Italy Tries To Stem Panic Over
Newest Human Mad Cow Case

By Shasta Darlington

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government and the beef industry were at pains Wednesday to keep consumers from panicking over the discovery of the country's first suspected case of vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease.
Health and agriculture officials confirmed that the suspected victim of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was a 25-year old woman in hospital in Sicily, but they assured the public there was nothing to fear from beef today.
"Consumers can have confidence and buy beef," Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia told reporters. "Now meat is safe. Today's case is scary but it is a fear that refers to the past and that we don't need to have anymore."
The patient is a student who fell ill 10 months ago. She may be flown to London for specialist treatment, newspapers said.
Italy has identified 53 cases of mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- since it discovered its first native case in January 2001. The disease vCJD is the human variant of mad cow disease.
The discovery of a possible case of vCJD had repercussions across Europe. In Strasbourg, the European Parliament demanded new powers for the European Union to help protect consumers from contaminated meat.
"I think we should take warning from the new case in Italy and try to convince member countries to implement EU legislation as soon as possible," Swedish liberal Karl Erik Olsson, author of the non-binding resolution, told Reuters.
Olsson said the long-planned vote was not prompted by the suspected Italian case but the news had highlighted the problem.
In Italy, the Association of Meat Producers tried to assure consumers that regulations had been adopted. Luigi Scordamalia, the group's secretary general, said: "Our meat has never been as safe as it is today."
"There may be some initial concern, but consumers will realize that all of the norms that have been adopted guarantee the safety of our meat," he said.
News of Italy's first reported case of vCJD dominated headlines, giving the beef industry unwelcome bad publicity just as it was getting over the shock of the discovery of BSE in Italian herds last year.
"There could be a drop in sales today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, but there shouldn't be any structural impact because consumers will realize it's safe," Scordamalia said.
British scientists discovered BSE in 1986 and linked the disease a decade later to vCJD.
In Europe, vCJD has killed about 100 people, almost all in Britain. It is thought that the disease is contracted by eating meat tainted by BSE and has an incubation period of six to eight years.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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