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`Mad Cow' Fears Stampede Through France; Other Countries Boycotting French Beef.

Mad Cow Disease reared its ugly head again last fall, this time in France. Beef production and prices plummeted after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in at least one animal from a French herd.

The meat was reportedly destined for Carrefour, Cora and Auchan -- three of the nation's largest retail operations. Within a month, slaughter rate for French cattle plunged, and so did beef consumption and beef prices. During the first week of November, retail sales of beef were 47% below 1999 levels.

By Dec. 8, the European Union (EU) had ordered French cattle over 30 months old and not tested for BSE to be taken off the market. That will have a dramatic impact; French beef exports had totaled 330,000 tons in 1999, including 87,000 tons to Italy, 72,000 to Greece, and 48,000 each to Germany and Russia.

Chance would have it that the crisis broke on the eve of the SIAL Exhibition in Paris. "Here we go again," collectively sighed a number of European meat industry buyers and sellers attending SIAL. The wave of bad publicity came just as beef and red meat consumption was rising again -- up 6% in the United Kingdom during the first half of 2000, while frozen meat tonnage sales advanced 7.6% in Germany during 1999.

By mid-November Russia, Spain, Hungary and Poland had already moved to restrict beef imports from France. Soon thereafter Italy -- which imported $919 million worth of French beef in 1999 -- banned imports of beef-on-bone products from France as well as live cattle over 18 months of age. As if that weren't bad enough, on Nov. 16, families of two victims of Creutzfeld-Jakob (vCDJ) disease in France were reportedly about to file legal complaints on grounds of food "poisoning." The disease, which debilitates the human brain much the way BSE affects cow brains, is thought to be linked to the consumption of BSE-infected meat by those with immune deficiencies.

Also in November, the French government introduced strict measures to fight the BSE crisis, revealing that 92 cases had been reported over the year. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced a ban on beef-on-bone sales as well as a ban on the use of meat and bone meal in animal feed -- imported soybean meal will be substituted. Cattle farmers agreed not to sell meat from cows born before mid-1996.

There are about 20.1 million head of cattle in France, 2.8 million of them over 30 months and thus subject to the EU ban. Farmers could test those cattle for BSE -- but it would take a year at a rate 12,000 a day; there aren't enough laboratories to do the job faster. Nevertheless, on Dec. 13. Jospin ordered that testing begin; the number of labs will have to be increased from 13 to 40 to meet his goal of stepping up the testing rate to 40,000 head a week..

During a SIAL workshop Oct. 24, Joel Saveuse, Carrefour's general manager for Europe, declared: "We must go further in food safety." He added that the retail chain will immediately cease procurement of meat harvested from cattle fattened with animal feed. In addition. the use of growth-stimulating antibiotics has been banned. Perhaps most important is a plan for mandatory, systematic screening for BSE at slaughterhouses.

The French meat sector is currently feeling the heat long endured by British beef producers. UK-sourced beef has been embargoed in France since an outbreak of BSE in the 1990s traced to feeding animals meat and bone meal (MBM) which contained sheep brains and other protein. Such trade restrictions, however, did not keep the Brits from showcasing beef produced in Cornwall and other parks of the realm at SIAL. French agriculture minister Jean Glavany allowed the display of same, so long as it remained hermetically sealed in see-through packaging.
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Comment:`Mad Cow' Fears Stampede Through France; Other Countries Boycotting French Beef.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:640
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