Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), the human form of Mad Cow Disease, is thought to be caused by eating beef from cattle infected with BSE, or Mad Cow, but David Brown, a biochemist at Cambridge University in England, now says ?there is no conclusive proof that [mad cow disease] caused CJD.? He has an environmental explanation for both Mad Cow and CJD.

He thinks the cause is manganese, a heavy metal that is essential to life and part of our human diet. It can be found in common foods such as wheat, rice and tea. Studies have shown that too much manganese can be dangerous to the nervous system.

Workers who have been exposed to high levels of manganese have suffered tremors, muscular rigidity, hallucinations and involuntary laughing and crying. The metal can cause the death of brain cells.

David Brown agrees with the majority of researchers that the key agent in the disease is a protein called a prion. Prions are thought to keep nerve cells stable and when they somehow become malformed, they damage the brain and become infectious, causing Mad Cow and CJD.

He says, ?I have published evidence from my cell culture experiments that shows manganese can change the prion into its abnormal form.? His experiments show that he can alter prions from their normal state by manipulating the only two metals that bind to them, copper and manganese, without the need for any infectious material. This is especially likely to happen naturally when the supply of copper to the cells is low. Brown feels this can occur in humans who are environmentally exposed to excess amounts of manganese. The question is: what environmental changes cause the levels of manganese to rise and copper levels to decrease?

Mark Purdey, a farmer turned amateur scientist who has been challenging the conventional theory of Mad Cow Disease, agrees with David Brown. He has traced Mad Cow back to 1984, when farmers in many areas were ordered by the government to use the chemical Phosmet against the warble fly, which lays eggs under the skin of cattle. The pesticide is applied along the animal?s spinal column and some of the chemicals in Phosmet are also used in nerve gas. Purdey, who runs an organic farm, refused to use it, went to court, and won.

Purdey noticed that Mad Cow occurred on farms where Phosmet was used and says, ?No home-reared cows on organic farms have developed? the disease. He believes the chemical decreased the amount of copper in the animals? cells. Paul Brown, of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., disagrees and points out that there is no Mad Cow in Japan, which has used Phosmet extensively, but Purdey counters that the chemical was used in the U.K. at 4 times the maximum strength.

Purdey has sampled the soil, water and vegetation in areas with clusters of Mad Cow Disease and says, ?I discovered that the common factor in the environment is manganese. In some cases, huge amounts of it. Also, the amounts of copper in these areas was low.?

He discovered that in Iceland, there were high levels of manganese in valleys where scrapie, a sheep disease similar to Mad Cow, flourished. Valleys with low levels of the mineral were free of the disease.

In Colorado, he found that deer herds with high levels of a similar type of wasting disease were eating pine needles. ?I brought the pine needles home and had them tested and the manganese was excessively high,? he says.

He investigated several cases of CJD near his home in England and discovered that soil and water samples revealed high levels of manganese, perhaps from the clothing dye used in industries there in the 1980s and ?90s. Manganese is used in dyes and people remember when a cloud of yellow dust would settle in the area.

Purdey also discovered that the feed given to animals in the 1980s contained high levels of manganese. Some of it came from the manure of chickens that were fed high doses of it in order to strengthen their egg shells.

Paul Brown, of the NIH, says that these theories are ?nonsense.? Meanwhile, U.S. farmers wait in fear that Mad Cow will cross the ocean to the U.S. For now, we all have to wait to see whose theory is correct.

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