Mad Cow Tests Slow Beef
To Euro Market - Millions
'Over 30' Cattle Killed

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Beef is being kept off the European market as authorities struggle with new rules to ban older meat from the food chain unless found free of mad cow disease, officials said.
In response to rising numbers of mad cow cases across Europe, all meat from cattle aged over 30 months now has to be tested for the brain-wasting disorder, but a lack of facilities is holding up the delivery of meat to the shops.
In France, cattle dealers brought gridlock to roads around Paris in protest of the government's handling of the crisis, and in Italy the government announced a new mad cow task force.
According to the Belgian Federation of Slaughterhouses, a lack of suitable testing laboratories was already causing mounting supply bottlenecks.
"There are not only too few analyses, but the test results are too slow to come through," it said in a statement.
"The freezers in the slaughterhouses are full. The carcasses cannot be released for human consumption."
The new measures bring continental Europe into line with Britain, which barred meat from animals over 30 months in the wake of the mad cow crisis in the early 1990s.
Britain's Over Thirty Months Scheme (OTMS) has resulted in millions of cattle being slaughtered at a cost of billions of pounds.
French Farm Minister Jean Glavany was due to hold urgent talks on Monday with meat industry representatives amid growing criticism of a "climate of confusion".
There are so far only 18 laboratories in France certified by the government to perform the tests, leading to beef piling up in cold storage pending the results.
Louis Orenga, director of France's Meat Information Centre, predicted beef prices in some areas could rise between one and two francs per kilo because of a lack of available supplies.
But he said the confusion could dissuade consumers from returning to beef.
"We're giving consumers the impression that this situation is not being managed well," he told Reuters.
"We're going to have another case in which consumers see dysfunction at all levels."
In Italy, testing had also got off to a slow start.
The health ministry said the supplier of equipment needed to carry out the tests was struggling to meet demand and it would be a few more weeks before the programme could begin.
Untested beef is eligible for a "purchase for destruction" scheme -- under which farmers are paid to have older cattle destroyed if no tests are available -- but the programme, mostly funded from EU coffers, has also had its teething problems.
Again the problem was insufficient capacity, officials said.
"There are bottlenecks at the rendering plants, and this is a big problem," Jean-Luc Meriaux of the Brussels- based European Meat Trading Association (UECBV) told Reuters.
"The scheme has not been very well implemented."
In Spain there have also been signs that the disposal of carcasses will not be easy. Some 300 cattle were recently found rotting at the bottom of a disused mine in the north-western Galicia region, where the majority of the country's mad cow cases have been discovered.
However, some countries were confident of carrying out full testing and reported only minor problems.
The Association of Danish Meat Manufacturers was optimistic capacity was sufficient to test up to 260,000 animals a year.
The Dutch farm ministry said the daily capacity for 2,500 cattle had yet to be reached, but that it had only minor teething problems with the testing programme.

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