Prion Disease: Diagnostics Review
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Who is doing what in diagnostics?
Food, Agri-Biz Stocks on Mad Cow Watch
Mad cows could be in Canada but not detected: scientists
Mad Cow disease alert in Thailand
Geographical risk assessment for Botswana, Lithuania, Namibia, Nicaragua and Swaziland
FDA, Red Cross preparing blood donor bans
Mad cow rules threaten Spanish bullfighting
Washington's biggest slaughterhouse under fire for inhumane tactics

Who is doing what in diagnostics?

15 Feb 01 Commercial Prion Diagnostics by Dr.Stephen Dealler
Comment (webmaster): Steve Dealler, an English expert long involved with this disease, has put together a very fine effort towards tracking commercial companies involved in developing TSE diagnostics on a web site available to all. Because that page will likely receive frequent updates and revisions depending on news from European meetings, the original site should be consulted for current details. Dealler editorializes:
"Anyone entering this field must realise that there is a very large potential market available. Many farmers are aching to find that their cattle are not infected, and many blood recipients are desperate to hear that they did not get the disease with the blood. As such I would suggest that businesses and investors beware that some methods may not work at all... background noise levels will be too high.

Post mortem tests: These are at the moment the only ones that could be looked on as being valid even in symptomatic animals. The Prionics blotting system, the Enfer ELISA and the CEA ELISA systems all were shown to be 100% sensitive and specific. They cannot be looked on as being acceptable to test an animal to show that it is not infected or to test blood for infectivity....

Ante mortem tests: These have always been difficult unless exceedingly good antibodies were used and this was going to make the use of monoclonals a problem. As such Protherics polyclonals must be looked on now as much more useful....

Proxy tests: Proteome Sciences have found a protein in the blood of patients with CJD that is found at a lower level in normal patients. Although this is bound to require further tests on any positive result, it must be looked on as quite a find....

Specific tests: Caprion's test was thought to be specific in that they were thought to have a specific antibody for the prion form...but this would be a monoclonal (with less affinity therefore) and the find may not be as good as was initially considered....

Dr. Schmerr's technique has been shown to work in scrapie in sheep and chronic wasting disease of deer. The word goes around that it does not word in BSE and in humans. Also it is said that Beckman have taken over the rights to its use in some way: no data available on this. The experiment would be expected to produce quite large amounts of false negatives when testing large numbers of sheep....

Summary opinion: In fact there is probably already enough data to produce a blood diagnostic ante-mortem test plus a corroborating test that would be needed for human testing. If the various diagnostic companies and groups share some of their technology amongst themselves then things would move faster. For instance if Microsens Biophage deal with Prionics or if Abbeymoy deal with Caprion I would expect adequate tests to appear."

Food, Agri-Biz Stocks on Mad Cow Watch

Saturday 10 February 2001 By Deborah Cohen Reuters
Europe's Mad Cow disease scare has yet to spook the U.S. investment herd away from food and agribusiness stocks, but if American consumers turn their backs on beef, there could be a stampede.

For worldwide hamburger giant McDonald's Corp., the disease has already hurt sales in one of its largest markets. But Archer Daniels Midland Co., a large producer of grain-based feed, has seen a short-term boost in its stock price on increased demand for feeds that are not beef-based.

"I think this is an evolving process," said Merrill Lynch food analyst Leonard Teitelbaum. "I don't know if it's (mad cow disease scare) stopped growing and is in decline, or if it's only on its first leg."

The brain-wasting disorder, known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), has been found in European cattle and eating tainted beef is believed to have caused the deaths of more than 90 people there.

BSE has never been found in the U.S. and since 1997 the government has banned the feeding of ruminant animal parts back to cattle because this practice is believed to have helped transmit the disease in Europe.

But analysts say no matter how good a company is at quality control, the uncertainty over the future of the disease must be factored into stock prices.

And for a host of U.S. companies largely dependent on consumer confidence in the domestic beef supply, the verdict depends largely on events beyond their immediate control.

The biggest problem companies now face is the emotional reaction of consumers to media reports of the disease. Because individual cases of the disease often take a long time to show up, the risk for companies dependent on beef products cannot be fully measured, analysts said.

"The risk is that this fear is continuing," said Prudential Securities food analyst Jeffrey Kanter. "I see 30 reports on this thing a day. If it really starts to gain momentum in the (U.S.) public eye, you could see some adverse behavior on beef."

Investors are already skittish. McDonald's shares fell sharply following a recent earnings report that revealed European sales had suffered in the fourth quarter due to consumers' aversion toward hamburgers. The company uses muscle meat, believed to be safe, to make its products.

