Young cattle still infected with BSE

Beef war: Latest Maff statistics threaten to derail Government's campaign to block EU business
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Unpublished government figures show that the incidence of Bovine Spongiform Encepha- lopathy among young cows has barely changed in the past six years, suggesting that measures to stamp out the disease are failing.

Statistics collected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), and seen by the Independent, demonstrate that among cows aged up to five years-old, the percentage confirmed with BSE has only fallen from 2 per cent in 1989 to 1.5 per cent in 1995.

Among cows aged six years or more, the incidence of 3 per cent in 1995 is the second-highest in the past seven years. Only 1994 had a higher incidence, of 3.2 per cent.

The cows' age is significant because those under five years old were born after July 1988, when Maff banned the recycling of slaughtered animals into cattle feed. This measure was meant to eliminate BSE by removing the source of infection. Scientists also reckon that it usually takes about five years for the disease to develop, though this figure varies.

The new figures, which include cases up to 15 May, suggest either that the disease is being passed from mother to calf - "vertical transmission" - or that cattle feed is still contaminated with the agent that causes BSE, or both.

They also imply that many cattle which are incubating the disease are being slaughtered and consumed in foods, since a proportion of those killed at any age must have been due to develop the disease later in life.

Dr Stephen Dealler, an independent scientist who has made a statistical analysis of the spread of the disease, said the figures suggest that for every one case of BSE that is diagnosed, another seven cattle incubating the disease are slaughtered and eaten.

The figures suggest that the Government's proposal to cull all cattle over 30 months old will not prevent the disease persisting into the next century. A Maff spokeswoman said yesterday: "We think there is still a continuing low level of contamin- ation." This would mean that infected parts from cattle are passing back into animal feed and being consumed by young cows.

Dr Dealler believes the figures indicate that the disease is being inherited. "Vertical transmission fits these statistics," he said. "The age distribution at which cattle develop BSE has changed very little over the years. The cattle feed passes through the processing plants very quickly, so you would expect to see a fall - which isn't happening."

And Britain's reply is: 'Encore non'

Britain is set to reject a series of measures this week:

No: Combatting EU fraud. In the finance council, Mr Clarke has until now led the campaign for new measures to protect EU spending from fraud.

No: Increased loans to Latin America and Asia. Mr Clarke has previously supported the loans. Opposition will anger the Spanish

No: New VAT rules for cut flowers. The measure was a Dutch proposal. Mr Clarke, to date, has not opposed.

No: Europol. Germany has led the campaign for Europol, which is widely viewed as essential in the fight againt interntional drug-trafficking, terrorism and crime. Mr Howard supports the principle, but objects to the involvement of the European Court of Justice. Mr Howard will use this objection to block the entire project

No: Tighter asylum laws. A complex series of new asylum laws is being put in place. Mr Howard supports them but will hold up progress on Tuesday

No: Europe's 1997 "anti-racism year", intended to combat xenophobia and promote equal opportunities for minorities. In the social affairs council, Britain has always had doubts about EU anti-racism measures, but Mr Forth was ready to view the "anti-racism year" as positive - until the beef war.

No: Reducing discrimination against women in business and industry

No: Making it easier for people with vocational training to seek work in other member states. Britain has previously supported this

No: Monitoring population changes in the EU.