Mad Cow Tests Producing Results
But Raising Consumer Fear Of Beef

BRUSSELS (AFP) - A stringent EU mad cow testing program begun January 1 has already detected new cases of the disease, but the European Commission is now worried that the results may only heighten consumer fears of beef.
After the tests turned up several new cases, commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder sought to downplay the results Monday, saying the detection of infected animals was the whole point of the program and the new cases were "no surprise."
The detection this weekend of what could be the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) in Austria, and the first in Italy since 1994, were the result of the "broad program of EU testing begun January 1," she said.
"The results should be no surprise for us," she added. "Although we must remain vigilant, we should also not be adding to the fears of the population simply because we are conducting a testing program."
Gminder also denied German press reports quoting Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne as saying he envisaged a BSE epidemic in Germany comparable to that in Britain, where BSE began and which has recorded more cases than all other countries combined.
"Even if the number of cases in Germany grows larger and larger," she said, "there is no possible comparison with the situation in Britain or that of any other member state."
Scientists believe BSE originated in Britain, a result of the practice there of feeding grazing animals the ground-up remains of their own species, a practice now outlawed throughout the EU.
On Sunday, EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said past errors must be corrected as Germany and Europe chart a new course in farming policy in the wake of the mad cow crisis.
"It is time to correct certain errors from the past," Fischler told a German newspaper.
"Twenty years ago we began to nourish grazing animals with fodder from animal remains. It was a great mistake that is now in the past, thank God," Fischler told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Italy's Prime Minister Giuliano Amato meanwhile appealed for calm Monday as experts awaited the test results on what was feared to be his country's first home-grown case of mad cow disease.
"Italians, remain calm, we are doing everything necessary. We are conducting the tests out in open. We have one of the best records in Europe," Amato said from Beijing, where he is on a three-day visit.
"It is statistically unlikely that we would have stayed at zero cases once the tests started," he added.
Scientists and EU officials had in fact warned that as the pace of BSE testing increased, so would the number of new cases ferreted out. But the detection of the disease in countries that thought themselves BSE-free has still come as a shock.
Germany, where the first BSE case was discovered late last year, is of particular concern to the commission after several new cases were detected.
Commissioner Byrne, concerned that those cases could merely be the tip of an iceberg, has asked Berlin health officials for more detailed information on the setting up of Germany's testing program.
The start of testing has been chaotic in several EU countries. A lack of sufficient materials and qualified personnel is creating a back-up of beef carcasses in refrigerated warehouses awaiting test results before they could be either marketed or destroyed.
European farmers' organizations were complaining at the slowness of the testing program, pointing to an average 27 percent drop in beef sales throughout the EU, accompanied by a 26.2 percent drop in beef prices, according to commission figures.
In Copenhagen, a large animal feed producer was trying to make the best of a bad situation, saying it was negotiating with cement producers to use huge stocks of now-banned feed to replace sand and chalk in cement-making.

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