- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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