Sharp rise in BSE cases on the Continent

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THE "unscientific and unnecessary" slaughter of thousands of cattle belonging to herds on mainland Europe where cases of BSE occur will cost the European Commission millions of pounds this year, new figures reveal.

To attempt to allay consumer fears, entire herds, sometimes containing 200 cows, are slaughtered when a single case of "mad cow disease" is found. A 59-page report by the EC on BSE in Europe states that this will cost more than pounds 100m this year, and probably the same in 1999.

So far this year, there has been a sharp rise in the number of cases of the disease, with 192 recorded in continental countries, including Switzerland and even Liechtenstein.

The average herd size in the different countries means that the 177 BSE cases recorded in continental European Union countries have led to the slaughter of more than 9,000 cows.

But such measures are condemned by the EU. "It is not commission policy. Scientifically, there's no justification for doing it," said the spokesman for Franz Fischler, the agriculture commissioner. "We have always argued that it is not necessary. A `cohort' approach, tracking down cows of the same age from the same farm, which logically would have eaten the same infected meat and bone-meal, is far better. The animals in a single herd are of mixed age. They won't all necessarily be infected."

In the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) has only ever required the slaughter of affected cattle, rather than herds or cohorts. Since BSE became notifiable in 1987, there has been a total of 172,000 cases in 34,000 different herds - an average of roughly five cattle per herd.

When the herds are killed after a case of BSE is found, the farmer receives the full market price for all the animals - half paid from national funds, and half from the EU.

Despite the measures, there are fears on the Continent that a BSE epidemic could be about to start. Portugal, which has had 80 cases this year, has been banned from exporting its beef, putting it in the same position as Britain was until last month. The EU has also notified 12 countries - France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and Greece - that they are breaching rules set up to avoid another epidemic.

Though the UK is still the country worst affected by the disease, with 2,041 cases this year, it does not slaughter herds when cases are found. The present UK total of cases is the lowest since 1988, two years after BSE was recognised as a new disease.


Cases this year (estimated number of cattle killed):

UK 2,041

Portugal 80 (2,400)

Irish Republic 73 (5,475)

France 15 (975)

Switzerland 13 (n/a)

Belgium 7 (245)

Netherlands 2 (200)

Liechtenstein 2 (n/a)