Some French Mad Cows Got
Into The Food Chain & Were Eaten

PARIS (AFP) - As many as 9,800 French cows have become infected with mad-cow disease, some of which have entered the human food chain, a British scientist says.
The projections, published in Thursday's issue of Nature, the British science weekly, are modelled on the known incidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in France and on the epidemic in Britain.
The estimates mark the first scientific attempt to sketch the number of BSE-infected cows that may have slipped through France's food safety net and ended up for human consumption.
The author, Christl Donnelly, of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at London's Imperial College School of Medicine, says between 4,700 and 9,800 French cattle have been infected since mid-1987, when the disease first came to light.
This estimate falls to 1,200 animals if it is assumed that all animals with visible signs of the disease were reported, a scenario which is highly unlikely, she says.
Donnelly does not say how many of these animals may have entered the human food chain but suggests the figure for 2000 alone is between 49 and 100, depending on the detection rate.
Her estimate of infected cattle is many times that of French official figures of detected animals.
But it is still very small compared with the number of animals slaughtered, which is around 5.7 million per year.
Her model is based on a total of 143 French cases as of December 1, as communicated to the Office International des Epizooties, an international agency that deals in outbreaks of farm animal diseases.
By comparison, as of December 13, the French agriculture ministry said it had recorded 215 cases of BSE-infected cattle since 1991.
The French food safety agency AFSSA on Monday acknowledged there was a major risk of under-reporting of BSE, a conclusion based on partial testing of older cattle and those that had been put down because of accident or illness.
Donnelly's model assumes that the age profile of beef cattle population in France is largely the same as in Britain; and that cases of BSE went under-reported for years until 2000 when inspectors theoretically spotted all animals showing symptoms of the disease.
This latter scenario is modelled on the British experience, when incidence of the disease was under-reported for years until the authorities belatedly tightened up detection measures.
Britain has detected more than 177,000 cases of BSE, but some estimates put the country's true tally at 900,000.
French authorities are battling a three-month-old slump in public confidence in beef, part of which was triggered by disclosures in October that meat from a suspect herd had been distributed to three supermarket chains.
France has responded by tightening up measures to test animals that are older than 30 months old, and are thus in an age range considered to be more vulnerable to infection.
It also joined its partners in the European Union (EU) this month by announcing a renewable six month ban on the use of meat and bone meal -- considered the main route for BSE contamination -- in all animal fodder.
Eating BSE-infected meat may cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease among humans, in which an rogue protein called a prion causes spongey holes to form in the brain, provoking mental decline, dementia and finally death.
A total of 87 people have contracted vCJD in Britain, while in France there have been two confirmed cases and a suspected third one, according to official figures.
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