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Austria declared BSE free

VIENNA, Austria -- A suspected case of mad cow disease in Austria has proved to be a false alarm.

The country remains one of the few in Europe still free of the brain wasting disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Details of a final test on a cow that had been born in the Tyrol province were released on Wednesday and confirmed that it was BSE-free following earlier indications had pointed to a likely case of BSE.

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Italy, Spain and Belgium have reported suspected cases this week following the European Union's programme of obligatory testing of cattle aged more than 30 months.

Austria has long prided itself on its strict environmental laws and high veterinary standards, having banned the feeding of cattle with meat and bone meal since 1990.

All tests in Austria have so far been negative, as they have been in Sweden and Finland.

But officials, notably Austria's EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, cautioned against complacency and urged the country to remain vigilant.

"At any rate, one should say goodbye to the assessment that it was just the one case. The risk has now neither increased nor lessened," he said on Austrian state television.

"One should still expect that there could be a (BSE) case in Austria."

Officials in the western province of Tyrol said on Tuesday that they had found illegal bone meal in animal feed given to cows in Schattwald, the village where the suspected contaminated cow had been born.

The spokesman for the provincial government said the feed came from neighbouring Germany with a guarantee that it was free of bone meal.

Last month Austria banned all imports of German cattle and beef.

Agriculture Minister Wilhelm Molterer said all domestic producers and retailers of animal feed had been subject to strict checks since the beginning of the year, and that there was "zero tolerance in this issue."

Many scientists believe that humans who catch new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human equivalent of BSE, do so as a result of eating BSE-infected beef.

France has said it is to "downstream" the cost of testing onto its consumers, adding an extra franc ($0.143) to the cost of one kilogramme of beef.

The tests cost about 500 francs per animal, with the European Union paying one-fifth.

The French Government had asked meat packers to shoulder the balance, a burden they had angrily rejected.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
BSE spread reaches Austria
January 14, 2001
Italy finds first suspected BSE case
January 14, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Spanish Agriculture - Government
European Union
The UK's BSE Inquiry

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