THE BSE RISK : French slaughter herd infected by British feed

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The Independent Online
A herd of 151 cows in northern Brittany was slaughtered yesterday after one of the herd was diagnosed as suffering from BSE; a second herd similarly affected is due to be slaughtered later this week.

The two cases, identified last month, bring to 16 the number of recorded BSE cases in France since 1989. All the French cases have been in Brittany and are blamed on contaminated feed bought from Britain before 1989, when imports were banned.

French specialists say they expect a few more isolated cases over the next two years, by which time all cows fed with British-produced feed will have been slaughtered. Thereafter, they say, there will be no more cases in France as beef cows rarely have a life expectancy of more than 10 years.

While the official message is one of confidence that French meat is of superior quality to British meat because sanitary controls are stricter and corners are not cut in its production, French officials, butchers and caterers have none the less gone out of their way yesterday to reassure French consumers.

One of the biggest French caterers, the Generale de Restauration, issued a statement saying that it did not serve British beef in its canteens and restaurants, and supermarket meat counters carried notices saying that all beef was home-produced.

The agriculture minister, Philippe Vasseur, issued an instruction requiring the origins of all cattle and beef in France to be made known at point of sale. But, he said, he wanted to clear any measures with Brussels first.

An eyewitness to the slaughter in Brittany, the local cafe owner said : "The farmers were honest ... perhaps there are people who have sick animals and don't say anything".

French farmers and meat producers have come out in support of a labelling requirement, saying that a similar system they had planned to introduce over the next six months could be implemented within days if necessary. There is considerable worry among producers in France that the scare in Britain could spread to French consumers. Although France remains the top beef consumer in Europe, consumption has declined by 10 per cent in the past five years, a fall attributed largely to its cost. Sales this weekend were described as "flat".

Meanwhile France continued to apply additional controls at ports to enforce its ban on British beef imports. A lorry carrying 18 tons of frozen beef liver destined for a Belgian company was turned back at Calais in the early hours of yesterday morning. Officials said that it was only the latest of many to be refused entry. They said they had also discovered consignments of beef concealed in lorries carrying predominantly lamb or veal.

Young Farmers' organisations in northern France say their members are acting as "detectives" in trying to track meat from Britain that might be arriving in France illegally. They are also visiting supermarkets to check on the origin of beef on sale.