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EU warning over BSE

Farmer
One of Peter Lorenzen's cows tested positive for BSE -- Germany's first detected case  

LONDON, England -- No country in the European Union can guarantee that its beef is free from mad cow disease, the EU's food safety chief is warning.

David Byrne, the EU Health Commissioner, made the statement to governments struggling to allay consumer fears over the spreading scourge formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

In Germany, the latest country to detect the disease in its cattle, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday rejected an accusation by Byrne that the government had been "complacent" about the spread of the disease.

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BSE knew no national frontiers and it was a mistake to believe that German controls were sufficient to keep out, Byrne said.

"This is not just a German problem," Schroeder responded. "It's a problem affecting all of Europe."

"I think we have shown that we are capable of acting swiftly and precisely," he added, but shortly afterwards the German government announced it was delaying the introduction of a blanket ban on the production and import of meat-and-bone meal until Friday.

Agriculture minister Karl-Heinz Funke said the government considered there was "insufficient legal basis" for the decree needed to institute the measure by Wednesday as previously announced.

Separately, traces of meat and bonemeal were found in feed intended for cattle at a north German feedstuffs company, indicating a breach of a 1994 European Union ban on ruminants being fed the substance.

Infected feeds have been blamed for the spread of BSE and the human form of mad cow disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

Blame game

Butchers reported plunging beef sales amid calls for the resignation of Schroeder's farm and health ministers following the news that at least two, and perhaps dozens of the country's 15 million cows were infected.

Opposition politicians and the German media condemned the government and farm authorities for saying Germany was immune from BSE because of superior tests and controls.

"We believed the nonsense the whitewashers told us that Germany was free from BSE," said the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"There probably isn't any safe haven in Europe any more."

Funke, who last week said he was "absolutely convinced" Germany was immune to BSE, demanded fast national testing of slaughtered cattle.

Byrne told German television that officials should be honest with the public. "We need transparency. It's important consumers know they're getting all the information available and won't be fooled.

"Germany long had the view there could be no cases of BSE. That was wrong."

His warning to all EU countries came in response to reports that Ireland planned to market its beef as BSE-free based on strict controls already in place and an enhanced testing regime to be introduced before the end of the year.

"We can say we're trying to reduce the risk to the minimum but there is no such thing as risk-free," Byrne said.

Ireland has had 550 cases of mad cow disease since 1989. The annual number of cases rose to 104 this year from 74 in 1996.

Meanwhile in Britain, the starting point for Europe's BSE crisis in the 1980s, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said on Monday it would visit France on Wednesday to seek assurances that beef exports did not pose a threat to public health.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Demands for mandatory tests across EU for BSE
November 25, 2000
Mixed messages as Germany reacts to BSE fears
November 24, 2000
Germany calls for action over BSE
November 24, 2000
Britain to check French beef
November 23, 2000
EU extends tests for mad cow disease
November 21, 2000
Mad cow costs surge in Europe
November 21, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Germany's Federal Government
The European Commission - Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General
World Health Organization - BSE and vCJD Fact Sheets
Human BSE Foundation
Britain's Ministry of Agriculture - BSE

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