EU issues worldwide ban on British beef exports

Image of a Cow

March 26, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EST (0530 GMT)

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- The European Union banned exports of British beef worldwide Monday despite insistence by British authorities that the ban was unnecessary and no further action was needed to protect the public from the so- called "mad cow disease."

Because Britain is a signatory to the European Union's agriculture treaties, the EU is within its authority to ban exports of British beef anywhere in the world, said EU Agriculture Commissioner Frans Fischler.

Image of Frans Fischler

"Exports from the U.K., exports of meat and other related products are now banned. The ban extends to live animals, to sperm and embryos and the meat of cattle which have been slaughtered or will be slaughtered in Britain. And all products made from beef and veal," Fischler said Monday announcing the ban.

Persistent concern over mad cow disease erupted into panic Wednesday when a potential link was found between the disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, and its human equivalent, which has killed 10 young Britons.

The government has acknowledged that the disease was the most likely source of a that similar human brain ailment, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

British authorities, who immediately lambasted the EU decision as ignoring the real risks, were expected to quickly challenge the EU ban.

Image of Steven Dorrell

The EU decision followed a speech earlier Monday by the British Health Secretary Steven Dorrell to Parliament in which he said additional measures to curb mad cow disease are unwarranted and the risk of contracting the disease is "extremely small."

Dorrell told the House of Commons that scientists have concluded that children, pregnant women, and the sick are at no greater risk of contracting the disease than anyone else. He said the government's scientific advisory committee did not recommend new action by the government.

"The committee does not believe that any additional measures are justified at this stage, but the situation should be kept under careful review so that additional significant information can be taken into account as soon as it becomes available," Dorrell said.

The government's decision not to take new action quelled speculation that it would order mass slaughtering of British cows in an attempt to get rid of the disease. Officials had said previously slaughtering the country's 11 million cattle was an option.

Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg said he hoped the government's latest statements would help restore consumer confidence in British beef. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)

A majority of European countries banned British beef after Dorrell said last week that the advisory committee had detected a new strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in 10 patients and that "most likely" the disease was linked to "mad cow disease." CJD is a fatal brain-wasting disease.

In 1995, the British beef industry sold $6 billion worth of beef.

Image of Harriet Harman

"All along the government have delayed and given false reassurances," said Harriet Harman, the Labor Party's health spokeswoman. "They took years before they made the disease notifiable in cattle."

She said Labor had attempted to put regulations on cattle feed in 1978 but that the Conservative government had said that the industry could best regulate itself. "When it comes to children," she said, "the government should err on the side of caution." (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound)

Mad cow disease was detected in 1986 after British farmers began the practice of feeding ground-up sheep offal to cows. That practice was banned in 1989.

Dorrell said again Monday that the advisory panel did not have specific scientific proof that the 10 cases of CJD were linked to mad cow disease. But he said, the committee felt that the cases probably resulted from exposure to mad cow disease before the British government banned the feeding of sheep offal to cows in 1989.

Image of a Girl Eating

"Changing from beef to non-beef products is not necessarily without risk," Dorrell quoted the advisory panel as saying. "In light of the scientific evidence," said Dorrell, "there is clearly no reason for the government to advise local education authorities to remove beef from school menus." (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

Government figures released Monday showed that there have been 161,663 cases of mad cow disease recorded in Britain since 1986.

But despite the government's assurances that British beef is safe, across Britain sales of beef have plummeted. A number of restaurant chains including McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's and Wimpy have halted the sale of hamburgers made with British beef.


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