Mad cow disease tests were 'flawed'

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The Independent Online

Tests across Europe for signs of BSE in cattle show no signs of an epidemic, but they used "flawed" systems ­ as revealed by The Independent in December ­ that have never been scientifically validated.

Results trumpeted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) yesterday showed that of 1.7 million cattle tested in the first four months of the year on arrival at abattoirs on the Continent and in the UK, only 76 tested positive. Of those, none came from Britain, though only 30 were tested here, compared with thousands in Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, the Republic of Ireland and Spain.

But the three tests used and approved by the European Commission are deemed to be flawed because scientists do not know how effective they are at revealing BSE in cattle that do not have symptoms. As Dr Heinz Schimmel, who validated the tests at the Commission'ss Joint Research Centre, told The Independent in December, a negative result would not necessarily mean an animal was free of BSE. "Nobody can do that," he said.

That contradicts the Commission, which insists that a negative test means the animal is safe to eat. Statistical studies, however, have shown that in any group of infected animals, a significant number will be incubating BSE, which can take four or five years to produce symptoms.