EU Confirms BSE Has
Spread Beyond Cattle

BRUSSELS (AFP) - European scientists have confirmed the first case of "mad cow" disease in another species, officials said, while playing down the risk from a condition linked to a horrific brain disease in humans.
The European Union's executive arm and the French agriculture ministry said that a goat slaughtered in France in 2002 had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which previously only afflicted cows.
But the European Commission, while ordering EU governments to intensify tests of goat herds, said there was minimal risk to humans from consuming goat's meat, cheese or milk.
"It's the first natural case in the world," European Commission spokesman Philip Tod told AFP, explaining that goats had been given BSE in laboratories to see if the cross-species infection was possible.
The goat was slaughtered and randomly tested in France in 2002 as part of an EU-wide surveillance programme against the spread of BSE, which is blamed for variant Creutzfelt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans, causing brain-wasting, personality change, loss of body function, and ultimately death.
A total of 148 people have died of vCJD in Britain. France has recorded nine cases; Ireland two (one of whom had lived in England), followed by Canada, Italy and the United States with one death each, according to official tallies.
Brain tissue from the goat was sent for analysis at the EU's BSE research centre at Weybridge, southern England, in late October.
The initial assumption was that it had contracted scrapie, which is among the diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) afflicting sheep and goats.
But the Weybridge laboratory has now confirmed that the goat had had BSE, which hitherto affected only cattle. The human victims are thought to have contracted vCJD after eating BSE-infected beef.
The European Commission, however, played down the risk to humans.
"The testing programme has shown us that there is a very low incidence rate of TSEs in goats and allowed us to detect suspect animals so that they can be taken out of the food chain, as was done with this goat and its entire herd," EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.
"I want to reassure consumers that existing safety measures in the EU offer a very high level of protection," he said, while adding: "I am proposing to extend testing further to determine whether this is an isolated incident."
The commission plans to test an additional 200,000 goats over the next six months, compared to 140,000 goats tested since April 2002.
The goat in question was slaughtered in an abattoir in Ales, in southern France in 2002. The 300 other goats in its herd were destroyed as a precaution even though testing revealed no trace of TSE in any of them.
There are 1.2 million goats raised in France, of which 940,000 are used to produce milk for dairy products.
BSE first appeared in cows on a farm in West Sussex, south England in 1986. The disease has an incubation period of around five years.
British beef exports to the rest of the EU were banned for years, but the commission stressed the safety measures now in place against BSE.
Those include a ban on the feeding of meat-and-bone meal to ruminant animals -- considered to be the transmission route of BSE.
"Goats in the EU generally only live for a few years, which means that the majority of goats in the EU today were born after the total feed ban was put in place (in January 2001)," it said.
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