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Mad-Cow Scare in the EU Continues to Shape Policy and Business Decisions Worldwide.

Evidence that BSE (Mad Cow Disease) in Europe is more widespread than originally believed is attracting the attention of firms and governments worldwide. The French Food Safety Board announced Monday that a preliminary report suggests at least one case of the disease for every 500 cattle tested in the northwest part of the country. The government's testing program revealed that out of 15,000 high-risk cows sampled between June and October, 32 produced positive traces of BSE. In November, officials in Germany reported discovering their first case of BSE.

These reports have revived concerns over the magnitude of the threat posed by BSE, and whether it is spreading across Europe. Originally discovered in Britain in 1996, BSE has been linked to the fatal human illness variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD). To date, at least 80 people in Britain and two in France have died from this disease, though the frequency of cases reported has dropped of significantly in recent years.

Governments worldwide have responded to these latest discoveries by restricting beef imports from several EU countries and modifying regulations on the use of bone meal and other animal products for human and livestock consumption. Poland announced December 9 that effective immediately it would suspend meat and bone meal imports from Austria, Italy, Greece, Sweeden, and Finland, in addition to previous bans on beef and cattle imports from Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and Portugal. Japan jumped on the anti-Mad Cow bandwagon by announcing it would ban the use of animals as material for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products from 28 countries around the world, in addition to strengthening restrictions on beef imports for human use. The restrictions on cosmetic and pharmaceutical makers extend to ruminants of sheep, goats, and pig carcasses.

EU efforts to contain the disease have resulted in a six-month ban on the use of bone meal in animal feed, and an ambitious program to purchase and destroy all cattle aged over 30 months that have not been tested for BSE. This program could include over two million cattle, at a cost of over one billion euros, although EU officials are still debating over the amount of compensation farmers will receive under the program. France also announced a plan to remove up to 25,000 injured animals per year from the food chain.

Beef consumption across Europe has been hit hard in recent months in response to the latest discoveries of BSE. France is reporting a drop in beef consumption of up to 30 percent in recent months, and in Italy--which has found no cases of BSE within its borders--beef sales have fallen as much as 70 percent. Officials in several EU countries have banned beef altogether from school lunches, and placed severe restrictions on retail sales of certain cuts of beef. The beef industry is struggling to maintain public confidence through various public relations campaigns, including touting beef from cattle that have not been fed animal by-products, and emphasizing the origin of the beef especially if it is not from countries where BSE has been detected. In Germany and Italy, McDonald's has recently taken to promoting non-beef options, including salads, chicken, and fish burgers.

Ironically, several countries stand to gain from the current beef scare in the EU, including Argentina and Brazil who hope to increase beef exports. American farmers could also benefit from the EU ban on bone meal in feed, since it is expected to result in stronger demand for additional U.S. soybeans and soybean meal.
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Comment:Mad-Cow Scare in the EU Continues to Shape Policy and Business Decisions Worldwide.
Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Geographic Code:4EU
Date:Dec 18, 2000
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