Terry S. Singeltary Sr.

Country: United States


Subject: Feedback - English

Comment: re- August 16, 2006 - 12:13 PM

Mad cow disease no longer a priority



Date: August 16, 2006 at 9:19 am PST


August 16, 2006 - 12:13 PM

Mad cow disease no longer a priority

The Federal Veterinary Office says it will reduce its BSE unit from 20 people to 12 by the end of 2006 and shift its focus to the entire food production chain.

The unit, which was created in 2001 to deal exclusively with mad cow disease, will in future concentrate on animal health and protection, humane production, food safety and hygiene.

The bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) unit's budget will also be reduced by over a third, from SFr3.5 million ($2.8 million) to SFr2 million.

So far this year two cases of BSE have been reported; in 2005 the Swiss authorities reported three cases of the encephalopathy in animals that were infected in the mid-1990s.

The crisis over mad cow disease peaked in Switzerland in 1995 when 68 cases were reported across the country.

The infection was found to spread through the use of meat and bone meal to feed cattle. This was banned in 1990 as one of the first measures implemented by the Swiss authorities, but it took years before it completely disappeared from farms.

It was only in 2004 that no traces of banned animal products were found in feed for livestock for the first time. In 2003 0.3 per cent of tests still revealed traces.

Model nation

In 1990 Switzerland became the third European country after Britain and Ireland to register cases of BSE in its cattle. The disease was first defined in Britain in November 1986. Some 83,000 cases have been detected there since then.

The human illness, Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), was recognised in 1996 and is thought to result from the consumption of BSE-infected meat. There have been no cases of vCJD reported in Switzerland.

In 2004, the United Nations praised Switzerland for its efforts to control mad cow disease, calling it a model for other nations.

The same year, Swiss experts were sent to the United States, following that country's first confirmed case of BSE.

swissinfo with agencies


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