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Beef sales slump after EU BSE scare

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Beef consumption slumped by 27 percent across the 15 countries of the European Union in the final three months of last year, the EU has revealed.

The biggest fall was in Greece, which was hit by a 50 percent plunge in consumption between October and December.

Tthe latest concerns about the outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) took hold in October after potentially tainted meat was discovered on supermarket shelves in France.

In Italy, which detected the first suspected case of mad cow disease among its cattle last week, consumption has dropped by 40 percent.

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And in France, where 153 cases of BSE were reported in 2000 -- more than five times the number detected in 1999 -- beef eating slid by 38 percent.

Nine of the 15 EU nations reported falls in consumption, with other major sufferers being Spain, sliding 35 percent, Germany, down by 33 percent, Portugal, showing a 30 percent fall, and Belgium, seeing a 25 percent slump.

Denmark, Netherlands, and Ireland went unscathed, recording no drop in consumption, while in Finland, Sweden and the UK there were small increases in consumption by up to three percent.

European Union countries have stepped up testing of slaughtered cattle for signs of mad cow disease to counteract public fears.

But recorded cases of the disease are continuing to appear, including in countries such as Germany and Spain that had considered themselves free of the disease.

A source in the European Commission said: "Measures taken to increase consumer confidence in beef have had the opposite affect in some member states.

"More testing reveals more cases. We can only try to convince consumers with the measures we take that the risk from beef is at a low a level as possible.

"We began with the idea that beef consumption would fall by just 10 percent over the year, but the fact that it is now 27 percent doesn't mean it will end the year at that figure."

Last month EU farm ministers approved a programme to destroy all older non-BSE tested cattle to keep them out of the food chain, affecting up to two million animals.

All cattle over 30 months are required to be proven BSE-free before the beef can be sold. Meat from any that are not tested may not enter the food chain.

Since 1986, 180,000 BSE cases have been confirmed in British cattle. A further 1,300 to 1,400 cases have been found elsewhere in Europe.

On Sunday Austria reported its first probable case of mad cow disease after tests on a domestically reared animal slaughtered in Germany,

France began BSE tests on all cattle older than 30 months at the beginning of this year, ahead of the European Union deadline for the programme.

France hopes to test 20,000 animals every week for the deadly, brain-wasting illness, which scientists believe can be passed on to humans via infected beef.



RELATED STORIES:
BSE spread reaches Austria
January 14, 2001
Italy finds first suspected BSE case
January 14, 2001
BSE slaughter sparks protests
January 13, 2001
France begins mad cow tests
January 2, 2001

RELATED SITES:
The BSE Inquiry Homepage
European Union (EU, EC)
Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE)

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