UN Says Entire World At Risk
From Mad Cow
By David Brough

ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations warned the international community on Friday to act now to reduce the risk of mad cow disease, already widespread in European Union states.
"The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has urged countries around the world, not just those in Western Europe, to be concerned about the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human form, the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)," the Rome-based FAO said in a statement.
"All countries which have imported cattle or meat and bone meal (MBM) from Western Europe, especially Britain, during and since the 1980s can be considered at risk from the disease," the U.N.'s Rome-based food body said
So far Switzerland is the only nation outside the 15-nation bloc to report the appearance of BSE, FAO officials said. Several EU member states have reported cases.
Many scientists believe humans may contract an equivalent form of the brain-wasting disease, vCJD, through eating infected beef. More than 80 people in Britain and three in France have so far died of vCJD.
The FAO, best known for its drive to reduce world hunger, wants states with big dairy industries, and which imported large quantities of MBM from countries hit by BSE, to consider banning the use of MBM in cattle feed.
"As an immediate measure, countries which have imported animals and MBM from BSE-infected trading partners should consider a precautionary ban on the feeding of MBM to ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) or, to reduce the risk of infection even further, to all animals," the statement said.
The EU has banned the use of MBM in animal feed for six months until June 30. Many scientists believe the use of MBM in cattle feed spreads BSE.
The Middle East, eastern Europe, North Africa and India have the highest risk among countries outside Western Europe of harbouring mad cow disease, the FAO experts said.
Foreign experts said the risk of mad cow disease in the Asia-Pacific region was remote despite data showing some countries bought potentially infected animal feed from Britain at the height of the UK epidemic.
"I'd call it a highly remote possibility as the amounts we are talking about are small and they were more likely to have been fed to chickens or hogs rather than cattle," one foreign beef expert, who preferred not to be identified, told Reuters in Singapore.
Ahmed Sidahmed, technical adviser with the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome, said he doubted many BSE cases would emerge in developing states as farmers tended to feed cattle on grass rather than MBM.
"If animals are grazing, I don't think the BSE risk is that high," he told Reuters.
However, he said that FAO's warning would encourage countries outside the EU to pursue farming practices in tune with nature to reduce and prevent the risk of BSE.
Interviewed on Thursday, FAO experts encouraged countries to consider testing older cattle for BSE and banning the use of Specified Risk Materials (SRMs), such as cattle's eyes, spinal cords and brain tissue, if they identified BSE risks.
Under tough new EU rules, all cattle aged over 30 months must be tested for BSE. The practice has already proved effective in uncovering cases of the disease.
Germany said on Friday it planned to reduce the age limit for BSE tests in cattle to 24 months from 30.
Germany registered 20 cases of mad cow disease since November, with the latest one found in the state of Schleswig-Holstein late on Thursday.
The FAO said it was working with the U.N. World Health Organisation to draw up guidelines for safe feeding of livestock.
"FAO, together with the World Health Organisation ... will hold an expert consultation in the near future to draw up advice for countries, particularly developing countries, to protect their people from vCJD, their livestock from BSE, and their industries from trade restrictions," the statement said.

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