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Veterinarians seek source of BSE, government scrambles to assure consumers

Veterinarians seek source of BSE,
government scrambles to assure consumers

July 3, 2001 Associated Press by Costas Kantouris

Veterinarians sought to discover Tuesday if tainted animal feed was responsible for Greece's first case of mad cow disease, as government officials scrambled to calm consumers about the quality of the country's beef.

A public prosecutor, Sotiris Pappas, ordered an emergency investigation to determine if meat processing plants are carrying out mandatory European Union tests for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. The main opposition New Democracy party accused the government of trying to cover-up the origins of the infected cow.

''Controls are systematic in our country,'' government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said. ''We must not give a picture of a country that is stricken.''

The agriculture ministry confirmed Monday that a case of BSE was detected in a 5-year-old milk cow at a meat processing plant in northern Greece during routine testing.

The case could shatter already shaky public confidence in beef and its products. According to EU statistics, beef consumption in Greece dropped by 50 percent late last year during a BSE outbreak in Europe. Greeks consumed 221,547 tons of beef in 1999, the last year for which figures are available.

''The market is worried,'' bannered the Athens daily Ethnos, while the pro-government Ta Nea said ''Mad cow refutes government assurances.''

Officials ordered the destruction of 146 cattle that were in the same farm as the infected cow in Kilkis province and sent samples for analysis to the Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki. Government officials claim the farm did not use animal-based feeds in 1996 and 1997, when the cow is thought to have been infected.

Scientists believe that BSE was spread among cattle by recycling meat and bone meal from infected animals back into cattle feed. Greek farmers are not allowed to use such feeds.

''The agriculture minister hid the fact that the animal was either born or was imported into Greece at a very young age. Therefore it became ill in our country. This proves that it was possibly fed with unsuitable feed,'' said New Democracy deputy Athanasios Nakos, in charge of the party's agricultural policies.

The government has not confirmed reports that the cow was born in Greece, although the veterinarian who collected the sample told The Associated Press that according to its documents, the Holstein was not imported. The Kilkis veterinary department shares the same view.

''We believe that this cow was born in Greece from a mother which was born in The Netherlands and arrived here,'' said department manager Eleftherios Alexandridis.

Analysts at the Aristotelian University said samples collected from the 146 cattle would show the possible source of contamination.

''If the others cows, which were born in Greece from mothers born in Greece, are contaminated, then the disease originated with the animals' food,'' said Antonis Mantis, a professor of veterinary science.


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