EU Bans Feeding Animals to Animals in
Wake of Mad Cow Crisis

New York Times, Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Europe Takes Toughest Steps to Fight Mad Cow Disease

PARIS, Nov. 4 - Moving to calm growing fears over mad cow disease, the
European Union today voted its most drastic measures yet to try to
control the spread of the fatal illness.

In a special emergency session, the union's agricultural ministers voted
to ban the use of feed laced with animal products, not just for cattle
but for all farm animals, for at least six months.

In addition, all cattle over the age of 30 months are to be removed from
the food chain unless they can be tested to make sure they are disease
free. As testing capacity is limited, this is likely to mean that two
million head of cattle in the union's 15 member countries will be

Both measures are expected to be costly. Union officials estimate that
the feed ban - intended to prevent cattle from eating, even
accidentally, infected animal parts that can transmit the disease - will
cost nearly $4 billion a year. The removal of older cattle from the food
chain will cost another $800 million, officials said. Evidence of mad
cow disease has never been found in young cattle.

"The crisis we have to come to grips with is an unusual one," said Franz
Fischler, the European Union's agricultural minister, after emerging
from the nine-hour meeting. "It needs unusual measures."

The measures come as most European countries have been struggling with a
growing panic among consumers about the safety of beef. Wholesalers in
several countries have reported a drop in sales of nearly 50 percent in
the last few weeks.

The recent panic began in France, where the number of reported cases of
mad cow has increased dramatically this year, in part due to increased
testing. Last year, France counted 31 cases. This year, it already has
more than 110.

But the panic soon spread throughout Europe - especially when Germany
and Spain, which had never reported cases, said two weeks ago that they
too had diseased cows.

Since then, health and agriculture officials have been scrambling to
reassure consumers that everything is being done to protect them.
Several countries have announced new measures of their own, including
increased testing and new bans on beef from France. These bans are to be
reviewed by the union's scientific steering committee to decide whether
they are appropriate.

The European Union action tonight was devised to offer a Europe- wide
approach to the problems. In many ways, it mirrors the actions that
Britain took years ago to combat its own epidemic. Britain has recorded
more than 170,000 cases of mad cow, far more than any other European

Much about mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform
encephalopathy, remains a mystery. But scientists believe that cattle
originally contracted the disease by eating feed made with tissue from
sheep infected with a related neurological ailment, scrapie. Experts
believe that the fatal disease it is caused by aberrant proteins called
infectious prions, which leave the brain with spongelike holes.

More than 80 people have died in Britain and two in France from the
fatal human equivalent, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has
been linked to the infected beef. The incubation period is believed to
be up to 25 years, and so health officials have warned that the toll may
rise sharply.

European Union officials said tonight that the ban on animal parts in
feed won easy approval from a majority of members, though some countries
objected. Officials said Finland, for instance, did not want to apply
the ban because it did not yet have any cases of the disease.

Much of the cost involved in banning the animal parts in the feed will
be for storing and incinerating the three million tons of ground up
bones and intestinal parts that are a natural waste product of Europe's
meat industry and that have until now been used to enhance animal feed.

Some of the feed is used as fuel in cement factories, and there is some
hope that more will be used for that purpose. But much of it may simply
have to be destroyed.

Animal parts have been fed to cows and other farm animals as a source of
protein since World War II. Banning them is likely to have have serious
trade implications for the European Union as farmers will now have to
find a way to replace it. One alternative would be to buy soy meal from
the United States. But the ministers voted at the last minute to exclude
fish meal from the ban, meaning farmers will still be able to feed those
products to pigs and chickens, deflecting some of the potential need to
import soy.

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