"There's a gap between reality and perception," said Salomon Smith Barney analyst Mark Kalinowski. Salomon believes concern among U.S. investors has heightened enough to warrant a special Tuesday conference call on the issue. The firm has named a host of U.S.-based restaurants, including Wendy's International Inc., Darden Restaurants Inc. and Taco Bell parent Tricon Global Restaurants Inc. as stocks to watch.

Along with McDonald's, analysts believe that No. 2 U.S. hamburger maker Burger King Co., a unit of U.K.-based food conglomerate Diageo Plc , has suffered. The chain, which is readying for an initial stock offering, might see investors' appetite wane, should the public sentiment carry across the Atlantic, analysts said.

Sara Lee Corp., a large multinational which sells processed meat in Europe, had said it saw some adverse affect on its European sales. But public confidence in the U.S. beef supply has sustained the stocks of large meat packers such as IBP Inc. and ConAgra Foods Inc.

"So far, I don't think it's had an impact on our stocks," said Prudential's Kanter. In a recent report, however, he stressed that "should the U.S. consumer begin to lose their appetite for beef, companies like ConAgra, IBP and Cargill could be in for some difficult times." Cargill is one of the world's largest privately-held companies.

Advocates of the U.S. beef industry, including the National Cattlemen's beef Association, have begun vigilant public awareness efforts to show that the government and the industry have developed a range of safeguards to ensure the disease never crosses U.S. borders. Last week, the U.S. joined Canada and Mexico in banning imports of Brazilian beef as a precaution, though no mad cow has been reported there.

But the American public is so dependent on beef that even moderate sales downturn of one or two percent could be devastating to markets, analysts said. Last year, on average, Americans ate about 66.2 pounds of beef per person.

"I think it could really have a major impact," said Robert Goldin, a consultant with Technomic Inc., a market research firm focused on food industry trends. "I wouldn't be to quick to dismiss it having an impact in the U.S."

What is bad news for some U.S. companies could be a windfall for others. Feed makers ADM and Corn Products International Inc. have seen demand for their grain-based feed exports to Europe rise, following Europe's December switch to non-animal based feeds.

Midwest Research food analyst Christine McCracken said that chicken producer Tyson Foods Inc. and pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc. could also get a boost if demand for non-beef exports to markets typically served by Europe rises as European consumers eat more locally-produced chicken and pork.

A host of other companies, such as those who create the tests for mad cow disease, and companies that use rendered animal products, such as paint makers and other industrial companies, might gain, should a glut of rendered meat-and-bone-meal hit the market and drive prices lower. For now, though, it's largely a wait-and-see game, analysts said.

"If this issue continues to play out for a long time, I think it could be detrimental to many more companies," said Edward Jones analyst Patrick Schumann.

Opinion (webmaster): Some of these comments show greater insight than others. One long-standing mystery concerning the many advice-givers and consultants is how and when -- or if -- they inform themselves on the complex underlying scientific issues on this immensely difficult disease. It is one thing to be able to read a balance sheet but another to gauge the possibility of positives from EU-driven wider testing in the US. The latter estimate requires a deep historical understanding of the genesis and propagation of spongiform encephalopathies.

France to Slaughter Cows as Prices Fall Because of Disease Fears

14 Feb 01 By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. NY Times
The French government today announced plans to slaughter up to 10,000 cattle a week in order to support beef prices forced down by the mad cow disease crisis. The agriculture minister, Jean Glavany, called it an emergency measure and said the beef would be frozen for sale later. He did not explain where it would all be stored. The whole continent already has a backlog of both frozen and pulverized cattle because many diners, restaurants and institutions have stopped buying beef out of fear of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

His comments seemed aimed to appease small ranchers who have been protesting around the country all week. On Wednesday, ranchers invaded a Rhone Valley slaughterhouse and burned imported Argentine beef. Because beef prices have fallen as much as 80 percent, the ranchers have also been demanding that the government pay them between $140 and $500 for each head of cattle that they cannot sell.

Mr. Glavany blamed the European Union for his inability to buy the cattle directly, saying that E.U. subsidy rules prevent him from making cash handouts. He did promise to take the ranchers' case to the next meeting of the continent's agriculture ministers, which will be in Brussels on Feb. 27. "If Brussels refuses to listen to the distress of French ranchers, I will take up my responsibilities in accord with the Prime Minister and we will then re-examine the situation," he promised.

Because mad cow disease, a brain-wasting, fatal illness, is thought to have originated in scrapies, a disease found in sheep, France's food-safety agency made a related announcement today. It called for a ban on eating brains from sheep or goats more than six months old and suggested destroying all spleens and intestines from the animals.

