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Homebase, the Sainsbury-owned DIY chain, has removed "cuddly" mad cow toys from its shelves, following customer complaints. Costing £9.99, the cow moos and shakes uncontrollably when switched on.

Apparently, customers thought the toys were 'disrespectful' to human victims of the disease - more than 80 people in Britain have died so far from nvCJD, the degenerative brain disease caused by eating mad cows.

However, tens of thousands of people could be infected with nvCJD (scientists and statisticians are still guessing) - the incubation period of the disease is at least ten years and could be upwards of 20 years.

It's quite difficult to make a cow mad - and even more difficult to turn a human brain into lime jelly. First you need a corrupt meat industry to grind up scrapie-infected sheep into protein to sell to farmers to feed their cattle. That's how the poor cows get BSE - or Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy.*

Next, you need the food producers and their client - the Ministry of Agriculture - to keep quiet as long as possible, and then fail to ensure safety measures are adhered to in British slaughterhouses. Finally, the rest of the government can join in with false reassurances that beef is safe to eat.

Disrespect? Homebase customers don't know the meaning of the word. ®

* Bootnote

Many scientists now think that BSE wasn't caused by feeding cows scrapie-infected sheep (Cows were fed it, they just got BSE some other way).

From section 3.244 of the BSE report, published last week:

"The BSE agent is not an unmodified form of scrapie. Rather, it seems to be a novel TSE [transmissible spongiform encephalopathies] agent that arose from a prion mutation in cattle, sheep or another species in the 1970s or earlier. Its origin might have been from a single point source in South West England."

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