BSE cattle born after feed curbs cause concern

January 25, 2002 The Guardian by James Meikle
Scientists are trying to explain a sudden rise in the number of BSE infected cattle born after tough feed controls were meant to throttle the disease.

Four such animals have been diagnosed over six weeks, bringing the total to 10 and more are likely now that the government has stepped up testing. The European commission has signalled it would consider imposing new export controls on British beef if the number rose to more than 50 in 12 months.

The latest case to be announced was a Friesian cow which had spent its entire life in Leicestershire. But there has been a wide geographical spread of cases, including two in Northern Ireland, causing difficulties for officials trying to pinpoint causes of infection - likely to have been well over five years ago.

Although officials say there is no food safety risk, because the animals are too old to go into the food chain, frustration is growing among government advisers. There is increasing suspicion that mammalian meat and bone meal continued to reach calves after August 1996, when feed laws were strengthened, either through supplies being kept on farms or through cross-contamination.

One theory suggests this might have happened on container ships. But questions are also being raised about how rigorously farmers have obeyed the law.

Scientists had hypothesised some animals might get the disease when in the womb. But it is understood maternal transmission appears unlikely in most confirmed cases.

The possibility exists that BSE is being spread on a small scale through pastures being contaminated by excrement from infected cows.

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