French Only Check 28
Of 700,000 Cattle For
Mad Cow In 90's
By Adam Sage
In La Croixille
The Times (London)

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 decade.
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 this year.
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 and efficient."
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."