- PARIS -- A mad cow disease
epidemic in France went completely undetected and led to almost 50,000
severely infected animals entering the food chain, according to a shocking
report by French government researchers.
- More than 300,000 cows contracted BSE (bovine spongiform
encephalopathy) in the past 13 years, 300 times more than the number of
officially recorded cases, say researchers at France's official Institute
of Health and Medical Research (Inserm).
- Their report reveals that while blustering French politicians
blamed Britain for the emergence of the disease - and attempted to create
a cordon sanitaire by banning imports of British beef - they failed to
adopt measures to prevent a hidden epidemic at home.
- Only in June 1996 was potentially dangerous bovine offal
banned in France, almost seven years after Britain. Just four years ago,
as France ignored a European Union ruling that British beef was safe again,
infected cattle were still entering the food chain, the researchers say.
- Their disturbing findings are contained in a report,
The Unrecognised French BSE Epidemic, published in the international scientific
review Veterinary Research.
- Their report came as Paris officials revealed the death
of a 55-year-old Frenchman believed to have suffered from variant Creutzfeld-Jakob
disease (vCJD), the human form of BSE. If confirmed, the death would bring
to seven the number of confirmed French victims of the disease.
- "We estimate that 301,200 cows in France were infected
by BSE between 1980 and June 2000," conclude the authors of the report,
Virginie Supervie and Dominique Costagliola. "There is uncertainty
about estimates of the number of cases in the early 1980s, but the level
of animals infected climbed between 1987 and 1990 and dropped from then
- "Furthermore, 47,300 animals at an advanced stage
of the disease entered into the food chain before 1996, and 1,500 between
July 1996 and June 2000." According to previous official figures there
were just 103 confirmed cases of the disease between 1991 and 2000, during
which period the government relied on farmers and veterinarians to report
animals with BSE.
- Since 2000, when controls were tightened, a further 820
cases have been confirmed, according to figures published last month, bringing
the total to 923 over the past 13 years - a tiny fraction of the total
estimated in the new report.
- The report's authors drew on data about BSE cases in
cattle and facts about the spread of the disease to calculate the likely
true extent of the BSE epidemic in France. Dominique Costagliola said:
"The French authorities have known for some time that the official
statistics were not a true reflection of the epidemic." British cattle
feed containing the rendered carcasses of other animals - alleged to have
caused the disease - was sold in France until 1989. That was three years
after the first case of BSE was discovered in Britain, where farmers were
required to report all cattle showing symptoms. In 1989 Britain banned
the use of animal protein in cattle food, outlawed bovine offal in human
food and introduced a mass slaughter plan under which entire herds of an
animal showing symptoms of BSE were destroyed.
- France banned the suspect cattle feed the following year
and required farmers and vets to report animals suspected of having the
disease. Its first reported case was in 1991. The discovery of an apparent
link between BSE and its human equivalent, vCJD, was made in 1996 and led
to a worldwide ban on British beef. The ban was lifted by the EU 1999 but
illegally maintained by France until 2002. Yet it was not until 2001 that
France introduced compulsory tests for BSE in cows, older than 24 months,
sent for slaughter.
- The report's authors conclude that the disease was prevalent
in French herds during the 1980s, but that the epidemic went completely
unnoticed. "Only the second wave, after 1990, was observed,"
- The editors of Veterinary Research were so disturbed
when they received the report that they asked three independent scientists
to evaluate its findings. All three concurred that the basis for the calculations
- Joelle Charley-Poulain, a joint editor of the magazine,
said: "I was very perturbed when I first read the article. I was worried
that these figures would alarm the public, which is why we had them checked
out by three specialists."
- In Britain, where there are estimated to have been four
million BSE infected cows compared with 200,000 officially reported cases,
researchers have long claimed that France underestimated the number of
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- From Dr. Patricia Doyle, PhD
- Hello Jeff: They are now admitting to only about 1/3rd
of the actual cases in their food supply. It's worse. My guess is it
is only the tip of the iceberg and that is why the admit to it now. Mad
cows have gone out of control. No one can say we both didn't warn them
- And now we have bovine polio, a condition that went unreported
for 10 years. This condition also effects the brain and my guess is can
be passed onto human consumers. The experts are not really sure what
the process is causing it. Some cattle have genetic material consistant
with "bits" of a polio like enterovirus, yet others have genetic
material found in Plum Island Rinderpest vaccine and measles vaccine.
- Eating meat now is worse than Russian roulette.