Mad Cow Found In Spain -
Fear Spreads Throughout Europe
BRUSSELS (AFP) - A mad cow disease scare seeped relentlessly across Europe Wednesday as Spain became the latest country hit, more cases were reported in France, Italy called for country-of-origin labeling and distraught retailers watched beef sales plummet.
The Spanish cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, were reported in the northwestern region of Galicia, Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Canete said.
The 46 cows making up the herds with which the infected animals had been in contact were slaughtered as a precaution, he said.
Six new cases of BSE were also found in France, the country's agriculture ministry said, bringing the total number of cases identified there this year to 108.
France is in the throes of a growing scare over mad cow disease, which has prompted Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal to ban some imports of French beef and live cattle.
In Spain, beef consumption has dropped 15 percent in a week and prices have dropped 30 percent, according the Spanish Association of Beef Producers.
In Portugal, the press reported a 50 percent fall in beef sales, mostly to the detriment of small retail butchers, and 30-40 percent reductions in supermarket sales.
After Britain, France is now the centre of fears over BSE, particularly after it was revealed last month that a batch of contaminated meat found its way onto supermarket shelves.
Since then, French authorities have implemented a series of measures to improve consumer confidence and compensate farmers hit financially by the epidemic.
In Brussels, the European Union's Standing Veterinary Committee (SVC) was meeting late Wednesday night on an extension of a mad cow detection program voted by EU agriculture ministers after an all-night session Monday.
The agriculture council agreed a testing program beginning next January 1 of high-risk cattle over the age of 30 months.
Depending on initial results, the tests could be extended to all cattle over 30 months destined for the human food chain.
But the ministerial vote must be approved by the SVC, composed of the top veterinary officers of the 15 EU countries.
In France, three people are known to have contracted the human form of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), of whom two have died, but there is a rising incidence of BSE itself.
In Britain, where BSE broke out in 1986 but was not officially recognised until 1996, more than 80 people have been infected with CJD, while 4.5 million head of cattle have been destroyed since the epidemic broke out with 177,000 cases of BSE reported through the end of October.
Italy has asked the European Union to approve its plans to have the origin of beef sold over the counter clearly stated on labels, Agriculture Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said.
Italian cattle abattoirs have lost 70 percent of their work since the scare broke, a representative for the country's meat industry said Wednesday, as cattle farmers continued border blockades at Frejus and Ventimiglia and threatened Wendesday to extend their action to other border points to guarantee Italy's food safety.
German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke meanwhile called for stricter madcow tests than those agreed by his EU European Union ministers, in order to detect early infection.
He told the Bild newspaper: "The rapid screening tests only give reliable positive results when the animal shows BSE symptoms or the disease is on the point of breaking out.
"That's not good enough," he said. "This testing process therefore has to be urgently refined. We must get to where we can already prove BSE infection."
France, too, feels the ministerial decree was inaequate, and wants testing extended to all cattle over 30 months.
That view was supported on Wednesday by Spanish farmers who criticised the measures as not going far enough.
The main farmers' union, COAG, said: "They are not entirely appropriate as they do not take a firm enough stand on the crucial issues, which ought to guarantee the openness and safety for farmers and consumers."
The EU "should have defined the criteria to be taken into account in considering an animal 'at risk' and the scientific criteria used to define the age an animal should undergo the test".

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