Europeans Doubt U.S. Can Replace Blood Imports

Europeans Doubt U.S. Can Replace Blood Imports

July 17, 2001 The New York Times by John Tagliabue

European blood-bank officials told a top American official on blood safety today that they were skeptical that the United States could easily replace blood imports from Europe if a proposed ban goes into place. The Europeans warned that an interruption in the supply would be impossible to reverse in the foreseeable future.

The warning was given at a meeting of blood-bank officials from Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland with the American official, Dr. Jay S. Epstein, who heads the Office of Blood Research in the Food and Drug Administration. The meeting was intended to explain to the Europeans the reasons for the restrictions, which were recommended to the F.D.A. last month by an advisory panel that was concerned about the spread of mad cow disease across Britain and, to a lesser degree, the rest of Europe.

"If the decree takes effect, from our point of view it would be a one-way street," said Dr. Siegfried Walser, chief executive of the Blood Donor Service of the Swiss Red Cross, who is responsible for Swiss blood imports. Other supplies are from the Netherlands and Germany.

Though the ban on European blood would be national, it would particularly affect New York, the lone area in the United States that imports European blood. The discussions were held in connection with the annual congress here of the International Society of Blood Transfusion.

European officials described Dr. Epstein as having explained that the restrictions would cause a 5 to 8 percent drop in the supply of blood in the United States, but that the shortage could be made up by increased donor programs.

"Our experts are skeptical," Dr. Walser said. "We know what high marketing costs and recruiting costs such an increase requires."

He said the ban on European blood could lead to "massively increased prices" for blood in the United States.

Swiss officials presented Dr. Epstein with what they described as new statistics suggesting the unlikelihood that the human form of mad cow disease, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, could be transmitted by transfusion.

The president of the New York Blood Center, Dr. Robert L. Jones, said Dr. Epstein had indicated that draft guidelines would be issued in a few weeks and that the restrictions would go into effect by late next year. Dr. Jones, who attended the discussions, said he indicated that such a time frame was unmanageable.

One-third of the blood supply in New York would be affected. Washington has proposed allocating money to help New York develop new sources of blood and to import blood from American military bases in Europe. Dr. Jones said he would begin discussions with Pentagon officials on Thursday about obtaining military supplies.

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