- The head of a public veterinary service charged with
eradicating BSE in a French cattle-grazing area said yesterday that his
inspectors had checked just 28 out of 700,000 cows for the disease this
- Alain Charon, director of the veterinary service in the
Mayenne département, western France, said that five tests had proved
positive, the fifth a week ago. His admission will fuel suspicion that
the prevalence of "mad cow" disease in France may be greater
than statistics indicate. According to French Ministry of Agriculture figures,
last week's case was the seventy-first since 1990, and the twenty-second
since January 1. French Government ministers compare these statistics with
Britain, where more than 1,000 cows have been diagnosed with BSE so far
- But British cattle farms are the subject of regular spot
checks by officials charged with detecting mad cow disease. In France there
is no such system. M Charon said that he did not have the resources to
conduct impromptu visits. Instead, French county veterinary services intervene
when alerted by local vets to a possible case of BSE.
- "Vets in France have a statutory duty to tell us
of all such cases," said M Charon. "In addition, Ministry of
Agriculture inspectors are present at abattoirs. Our method is coherent
- In theory, he may be right. On the ground, however, the
procedure appears to move slowly.
- The vet used by Sylvain and Rosie De La Celle, who own
a farm in the neighbouring Maine-et-Loire region, took six months to discover
that one of their 165-strong herd of cattle had BSE this year.
- "The cow became aggressive, limped and lost a lot
of weight," said Mme De La Celle. "But it did not turn round
and round and we just did not think that it could be mad cow disease. We
called upon our vet right at the beginning. He realised what it was in
the week the cow died."
- M and Mme De La Celle's entire herd was destroyed earlier
this month. Although they have been given compensation, Mme De La Celle
said the psychological blow was "very, very hard".
- She said: "It takes a lot of courage to start again
after losing all your cattle. . . I know someone who died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease and I believe that the policy of maximum security is justified."
- Yet, this policy depends upon what M Charon described
as farmers' "sense of responsibility" and it is by no means certain
that all share Mme De La Celle's integrity.
- As French farms stand to lose all their cattle by reporting
cases of BSE, there is a temptation to kill and bury suspect cows and say
nothing about it.
- "There are always ways of arranging things like
that," said Dominique Rota, a resident in the hamlet of La Rocherie
in the Mayenne. "I know that goes on."
- In the village of La Croixille, only the mayor, Clément
Georget, admitted to knowing that the most recent case of BSE in France
had been on one of the surrounding farms.
- He said: "Mad cow disease is never discussed in
village council meetings even though several councillors are farmers. I
suppose they must be worried, but they do not talk about it."