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The Diary
Anne Ku

27 October 2000 Friday


I never quite understood why "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun" until I saw my English friend get burned like a beached whale in South East Asia. I still didn't quite get why mad dogs would go out, until I read about the mad cow disease.

It's quite frightening to read the growing evidence that points to the link between mad cow disease BSE (bovine spongiform encephalophathy) and the human-equivalent CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). In the years I've lived here, I learned, as others have in this country, that anyone who has eaten infected beef could eventually get the brain-eating CJD. The incubation period could last as long as five years.

Released yesterday, the report of a three year, 16 million pound official investigation into the UK government's handling of this crisis criticized government officials for misleading the public with a campaign of reassurance. It said that bureaucratic confusion and poor coordination between the Agriculture and Health ministries delayed the introduction of safety measures in the late 80's and early 90's.

85 people have contracted CJD so far. 80 of them have died. But why has it struck with such devastation in Britain, infecting more than 170,000 animals compared with fewer than 1,500 elsewhere?

I shudder when I think of the number of times I've eaten hamburger, rump steak, or stir-fried beef noodles. The government tells us that British beef is now the safest in the world because of the mad cow scare. I suppose I'll find out in five years time whether I'm mad enough to go out in the noon day sun.