Austria gets first BSE case, almost completing EU madcow map

December 12, 2001 Agence France Presse by Christine Boggis
Austria confirmed Wednesday its first case of mad cow disease, leaving only one other EU country still spared the disease which first surfaced in Britain over a decade ago.

The announcement by the strongly pro-organic farming Alpine country came after Finland, which had also been classified as unlikely to be infected by BSE, confirmed its first case last week.

"The result is positive -- it was proved by four tests, two quick tests and two reference tests," Austrian health ministry spokesman Gerald Grosz told AFP, referring to tests for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The European Commission in Brussels confirmed that only Sweden remains without a BSE case in the EU.

"It is a disappointment that there are cases in Finland and Austria," said a Commission source who declined to be named, adding that those two countries and Sweden had been classified as "unlikely" to be infected.

"We said it was unlikely, but we never said it was impossible," he said.

The Austrian suspect case was announced last Friday. The farm where the cow was raised in Gross Hobaerten, eastern Austria, has been closed and the rest of the herd was destroyed on Monday.

Efforts to discover the cause of the case are being redoubled after a probe showed the infected animal had not been fed meat-based animal feed, thought to be the prime source of BSE, agriculture ministry spokesman Daniel Kapp said.

Meat-based animal feed has been banned in Austria since 1990.

The discovery of the fatal brain-wasting disease in Austria followed an announcement on Friday by Finland that it had just detected its first case of BSE despite more than a decade of tough farming regulations and a ban since 1990 on imports of meat and bone meal.

Cases of BSE have recently multiplied in countries neighbouring Austria: first cases were found in the Czech Republic in June, in Slovakia in October and in Slovenia in November.

The ministry had been awaiting results from further tests in Switzerland and Britain before confirming the suspected case, found last week, but decided go ahead on the basis of its own results, said the spokesman.

The disease, which emerged in Britain in the 1980s, has also spread to Japan, which confirmed its third case earlier this month.

Meanwhile Austrian leaders reassured consumers that beef was safe, in spite of mix-ups which first pinpointed the wrong farm as the infected cow's origin and then allowed her calf to make it onto the supermarket shelves.

"The controls worked. The BSE emergency plan proved itself. The Austrian government's idea to keep blanket tests is the right one," Health Minister Herbert Haupt insisted in a statement.

"We can assure you that we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of consumers and to stabilise the beef trade," Agriculture Minister Wilhelm Molterer said in parliament on Wednesday.

"Trust in home grown beef is justified," Austrian agricultural marketing institute AMA said in a statement. "Experts do not believe this disease will reach epidemic proportions in Austria," it added.

In the few days since the case was announced consumers have not changed their shopping habits, AMA spokesman Oskar Wawschinek told AFP.

BSE is linked to the fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has killed about 100 people in Britain since the mid-1980s when the disease first came to light.

The Commission said it still hopes Sweden will be spared BSE. "We still consider it unlikely, but we cannot say they will definitely not have have any cases," the Commisssion source said.

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