Consumer fears trigger new beef curbs across EU

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The Independent Online

Brussels is proposing millions more tests for mad cow disease across Europe, in a drastic response to the growing consumer panic over beef in France and the continent.

Brussels is proposing millions more tests for mad cow disease across Europe, in a drastic response to the growing consumer panic over beef in France and the continent.

The European Commission said yesterday a plan to extend its screening programme to millions of slaughtered older cattle will be discussed by experts from the 15 member states next week. Brussels hopes to see tests of the carcasses of "all older cattle in the EU". That implies testing could be applied to all dead cattle aged over 30 months, although officials are not sure all nations will agree.

"There could be a different degree of testing in different countries," said one source. David Byrne, the European commissioner for health and consumer protection, said the new package will "increase information and transparency to the consumer and further strengthen our controls".

The discovery in France of more than 90 cases of BSE, which has been linked to the fatal human brain disease variant CJD, has caused a consumer revolt as schools, in Belgium and Switzerland as well, removed beef from their menus.

Although the incidence of mad cow disease is much lower than in Britain, it is rising fast: last year just 31 cases weredetected.

The present testing regime, which becomes mandatory in January next year, foresees about 170,000 post-mortem tests focusing on animals thought to be at risk. France began its programme in the summer, thereby uncovering the higher than expected tally of cases.

On Friday, Mr Byrne askedmember states to introduce the existing programme of tests early. The latest initiative, which would improve the fund of knowledge about the disease, marks a shift of policy.

British officials said they were unlikely to object to the Commission's new plans, partly because the UK already had a system for post-mortem random testing of some cattle over 30 months old. Only older cows develop clinical symptoms of BSE because of the long incubation period of the disease.

The use of meat and bone meal, thought to be the primary cause of BSE, has been banned in cattle feed in France since 1990.

Most of the new French cases of mad cow disease are believed to be the result of cattle eating feed containing animal meal, but intended for pigs or chickens.

The EU plan may prove expensive. Each new test is reckoned to cost £20.

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