Mad Cow - Scientists Question
OK To Export British Beef Again
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union's decision on Monday to lift the ban on British beef exports was long-awaited news for farmers, but a bit premature for some scientists. Although the EU decision only applies to deboned beef from animals aged between six and 30 months, some researchers who have followed the mad cow epidemic said there were no guarantees those animals were not infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). They say dangers persist even though EU veterinary chiefs gave their scientific backing earlier this month to the scheme for limited British exports. ``The problem has always been -- we don't know which cows are infected and which aren't. Although we carried out a good slaughter it would be very, very difficult to say we've got all the infected ones,'' Stephen Dealler, a microbiologist at Burnley general hospital in northern England, told Reuters. The European Union imposed the ban after the British government admitted a possible link between BSE and a new strain of its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), more than two years ago. So far 30 people have died from new variant CJD. Since March 1996 more than four million cattle have been slaughtered under various programmes to ensure BSE infected cows are not in the food chain. The number of cows infected with the fatal disorder is decreasing rapidly and risks of contamination are low but Dealler, a specialist in brain wasting diseases, said it would still be difficult to know for certain that infected products were not being exported. Richard Lacey, the man who blew the whistle on BSE and an outspoken critic of Britain's handling of the crisis, believes lifting the ban is a mistake. He thinks it should have continued indefinitely. The retired professor of microbiology at Leeds University has called for random testing to make sure the disease is wiped out completely, or if it isn't, to pinpoint where the infected animals are in the British herd. ``I think the ban should stay until random tests are done on slaughtered cows to find out what the actual prevalence of BSE is,'' he told Reuters. ``If the disease takes about five years to develop after it gets in the animal it's completely implausible that the actual incidence can drop as quickly as they are claiming.'' Instead, the controversial scientist believes farmers are under enormous pressure not to report cases of BSE because the UK government has cut compensation levels for sick animals. Professor John Pattison, the chairman of the UK committee investigating the diseases, said the government had agreed to test for subclinical cases of BSE, in which the cattle may be harbouring the disease without showing symptoms. A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said the government and the European Union were investigating ways of testing for subclinical BSE. ``We're already looking at that,'' he said, adding: ``There are cases of BSE out there but they are being picked up.'' ``The precautionary measures put in place are pretty tight. You cannot, in anything, say this is absolutely 100 percent safe but it is as safe as we can possibly make it and all the checks are there,'' he said. Although the ban has been lifted, meat from British herds will probably not be on sale in Europe until next spring after European Union inspectors have visited abattoirs and farms to check hygiene and safety measures.
EU Clears British Beef For Export Again By David Evans 11-23-98
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union farm ministers on Monday cleared British beef for export again, more than two years after sales abroad were banned over mad cow disease, wiping out $1 billion of sales overnight. ``It's clearly good news. We've been through a terrible time,'' Britain's Farm Minister Nick Brown told a news conference after the vote. ``We have satisfied our European partners on the basis of science. We'll now have to rebuild those markets,'' he added. The crucial backing from 10 of the EU's 15 farm ministers paves the way for the European Commission to set a date for exports, although a final inspection visit will now follow and the first shipments are still a few months away. Germany maintained its vigorous opposition to any relaxation of the embargo, but found itself isolated as the only member state to vote against.
France, Spain, Austria and Luxembourg abstained. German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke reaffirmed his intention to say no just ahead of the vote. ``Consumer protection must take priority. If absolute security cannot be guaranteed, we must vote against,'' he said. But the vote should close an at times bitter chapter in relations between London and Brussels, which the actions of the former Conservative government only made worse, Brown said. ``They behaved aggressively and foolishly...we have sought to explain ourselves on the basis of science,'' he said. ``It's about treating each other fairly as's a victory for the EU.'' The news was welcomed by British beef farmers who have blamed the ban for devastating their industry and livelihoods. ``It will be a huge psychological boost for farmers with the depression of recent times turning into cheers of jubilation,'' said Ben Gill, President of the National Farmers Union. ``We're now back in the fold doing something we're very good at,'' he added.
Under the scheme, beef will be allowed for export as long as it fulfils strict criteria. It must be deboned and come from cattle aged six to 30 months and born after August, 1, 1996. According to the British farmers' union, the overseas market before the ban for beef and cattle was worth more than 650 million pounds ($1.07 billion). More than 270,000 tonnes of beef and veal was sold abroad in 1995. EU countries such as France, the Netherlands, Italy and Ireland were the biggest customers. Further afield, South Africa also imported significant quantities. Since the ban was imposed in March 1996 after the government admitted a link between eating infected beef and a new form of the human brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), millions of cattle have been slaughtered in Britain. The total cost of the crisis could top $6 billion, and it could be another five years before all stocks of impounded meat and bonemeal can be incinerated. Britain's tough new controls on meat processing have done enough to win over sceptical scientists on the continent. EU veterinary chiefs gave their key support earlier this month, with a slim majority backing the plan.
But farmers now face an uphill climb if they are to persuade consumers to switch back to British beef, particularly at a time when the EU is awash with excess meat. Trade with Russia, a key beef export market destroyed by the recent economic turmoil, has left Europe's unsold beef stocks topping half a million tonnes. Thirty people have already died from nvCJD and no-one knows how many more victims there will be, given the long incubation period. ($1-.6068 Pound) ((Brussels Newsroom +32 2 287 6834, fax +32 2 230 5573,