During the 1980s, the BSE outbreak infected thousands of animals (Image: NC)
Researchers at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh have revealed that prions – the infectious proteins that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – remain highly virulent “for very long periods of time”. They also discovered that prions could be flushed through soil by rainwater, prompting warnings that watercourses close to burial sites could have been contaminated, posing a potential public health risk. During the 1980s, the BSE outbreak infected thousands of animals who were buried after first having their heads removed.
However, highly infectious spinal cords were not taken out before the carcasses were dumped.
It emerged in 1996 that BSE had jumped the species barrier to humans, probably through the eating of contaminated beef.
Former Labour minister Gavin Strang said the findings of the Roslin study meant there should be a review of 59 sites where a total of 6,117 BSE-infected cattle were buried between 1988 and 1991.
The practice of burying the remains was brought in because the country’s incinerators were overwhelmed by the numbers.
The dumping grounds were in several counties including Inverness-shire, Bedfordshire,