Meat throughout Europe is infected with BSE

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The Independent Online
Consumers throughout Europe are being exposed to BSE- infected meat, according to an official European Commission report yesterday, which also highlighted alarmingly lax health controls.

The report supports the view that the extent of BSE throughout the European Union is much wider than governments are prepared to admit.

Brussels is poised to revive attempts to extend across Europe the British ban on the human consumption of offal from cattle, sheep and goats which are susceptible to infection by BSE, or its sheep equivalent, scrapie.

Publication of the report in Brussels came as the Government pledged to make a Commons statement on whether British cattle infected by BSE had been buried in landfill sites rather than destroyed. The statement was promised by Roger Freeman, Cabinet minister responsible for the cattle cull, after the Labour MP Helen Jackson protested that ministerial answers were being "contradicted and countermanded".

Her complaint followed yesterday's Independent front-page report on Commons replies to the Opposition spokesman Gavin Strang from Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, in which it was disclosed 6,120 BSE-suspect carcasses had been buried.

The ministry said parts of Mr Hogg's answers were wrong, and would be corrected by Mr Hogg. Instead, Mr Freeman appeared to pull rank and promised the House a full statement.

European agriculture ministers angrily rejected a British-style ban when it was first recommended by the farm commissioner Franz Fischler last December. Ten member states then said the precaution was unnecessary as they did not have a problem with scrapie.

But the highly critical EC report, based on evidence gathered during veterinary inspections carried out in all member states, except Britain and Portugal, suggests if BSE is present in European herds, governments are not detecting it. They are failing also to prevent meat which might be diseased from entering the human food chain.

Diseased cattle, slaughtered by some continental member states as "rabies suspects", may have contracted BSE or other central nervous system disorders, and there is no guarantee that their carcasses are not being allowed into the food chain, the report says.

Scrapie, thought to be the origin of BSE in Britain, is more prevalent in other European countries than previously admitted, the report suggests. This is because surveillance methods are thought to be unreliable. Some countries depend on questionnaires or on interviews with sheep farmers.

Methods of dealing with scrapie vary widely, from slaughtering entire herds to doing nothing. The failures are put down to lack of implementation of EU rules by national veterinary departments, rendering plants and animal feed mills, and to absence of properly trained scientific staff capable of diagnosing the disease. Brain samples taken to laboratories are frequently unsuitable for examination, making detection impossible.

Commission officials said the criticisms applied more to some countries than others but details on individual states are being kept confidential. Officially, only about 300 cases of BSE have been recorded outside Britain. Ireland with 204, accounts for most, followed by Portugal and France with 53 and 25. Germany claims any cases detected there were in cattle imported from the UK.

Mr Fischler said in a recent interview that he was worried about the likelihood of widespread under-reporting in other member states.

The British dinner, page 3