Mad Cow Crisis - 4 More In France,
2 In Spain - What To Do
With The Bodies?
By Paul Geitner

LOUGHREA, Ireland - Noel Garner, a farmer raising cattle in the verdant hills of western Ireland, was stunned when BSE disease struck his small herd a couple months ago. An even bigger shock came a few days later, when the carcass he had buried at the edge of a pasture showed up back on his doorstep. Neighbors had driven a mechanized digger to the grave, unearthed the cow and carted it back to Garner's place in an old oil barrel. They were afraid that diseased particles would seep into their water supply, said Gus Egan, who runs the livestock mart in Loughrea, County Galway. "The people were right," he said. "I'd do the same thing."
The case highlights the problem facing European countries as they initiate mass slaughters to stop BSE and revive collapsed markets: what to do with the bodies?
The "purchase for destruction" program launched by the 15-nation European Union this month foresees buying and incinerating up to 2 million head of cattle by the end of June, at an estimated cost to governments of $1 billion. But implementation has been stymied in places by logistics as well as ethical concerns about sending so much prime beef up in smoke. "It's an awful shame and a disgrace," Egan says, echoing a sentiment heard across Europe. "With all the people starving all over the world, to destroy perfectly good meat ..."
New evidence that mad cow disease had spread from Britain to continental herds prompted EU leaders last month to adopt mandatory testing for cattle over 30 months. Any animal that isn't confirmed free of BSE can't go to market.
Germany, which started testing 3 weeks early, has found only 16 cases out of more than 112 000 tests conducted. Belgium found 2 in 7550 tests. Ireland has had more cases -- almost 600 since 1987 -- than any country outside Britain. But of 17 500 tests so far this month, not one revealed BSE, according to Irish Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh.
Yet the wide-scale testing has led to isolated discoveries of BSE in places that had considered themselves pristine, including an Italian slaughterhouse that supplies McDonald's. Thus, a measure meant to reassure Europeans has actually heightened fears of eating infected meat and contracting the fatal, brain-wasting, new variant Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease. Beef sales have tumbled by 27 percent across the EU -- and as much as 50 percent in some countries. Many non-EU countries have suspended imports altogether. Because sales are down, vast numbers of healthy cattle must be slaughtered just to prevent oversupply.
Ireland, a country with twice as many cows as people, usually exports 90 percent of the 550 000 tons of beef it produces annually to countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states -- all of which have enacted temporary bans.
"Farmers have to regularly bring their old cows that are ready for slaughter to the slaughterhouse, but right now no one is buying them," Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, explained in an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit.
Yet the sheer numbers are making even slaughter and disposal difficult. Lacking enough abattoirs and incinerators, authorities in Portugal's Azores Islands on Monday postponed the slaughter of some 5000 cattle. They plan to send some of the doomed cattle to the Portuguese mainland.
Ireland has only a handful of small, private incinerators that handle hospital and pharmaceutical waste. Since 1997, Irish slaughterhouses had been shipping the potentially infectious animal parts -- brain, spinal cord and parts of the intestines -- to the only plant in the country licensed to deal with it: Monery By-Products in County Cavan. The plant turns the material into powdery meal and liquid tallow. Until last month these were shipped to Germany for incineration. But now EU rules require the entire intestine to be treated as "specified risk material," trebling the weight of material Monery has to process. The plant, which is licensed to handle 1000 tons a week, had to stop accepting shipments last week because of backlogs. Officials made emergency arrangements to blast-freeze and store the guts until Monery can catch up.
