Europe Tests Find MORE Mad
Cow/BSE Than Expected
By Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) - European officials grappling with tough new measures to combat the spread of mad cow disease said Tuesday they had unearthed more cases than expected.
Increased testing of higher-risk cattle over 30 months old, part of a package of measures agreed by members of the European Union (news - web sites) late last year, had been expected to show a low rate of infection and restore consumer confidence in beef across Europe.
But in Belgium, where only 19 cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE (news - web sites)) had previously been confirmed, a food watchdog said test results suggested a suspected rate of infection five times higher than anticipated.
In France, where the latest consumer scare started in October over potentially tainted beef on supermarket shelves, tests have yielded a possible case in an animal born after 1996 when earlier tough controls had been put in place.
The Belgian Federal Agency for Food Safety reported 161 cases of BSE in 2000, more than five times the number detected in 1999.
In the first week of testing of meat from cattle over 30 months, said it had found 14 suspected cases of the brain-wasting disorder out of 2,762 animals tested.
This suggested that one out of every 200 cows in Belgium could be infected with the brain wasting disease, linked to the deadly human equivalent new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
``Before we started this testing, the scientists here in Belgium thought that one case in 1,000 would be positive,'' a spokeswoman for the health ministry told Reuters in Brussels.
She said the government would talk to scientists to determine why the rate of infection was higher than had been thought if the cases were confirmed by three rounds of testing.
Possible New Case In France
Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, general director of food at the French farm ministry, said a new testing scheme had uncovered a case of BSE in an animal born in March 1998.
``We received word yesterday of a suspect case in the Calvados region (in Normandy). The sample has been sent to the AFSSA (food safety agency) laboratory for further testing,'' Geslain-Laneelle told a news conference in Paris.
She said the herd had been placed under supervision.
The second finding of BSE in an animal born after 1996, if confirmed, could lend support to a theory that animal feed made from ground-up carcasses is not the only means of transmitting the disease.
Denmark also detected a new case of BSE Tuesday, the third in a decade. The first officially reported case was in 1992, and in February 2000 a whole herd of cattle in north Jutland was destroyed after the disease was detected.
In the Netherlands, however, all tests for mad cow disease have come out negative since the launch of a new program last week, the Dutch agriculture ministry said.
Eight cases of BSE have been discovered in the Netherlands, two each over the previous four years.
Disease Spread Across Europe
An export ban was imposed on British beef in 1996, when scientists first found the link between BSE and its human equivalent 10 years after it first hit British herds.
More than 80 people in Britain and two in France have died from vCJD. Since the height of Britain's epidemic in the late 1980s, the disease has spread across Europe.
Some European countries, desperate to restore consumer confidence, have struggled to implement the new measures.
Italian farmers have decided to take direct action and vowed to claim compensation for delays in testing.
Luigi Scordamalia, secretary-general of Italian meat industry association Assocarni, said around 10,000-12,000 cattle due for slaughter remained in cowsheds in the first week of January because the tests were delayed.
``No one is accepting responsibility,'' he said in Rome.
In France, where protesting cattle dealers brought gridlock to roads around Paris Tuesday, the meat industry said it deplored what it described the confusion surrounding the testing program.
``We are giving consumers the impression that the situation is not under control. I don't think we can solve the crisis rapidly. It will take time,'' CIV Director Louis Orenga told Reuters in Paris.
Meat has been piling up in storage pending the results of the tests and producers reported a backlog of older animals on their farms after France certified only 18 laboratories, compared with the 30 originally forecast.
``This testing system, which in fact should have been a positive thing for the consumer, will be negative,'' Orenga said.

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