Politics: Mad cow league table proposed

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The Independent Online
EIGHT EU countries could be declared BSE-free, while seven others would be classified "at risk" under highly-contentious plans for a European mad cow league table being drawn up in Brussels.

European Commissioners meeting tomorrow will consider carving the bloc into three categories, high, low or risk free.

Those, including Germany, which have never had a BSE case in a "native" herd, would not have to implement new rules banning cattle parts such as brain and spinal cord which could pose a danger to human health.

German ministers have already hinted at a political trade-off under which they would support the relaxation of the British beef export ban if Germany is declared a BSE-free zone.

The agriculture minister, Jack Cunningham, condemned foot-dragging by other EU governments reluctant to apply British-style health controls earlier this year, but amid signs that it could be the key to unlocking the ban on Britain, the Government now appears more receptive to the idea of a geographical carve up. "We are considering it" said a spokeswoman yesterday.

EU scientists are already collating data on the incidence of BSE in each member state with a view to identifying the highest-risk regions and countries.

Britain would be the most obvious candidate for high-risk status in any EU league table but Ireland Portugal France Belgium Holland and Luxembourg which have all had confirmed cases would also have to be classed at varying degrees of risk.

At least one case has been detected in Germany but Bonn has gone to great lengths to prove that Cindy, the cow in question, came from Britain.