Meanwhile, the thousands of carcasses slaughtered under "purchase for destruction" are also waiting to be processed. In the first week, Ireland slaughtered 4000 cattle under the scheme, and expects to cull 300 000 of its national herd of 7.5 million. Currently they are being frozen until they can be rendered into meal. That will then have to be warehoused until an incinerator is built -- something that could take years given traditional opposition from environmental groups and neighbors. Walsh, the Irish agriculture minister, predicts the 50 000 tons of meal in storage will swell to 200 000 tons in 6 months. And the cost to Irish taxpayers -- not counting building an incinerator -- will likely approach $170 million, he said. _____
France Reports Four New Mad Cow Cases 1-25-01
PARIS (Reuters) - France reported 4 new cases of mad cow disease on Monday, including the first detected under a new testing scheme for all cattle aged over 30 months that are destined for the food chain.
The first case unveiled by the testing programme, which the government launched earlier this month to calm consumer fears about the fatal, brain-wasting illness, involved an animal born in 1995 in the Ain region of eastern France. Since the new system began on 2 Jan, laboratories have conducted more than 71 000 tests. The new findings brought to 10 the total number of cases of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), found this year in France. A total of 162 cases were found in 2000. Concern over the disease, which scientists believe can be passed to humans via infected meat products, sparked consumer panic last year in France. The government then banned meat and bone meal in animal feed, took T-bone steaks off menus and instituted health tests for cattle. _____
Two New Cases Of Mad Cow In Spain 1-25-01
MADRID - (Agencia EFE via COMTEX) In Northern Spain, 2 new suspected cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- commonly known as Mad Cow Disease -- were detected, Navarra regional Agriculture and Livestock advisor Ignacio Martinez Alfaro said Monday. Post-mortem testing on 2 Pyrenean cows slaughtered in the town of Orcoyen "almost certainly" proved that the animals were affected with BSE, he said. The cattle -- two cows aged 6 and 7 [years] -- came from farms in northern Navarra. The initial test results will have to be confirmed by the official national regulating laboratory, he noted.
Martinez Alvaro said the cases concern a native Navarra cattle breed. He emphasized that if these cases, which if verified would raise the number of confirmed BSE cases in Spain to 9, were detected, it is because "the controls are working."
The final results on the 2 [prior] suspected cases in Castilla-Leon and Cantabria will be released Wednesday. The Cantabria case has triggered controversy in the beef sector since the affected animal was [only] just over 2 years old. National BSE laboratory director Juan Jose Badiola said Monday that it was not "convenient" for the time being to reduce the age of required testing for cattle in Spain from 30 months. Badiola noted that since the affected animal came from France and arrived in Spain shortly before the ban on French cattle imports went into effect, from the point of view of prevention the case "doesn't belong to Spain: we presume she was infected when she was a calf." _____
FDA Advisers Urge 'Mad Cow' Rules for Tissue Donors 1-25-01
BETHESDA, MD (Reuters) - A slight majority of advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) (FDA) on Friday urged the agency to come up with rules to describe whether, or when, people exposed to "mad cow'' disease could donate bodily tissues. "Our marginal, but definitive decision is that the FDA should have deferral criteria," said Paul Brown, chairman of the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, and an expert on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. But the committee did not make any more specific recommendations, saying it did not have enough data.
The concern is that someone who had eaten beef contaminated with BSE might harbor the human form of mad cow disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and transmit it through donated tissues such as skin or corneas. The panel was not asked to consider organ donation.
It is possible that variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) can be passed through blood. But so far, there have been no documented cases of a tissue recipient contracting vCJD. "Clearly, the committee is at a loss because we simply don't know," said Brown, adding, "the question is whether the FDA wants to get involved in anything with so little scientific data."
The agency usually follows its panels' recommendations. Some physicians on the panel suggested that transplant surgeons could discuss the tissue's origin with the patient. For instance, if it is known, the surgeon could disclose that a cornea donor had lived in the United Kingdom -- a high-risk area for exposure to BSE.
The committee also discussed requiring testing of deceased donors' brain tissue for evidence of vCJD when they are being considered for tissue donation. But an FDA official pointed out that there is no vCJD test approved by the agency. When that test, in development, is approved, the agency would consider requiring it to be used, said Jay Epstein, director of FDA's Office of Blood Research and Review.

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