Live exports spreading BSE - expert

Live exports spreading BSE - expert

June 11, 2001, CNN

LONDON, England -- Exports of live animals contaminated with mad cow disease could be to blame for spreading the disease in eastern Europe.

Czech Republic authorities confirmed a positive test on a suspected case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) late last week.

"It will be a case exported not from the UK but from places like Germany, so it's the first caused by re-exports," Dr Stephen Dealler, a microbiologist who has worked on BSE since 1988, told Reuters news agency.

"What's happening is that we are seeing a potential indicator that the epidemic in Europe is greater than was expected, and it means the import of animals from particular places may actually become more and more complicated," he added.

Despite tough measures against meat-based feed introduced in 1996, the disease has spread further than governments first feared due to a muddle of live animal shipments and flawed feeding practices in Europe, the scientists said.

Britain first detected BSE in 1986 and has been blamed for spreading it to France, Germany and other European countries via exports of infected meat-based feed.

Scientists and the European Commission had warned eastern European countries they were likely to be at risk.

The results from the Czech case have been sent to Germany for verification.

UK scientists said other east European countries were likely to have the disease, linked in 1996 to the fatal human form, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has claimed the lives of about 100 Britons.

"Cases should already be being picked up both in humans and in cattle (in eastern Europe)," Iain McGill, a veterinary surgeon who worked for the UK agriculture ministry at the height of Britain's crisis, said recently.

"The spread of meat-and-bone-meal (animal feed) and the transport of cattle has occurred from Europe into eastern Europe, so you would expect a progression of disease."

Dealler agreed, saying BSE was probably already widespread in the region.

"The Poles' statements that they have never got a case of BSE in their lives probably aren't true," he said.

Dealler said one infected cow could pass on the disease to 50 others and even if potentially risky parts of the animal were never used, the disease could hit two or more other cattle.

"Imagine you're doing the best you can and you're still infecting two other cows. That means the disease continues to spread and grow," Dealler said.

He said government inaction was to blame.

"What happened is they shouldn't have been so smug in assuming they didn't have any cases," he said of governments across Europe.

"What they could have done was to take on some quite severe action, but they didn't."

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