- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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