Mad Cow Scare Spreading
Beyond Europe
By Paul Casciato
LONDON (Reuters) - Recriminations over the safety of beef appeared to be spreading beyond the borders of the European Union ahead of an emergency EU farm ministers meeting on Monday.
Even as members of the 15-nation bloc traded barbs with each other and the outside world over the safety of their beef, the EU's top vets failed to agree on a proposed six-month ban on the meat and bone meal (MBM) used in animal feed and thought to cause the brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
The disease has been linked to its fatal human equivalent, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which has killed over 80 people in Britain and two in France.
While France and Britain quarreled over beef blockades, Ireland sought to overturn an Egyptian boycott on its beef and the Czech Republic banned all beef from EU countries where mad cow disease has been detected.
As German scientists tested soil samples from the farm hit by Germany's first BSE case to determine whether it could be transmitted by cattle dung, the Ukraine banned German meat.
Public outcry for action is growing ahead of the EU farm ministers meeting with the first discoveries of BSE in Spain and Germany this week and the admission by three French supermarket chains that they may have sold tainted meat.
European Union veterinary experts left the decision to ban MBM, basically ground up carcasses and entrails, to the EU farm ministers, who must also consider plans to keep all cattle aged over 30 months out of the food chain unless tested for BSE.
Costs Will Be High
Although the farm ministers are expected to vote in favor of the ban, some feed and grain groups are lobbying against it and say the costs to farmers and their industry will be very high.
The ban will also boost demand for U.S. and South American soymeal, much of which is genetically modified (GM), European feed industry officials said.
``This measure will raise the costs of feed production substantially,'' Alexander Doring, secretary-general of the Brussels-based European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC), told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He forecast a 10-15 percent increase in European demand for soymeal to substitute for MBM and additional costs for industry and farmers of two billion euros ($1.73 billion) a year due to the use of more expensive vegetable protein alternatives.
Traders are seeking soymeal not only from major exporters like the United States, but also from smaller suppliers such as India, the International Grains Council said on Thursday.
``We'll see a vegetable protein price shock,'' Doring said.
The current mad cow scare was triggered in France, where BSE cases have more than tripled this year, leading consumers to turn their backs on beef and some analysts to predict that even fast-food giant McDonald's Corp would suffer.
A Dutch feed and grain trade group urged the Netherlands to vote against an EU-wide ban, arguing that it might be needed in some countries to curb the spread of mad cow disease, but not in the Netherlands.
``Our ministry, as far as I know, shares our view on the subject. But whether they are strong enough in Holland and in the European Union to block this ban, I don't know,'' Gert Jan van Noortwijk, chairman of the Royal Dutch Grain and Feed Trade Association, said.
France, Britain, Greece and Portugal have already imposed such a ban and Germany is due to decide on Friday whether to join them.
French Accused Of Hypocrisy
French Farm Minister Jean Galvany defended France against charges of hypocrisy for asking Britain to conduct further tests before lifting a ban on British beef, while seeking to end curbs on French beef that several other EU partners had imposed.
Glavany said Britain should start testing all cattle older than 30 months, which under British law are withdrawn from the food chain as a precaution against BSE.
Italy's Farm Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said a method for disposing of meat and bone meal (MBM) must be found, the EU should acquire cattle for slaughter and Italy would fight to bring forward a detailed system for labeling beef, which included the animal's country of birth.
German utility RWE Power said it was looking into the possibility of burning meat-based animal feed in coal-fired electricity plants.
``The Nutrition, Agriculture and Forestry Ministry today asked the industry for its support with the current emergency disposal of animal-based feed,'' RWE said in a statement.
``The ban means that every year several hundreds of thousands of tonnes of such feed will have to be disposed of,'' it added.
RWE said it had agreed to check the burning of the feed in coal-fired power plants as a possibility for its harmless disposal.
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