French CJD victim's family to sue government for 'poisoning'

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The Independent Online

The family of a dying 19-year-old French victim of the human form of BSE plans to sue the French state for "poisoning" their son. Their legal action could lead to the trial of officials and even ministers, comparable to the long-running case involving the infection of French blood banks with the Aids virus in the Eighties.

The family of a dying 19-year-old French victim of the human form of BSE plans to sue the French state for "poisoning" their son. Their legal action could lead to the trial of officials and even ministers, comparable to the long-running case involving the infection of French blood banks with the Aids virus in the Eighties.

The family's legal action - and a harrowing television documentary on the dying teenager, Arnaud, screened last night - will add to the mad cow psychosis that has gripped France in recent days.

The panic, including a 20 to 30 per cent drop in beef sales, is partly justified and partly exaggerated. Despite a worrying increase in the number of BSE cases this year, the French outbreak does not begin to approach the scale of the calamitous epidemic which struck Britain in the mid-Nineties.

There have been 86 cases of BSE in French cows this year, almost three times last year's figure. At the peak of the epidemic in Britain, there were 80 cases every day.

But the French government has been forced to admit in the past 10 days that its domestic precautions against BSE - and its possible transmission to humans as new variant CJD - are inadequate.

A year ago, when France unilaterally banned British beef, Paris said it was pursuing a BSE policy of maximum precaution and minimum risk. The French public has since learnt that, in some respects, they are less protected against BSE than British consumers.

The French Agriculture Minister, Jean Glavany, has said he intends to ban animal feed containing the remains of cattle, which is suspected of spreading BSE. Such feed has been banned in Britain since 1996 but remains legal in France for fattening pigs and chickens. All current cases of BSE in France can be traced to accidental or deliberate "cross-over" use of such feed to fatten cows. The French government had refused to impose a complete ban, saying it would be impossible to enforce in an open European market and unfair to pig and poultry producers.

Mr Glavany also plans to introduce testing of all cows entering abattoirs in France (althoughBritish officials regard the tests as unreliable). But the French minister rejected pressure from consumers' groups for France to follow Britain and ban all "beef on the bone". Forbidding cÿte de boeuf or T-bone steak, as some restaurant chains already do, was "unthinkable" in France, Mr Glavany said. Instead, his officials were looking at ways of having butchers separate the ribs and spinal column, which would be banned from human consumption.

In last night's documentary on the M6 television channel, the mother of Arnaud, the third French CJD victim (who was not further identified), said her son had been "abandoned" by the French state. "People made mistakes and there is no reason why they shouldn't pay for them," she said. "Every day we hear farmers crying because their herd has been slaughtered. They are compensated and they can buy new cows. We can't buy a new son."

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