French report blames Britain, EU and France for madcow

French report blames Britain, EU and France for mad cow

June 20, 2001 Agence France Presse by Hugh Schofield

Britain, France and the European Union are all taken to task in a parliamentary report released in Paris on Wednesday for a series of oversights and blunders that led to the spread of mad cow disease, or BSE.

The report, by a National Assembly commission of enquiry, accused Britain of continuing to export meat and bone meal (MBM) to continental Europe -- even after it had been identified in 1988 as the probable vector for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and banned for domestic consumption.

It blamed France for "insufficient appreciation of the danger" and failing to crack down on illegal imports of meat and bone meal and accused EU institutions of putting off essential controls in the face of overwhelming evidence about the way the disease was passed on.

The report, commissioned in response to the growing incidence of BSE in French cattle, echoed most of the findings of a similar enquiry by the upper house, the Senate, though it was more guarded in its criticism of political leaders.

The Senate report, which was released a month ago, set off heated debate in France because it held successive ministers responsible for the epidemic, providing ammunition for a law-suit launched by victims of the human version of BSE -- variant Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (vCJD).

BSE arrived in France from Britain via contaminated meat and bone meal and is so far known to have infected more than 300 cattle, compared to 170,000 in Britain. Three French people have died of vCJD, compared to around 100 known cases in Britain.

The president of the assembly commission, Francois Sauvadet, said, "It is striking that while the epidemic was spreading as of 1988 in Britain, no information was ever clearly given to France by the British authorities."

Imports of British MBM -- animal feed made up of ground-up parts of other animals -- were officially banned in 1990, but the report found clear evidence of fraud and noted that "up till 1994 there was an increase in exports of British MBM to Europe".

It was particularly critical of the French customs, health and anti-fraud authorities, which it said often acted in competition with each other, and failed to take serious action to stop British meat and bone meal entering the country.

Turning to the EU, the report said that "in the first years of the epidemic, the agriculture commissioner Ray MacSharry obstructed certain measures that would have limited the spread of BSE in Europe.

"Health concerns were overridden by the greater objective of the free circulation of goods, services and capital,"

It accused successive EU ministerial meetings of "denying against all the evidence the risk of BSE in their countries", thus delaying the introduction till last year of a Europe-wide ban on so-called high-risk material in animal meal -- such as spinal cords and intestines.

Germany, Italy, Spain and Denmark -- countries which only began finding cases of BSE when they began testing cattle late last year -- were specifically criticised.

"This position was a grave error. Those people in authority who took public health so lightly will one day have to account for themselves in their own countries," the report said.

The report contained a number of recommendations, including a call for countries that export cattle to the EU -- like Poland and Romania -- to apply the same health norms. It also suggested the French practice of culling entire herds where cases of BSE are discovered should be reconsidered.

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