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Mr. Nick Brown: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We must remember that rejected opinions have also informed decision making, so it is right for scientific views to be placed in the public domain.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): I rise to speak not as a former Minister who had responsibility for the matters under discussion, but as somebody who has taken a keen interest in BSE for a considerable number of years. Looking at the Minister, I realise that he is the eighth Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with whom I have raised the issue. I suspect that some current MAFF officials know that all too well.
I am present because I want to speak about the contribution made by a remarkable constituent of mine, Mr. Mark Purdey, to progress on BSE. He appears frequently in the Phillips report and his theories and hypotheses deserve serious attention. I welcome the report. Some thought that it might conclude the matter, but as the Minister said, it is merely a staging post in the search to identify the source of BSE and, very possibly, of nvCJD. That is why I agreed with the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) when he said that we owe it to all the people who have suffered so horrifically, especially from nvCJD, to seek to identify the causes of this terrible calamity. The report does not identify those causes. It states merely that
I appreciate the eight Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whom I have bothered about the issue. I refer especially to my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), who ensured that Mr. Purdey had access to officials to discuss some of his
I am not a scientist, so I hope that the House will give me some licence on the matter. Some of the correspondence that I received from Mr. Purdey was completely incomprehensible to me, but I sought to ensure that it received proper consideration. I should like to describe Mr. Purdey's background. He is a dairy farmer in my constituency. He was a scholar at school and declined a university place to study zoology and psychology in 1972 in order to start a pioneering organic farming community in the west of Ireland. He has been farming ever since and is an independent scientist who is involved in the aetiology of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and has been investigating environmental factors in isolated clusters of TSEs throughout the world. He has published five articles on BSE and organophosphorus theory in peer-reviewed journals.
That is his background. His position originates from his opposition to the Warble Fly Order 1982. When the order was introduced, he refused to dress cattle with organophosphates because he believed that it was dangerous. He thought that the nervous systems of cattle could be damaged by dosing at the Government's advised level, which was three times the manufacturers' recommended dose for the use of that extremely powerful chemical. As somebody who has dipped sheep, I, too, know a little bit about the strength of OP dip. Mr. Purdey's view is accepted by Lord Phillips. His theory is not that the chemical is the cause of BSE, but that it could be the trigger that destabilises the nervous system of cattle.
I should like to illustrate the way in which Mr. Purdey has pursued his theory, and how the official view has altered over time. I have correspondence that I am sure was provided on the best advice available to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries which states that the overwhelming probability was that BSE came from scrapie. Subsequently, at the National Farmers Union conference, Professor Sir John Pattison announced that there was a 50:50 possibility that it came from scrapie, and I remember the impact that that had on farmers. The Phillips report now says that it is fallacious to say that it came from scrapie.
Meanwhile, Mr. Purdey marches on with his theory, which he has sustained and reinforced. It concerns the use of organophosphates. OPs are used to treat cattle with warble fly, but many humans are also exposed to OPs. They are used in crop spraying and they occur in shampoos used to treat children with headlice, and dogs. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk asked for dog leads and collars to be examined when I raised the matter with her originally. Therefore, animals and humans are exposed to OPs in their environment.
Mr. Purdey's work has continued significantly since he gave evidence to the Phillips inquiry. He has identified a link between a copper deficiency and the manganese replacement that appears to interact with OPs to cause what he luridly describes as a lethal chain reaction in the brain. My scientific knowledge is woefully inadequate, but, apparently, copper binds to the prion, and, if copper is absent, manganese will then bind.
Therefore, the theory on which Mr. Purdey is working is that the interaction between OPs, which is accepted by the Phillips inquiry as a possible trigger, when combined with a manganese surplus in the brain, leads to the chain reaction that is causing the problem.
I do not know whether that is right, but I have pressed continuously for Mr. Purdey to be given support and encouragement in the form of research funds so that he can test out his theory. Professors in Italy and France have just completed studies which produce the same correlations as Mr. Purdey has produced independently as a lone dairy farmer, trying conscientiously to research the matter and capable of speaking for four hours before the Phillips inquiry.
There now appears to be a growing body of evidence that that is a much more serious theory than previously thought. It was certainly resisted by scientists in the past, but I hope that, in the light of the Minister's comments, he will ensure that the matter is pursued. I welcome his appointment of Professor Gabriel Horn. I hope that his inquiry will be sufficiently wide-ranging to consider individual viewpoints--I do not say prejudices, although the danger is that people may have preconceived ideas--and will be open to new ideas, so that the matter is pursued.
I pray in aid an important article written on 10 April 1997 by the then hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), now the Minister for the Environment, entitled "Let's find the real cause of BSE". He said:
I recently met Baroness Hayman. I hope that there is a determination to ensure that funds are not limited to traditional lines of inquiry and research, and that the Department will enable Mr. Purdey's theory to be investigated thoroughly.
I welcome what the Minister said about making any scientific advice or material available to the public. I challenge him straight away, because some important material on OPs should be made public. Will he publish the work of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate on the reformulation of organophosphates and the removal of phenol? That material is of significant scientific importance, and should be in the public domain. I am sure that the Minister meant what he said, because he was very forthright. He gave a categoric assurance that he would make such material available, so I hope that the Minister for Public Health will confirm that.