French Uneasy After 1,000
Tons Possible Mad Cow
Beef Put In Markets
PARIS (AFP) - There was growing unease in France Monday about the risks of mad cow disease after the revelation that a thousand tonnes of potentially contaminated meat had been put on the market earlier his month.
The news coincided with the announcement of more cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the French herd, confirming a sharp upward trend detected since the start of the year.
The latest case was discovered in a herd of cattle in the Loire department and brought to 73 the number of affected animals found since January -- almost the same figure as for the entire period since the disease first appeared in 1991.
The public was also sharply reminded of the continuing dangers of the disease -- and its human version Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease -- by a decision two weeks ago to ban the use of bovine intestines in sausage production because of fears they could carry the infection.
And last week it was reported that fraud inspectors were continuing to tolerate very low levels of banned animal meal -- considered the most probable vector for the disease -- within foodstuffs given to cattle.
The supermarket chain Carrefour was operating a telephone hotline Monday to reassure anxious customers who bought the high-risk beef from 39 of its stores mainly in northern France.
The company said it would be a civil plaintiff in the criminal prosecution being launched against cattle-dealer Claude Demeulenaere who is suspected of trying to hide a cow with BSE within a healthy herd which he was sending to slaughter.
Veterinary officials at the abattoir in Normandy, western France, spotted the sick animal, which was separated from the rest of the cattle, but it was then revealed that 13 other animals from the cow's original herd had already been sold to Carrefour.
In France, all cattle from a stricken cow's herd are automatically slaughtered because of fears they could also be infected.
Over the week-end Carrefour withdrew all meat recently produced by the abattoir from supermarket shelves and issued an urgent appeal for customers to return meat already bought.
Veterinary officials sought to calm the public Monday, pointing out that none of the other animals from the herd showed symptoms of BSE, and that officials at the abattoir had shown their effectiveness by spotting the sick cow.
But Jeanne Brugere-Picoux, cattle specialist at the Alfort Veterinary School in Paris, said that fraud and the difficulty of diagnosing BSE meant that inevitably some infected cattle were entering the food-chain.
"If a farmer is so minded, and he's quick enough, then if he spots the very first signs of BSE, he can send it to the abattoir without anyone noticing," she said.
She called for spot checks at slaughter-houses to discourage unscrupulous cattle-dealers.
No test yet exists for analysing live beasts for BSE, but since June France has put into place a nationwide detection programme on so-called "fallen stock" -- animals which die in accidents or which are slaughtered after showing unusual symptoms.
The test programme, which will eventually cover 48,000 animals, has so far detected 25 new cases, which partly explains the big increase registered nationally this year.
Brugere-Picoux said she was untroubled by the sharp rise. "It was totally predictable. As soon as you put in place a pro-active surveillance plan, you will find more cases.
"France is discovering more infected animals because it has had the courage to look. If other countries did the same, there would be some surprises," she said.

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