Pesticide linked to Britain's Mad Cow epidemic ENN Daily News -- April 8, 1996

Excessive use of an organo-phosphate pesticide more than 10 years ago could have caused Britain's epidemic of Mad Cow disease, a farmer-researcher told the Edinburgh International Science Festival Saturday. Organo-phosphate chemicals are widely used as pesticides in agriculture, horticulture, fish farming, forestry and veterinary medicine and in the home for medicated shampoos, fly-sprays and flame retardant clothing or bedding, Mark Purdey said.

Purdey said farmers were forced to use phosnet -- a blend of organo-phosphates and base of the drug thalidomide -- in the 1980s to combat warble fly infestation. Massaging it into a beast's rump to ensure it penetrated hide, flesh and muscle and reached deep-burrowing larvae meant OP toxins affected the animal's nervous system. Purdey successfully defended himself against an Agriculture Ministry prosecution for refusing to use phosnet. He then began to study organic chemistry to back his practical experience with scientific knowledge.

In the process he lost his farm, was shot at, blockaded in his home to prevent him giving a lecture, and saw a new farmhouse go up in flames the day he was due to move in. Purdey says it was significant that Switzerland, the only other European country to insist on the use of phosnet is the only other European country with large-scale BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) outbreaks. OPs readily cross body barriers and bind with crucial nerve enzymes, disrupting pathways of the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous systems, Purdey said.