Mad Cow - France Bans
Beef On Bone And Animal
Meal In Livestock Feed
By Jon Henley in Paris

The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, bowed to mounting public panic and the populist savvy of President Jacques Chirac yesterday by banning beef on the bone and suspending the use of animal-based meal in all livestock feed.
The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, bowed to mounting public panic and the populist savvy of President Jacques Chirac yesterday by banning beef on the bone and suspending the use of animal-based meal in all livestock feed.
Among a raft of measures aimed at calming consumer fears over mad cow disease, Mr Jospin also announced random tests on cattle entering the food chain and a tripling of funds for research into BSE, linked to the fatal brainwasting ailment in humans, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
"The government has decided to suspend the use of meat and bone meal in feed for pigs, chickens, fish as well as domestic animals," the prime minister said. "This temporary and general ban appears technically possible and acceptable from a public health standpoint."
A decision on a permanent ban on animal-based meals, a step taken by Britain in 1996, would be made once the national food safety agency, Afssa, had assessed the possible risk associated with them, he said, probably in about three to four months' time.
Aware that the drastic new precautions might serve only to fan French fears, Mr Jospin sought to reassure consumers about the spread of BSE and about food safety in general, saying there was "no scientific proof at present to suggest that eating beef or drinking milk poses a health risk".
But he added that cote de boeuf and several other prized French cuts of beef were being banned because the infectious agent that causes BSE could exist in the bone that comes with them, despite government precautions.
Beef sales have plunged by as much as 50% in France and school meal services throughout the country have withdrawn the suspect meat from canteen menus since it emerged last month that several large supermarket chains had unknowingly sold potentially infected cuts.
Consumer concern has been further fuelled by a sharp increase in the number of cattle found to have been suffering from mad cow disease, which under a more thorough and systematic screening system has jumped from 31 in all of 1999 to more than 90 so far this year.
According to a poll published this weekend in the Journal du Dimanche, 70% of the French are worried about animal-based feeds, which were banned for cattle in France in 1990, and nearly 80% want an immediate ban.
Most French cases of BSE have been traced to "cross-contamination" - cattle that have been fed, either deliberately or accidentally, with animal-based meals intended for livestock like pigs or chickens.
The moratorium on the use of meat and bone meal marks a political defeat for the prime minister, who described the panic gripping French con sumers as "a national psychosis" and favoured what he termed the "more calm and rational approach" of waiting for Afssa's expert opinion before taking such a drastic step.
Last week he underlined the major problem of banning the materials, saying France would be forced to incinerate three times as many animal carcasses as it does now: the pollutants like dioxin that entered the atmosphere as a result would represent a more serious health hazard than the original feed, he said.
But Mr Jospin was outmanoeuvred by Mr Chirac, who grasped perfectly the mood of the French public last week and, to the prime minister's fury, publicly demanded an immediate ban on animal-based meals. The Green party and the Communists, both members of the ruling Socialist-led coalition, subsequently joined the call, leaving Mr Jospin no choice.
The decision is not without consequences. France produces around 430,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal each year, and French newspapers put the cost of banning the products at between £300m and £500m. Some 870,000 tonnes of feed will have to be stocked and incinerated, and France will need to increase dramatically its imports of soy to replace the banned protein-rich products.
Mr Jospin said Paris would also ask the European commission in Brussels to examine how domestic output of oilseeds and other sources of vegetable protein could be boosted.
That, however, could risk triggering a new trade row with the United States by violating the 1992 Blair House accords, which limit the amount of oilseeds the European Union is allowed to plant.
Useful links:
BSE Inquiry
Food Standards Agency BSE Review
Department of Health BSE/CJD site
Human BSE Foundation - voluntary support group
BSE news and research

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