- Following positive tests on Finnish and Austrian cattle,
Sweden is the last "BSE-free" European Union country.
- Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the degenerative brain
disease better known as BSE or "mad cow disease", has infected
cattle herds in Finland and Austria for the first time since early reports
of British infections put EU consumers on edge a decade ago.
- The two countries, along with Sweden, had boasted that
their regulations on animal feed warded off the threat. But it now appears
that the disease slipped through anyway, making Sweden the only EU state
never to have detected a case.
- The Finnish case has confused investigators because the
infected animal, a six-year-old dairy cow, was raised on a farm that has
reportedly used no bonemeal for animal feed in more than 20 years.
- Biologists studying BSE believe that the disease is transmitted
when the remains of infected animals are ground to bits and used as feed,
but the Finnish case could be an exception.
- The government in Helsinki announced that it would increase
its annual testing budget by about 60 million markka ($9 million), but
Finnish Agriculture Minister Kalevi Hemila defended the country,Äôs
policies up to now.
"I want to reassure consumers that they do not need to change their
consumption patterns in any way because of this individual case,"
Less was known about the suspected Austrian case, which was still the subject
of a second round of tests Monday.
"We have launched an investigation and have also taken samples of
the feed from the farm and samples from the other animals from the same
herd for testing," said Austrian Health Minister Herbert Haupt.
Risk to humans
Still, little is known about the danger BSE poses to humans.
Research indicates that the disease can be transmitted to humans who eat
infected meat. The human variant, known as Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (vCJD)
was first diagnosed in 1996. But there have been few known cases.
Also a degenerative brain disease, vCJD is believed to have caused 100
deaths in the EU since the first diagnosis.
By contrast, the EU has detected more than 180,000 known cases of cattle
infections, and many more healthy animals have been killed because of proximity
to sick cows.
Biologists fear, but they cannot prove, that the discrepancy between bovine
and human incidence of the disease is due to a long incubation period in
The average incubation period in animals is 4-5 years, so the benefit of
newly-introduced EU measures on herd-testing will not be felt until 2005
at the earliest, according to the European Commission.
According to the law, all cattle in the EU older than 30 months must be
tested, if they are destined for human consumption.