Don't play the blame game when it comes to BSE

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The news that BSE has been diagnosed in German-born cattle should come as no surprise. The whole, tragic story of "mad cow disease" has been bedevilled by the time lags involved in incubating the infection. It was inevitable that the disease would spread - and that it had indeed spread already, even if all the right measures had been taken to prevent it.

The news that BSE has been diagnosed in German-born cattle should come as no surprise. The whole, tragic story of "mad cow disease" has been bedevilled by the time lags involved in incubating the infection. It was inevitable that the disease would spread - and that it had indeed spread already, even if all the right measures had been taken to prevent it.

We British cannot afford to be sanctimonious. For reasons which are not yet clear, the disease appears to have originated here, and was amplified by the practice of feeding animal remains to cattle. That much has been established beyond reasonable doubt by the Phillips inquiry which reported last month. Given that we exported both animal feed and cattle to France and Germany, it was only a matter of time before outbreaks took hold there.

The French BSE crisis, too, should be seen in perspective. There are still hardly any cases of BSE in France in comparison to the hundreds of cases a year which are still being found here, even though the British outbreak peaked about 10 years ago. However, the truth is that the French could learn a great deal from the British experience of dealing with the disease.

There are two things which need to be done. The first is to prevent the feeding of animal remains to cattle. France still allows animal products to be fed to chickens and pigs, when the British experience suggests this is bound to lead to cross-contamination of feedstuffs at either the mill or the farm. The second is to try to prevent material which might be infectious from being eaten by people. The French authorities have only just banned all those bits of cow which became briefly famous in this country as "specified bovine offals". More worryingly, they have yet to ban cattle over 30 months old from human consumption. This measure was adopted in Britain because there is evidence that cattle which are incubating BSE cannot pass the infection on until they are mature.

Even so, Sir John Krebs, the head of the Food Standards Agency, is right to insist that there are insufficient grounds yet for a British ban on French beef. It would be just as unlawful as the French ban on British beef, and would undermine the British case at the European Court. Rather than get involved in the blame game, we should urge the French to read the Phillips report, learn from our mistakes and take vigorous action to minimise the risk from this frightening threat.

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