Mad cow infection could be in Canadian beef but not detected: scientists

2 Feb 01 CP
Canadians may be at risk of contracting the human form of mad cow disease from domestic beef because current testing is inadequate, scientists say.

Canada tests about 900 animals a year and that is not enough to detect disease if it is present, agreed David Westaway of the Centre for Research on Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Toronto.

"It means you can't make a definitive statement you don't have it (mad cow disease) here," he said. "They should do more testing. They should come more into line with Europe."

Westaway said 20,000 animals are being tested weekly in France, while Canada generally tests only those that are visibly sick. He said the disease has a five-year incubation period, and animals could easily be infected without showing symptoms.

Neither the United States nor Canada do large-scale testing which is needed to detect diseases like mad cow, said Michael Hansen, a biologist with the U.S. Consumers Union.

"I would predict that if they tested enough animals here they'll find a positive," Hansen said in an interview Wednesday.

He said the government should be using a new test which is quicker, cheaper and would allow large-scale assessment. Hansen said Canada and the United States should be using the new Swiss-developed Prionics test.

Markus Moser, a spokesman for Zurich-based Prionics, said Canada cannot be sure it is free of bovine spongiform encephelopathy (mad cow disease) with its current testing levels.

"With 800 or 900 tests a year, the situation would have to be an absolutely catastrophic one in order to see something," said Moser. Switzerland tested 20,000 cattle last year and found five BSE cases. This year the country is testing all animals over a certain age.

Claude Lavigne, a spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said large-scale testing is not needed because mad cow has not been detected in North America.

But Moser noted that other countries, such as Germany, once confidently declared themselves BSE free. Only when private meat-producers began their own testing were the German cases discovered.

"It wouldn't be the first time that a country claims it's impossible that we have a problem and then when it starts to test, finds there is a problem," said Moser.

Much of the concern about mad cow disease has focused on imports of cattle feed manufactured from animal parts from Europe, especially from the United Kingdom. A Statistics Canada official said Wednesday the agency has traced U.K. feed materials imported in 1990, and has determined they were not fed to cattle.

David Dodds would not name the importer, nor would he say what the materials were used for. He said the agency has not attempted to trace animal parts and bone meal imported from Germany and Denmark.

Hansen said risk is not only from European animal feed, which has been imported by both Canada and the United States, but also from spontaneous mutations in domestic animals.

Two U.S. studies suggest a significant percentage of presumed Alzheimer's patients actually have variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow, he said.

In a Yale University study, autopsies were done on 46 patients who died with possible Alzheimer's, and six turned up to be cases of vCJD, he said. In another study at the University of Pittsburgh, autopsies revealed three undiagnosed cases of vCJD among 55 patients who had died with symptoms of dementia, he said.

Korean elk ban spells big trouble

February 15, 2001 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) A2 Randy Burton
Wafting over Canada's battlefield of beef, there is, according to this story, a faint yet persistent whiff of bull. Columnist Burton says that Canada raising fears of BSE in Brazil is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black. All the while we were closing our borders to Brazilian beef over phantom fears, Canada was already the subject of international trade action because of a very real disease right here in Saskatchewan.

As of Dec. 28 last year, Korea placed what they call a temporary ban on all imports of North American elk antlers into that country, because of a serious outbreak in Saskatchewan of Chronic Wasting Disease which is related to BSE.

Burton says that since the disease was first discovered, more than 1,500 elk have been killed in an attempt to eradicate the disease. But because there are so many questions surrounding CWD, it has become a serious trade problem.

After receiving a shipment of antlers from Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Korean government refused to let it into the country on the grounds that they had no way of knowing whether any of them came from infected animals.

Until there's some way to guarantee the antlers are from only healthy elk, or there is some way of knowing whether antler velvet from CWD positive animals represents a danger to public health, the ban could stay in place. Korea will review the ban by May 1, at which time it may or may not be renewed. If it is, the Canadian elk industry could be in serious trouble. Korea represents by far the single largest market for Canadian velvet, accounting for at least 70 per cent of national production.

Since the Saskatchewan industry began here in the mid '80s, it has grown to include some 400 farms, with some 21,000 elk. Annual gross sales are estimated at about $40 million annually. The question is whether CWD affects the meat or secondary byproducts like health food supplements derived from antlers?

Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association executive director Brenda McLash was quoted as saying, "To the best of our knowledge, no."

Elizabeth Williams, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Wyoming and an acknowledged expert in the field, was quoted as saying, "As far as I'm aware there aren't any specific studies looking at elk antlers, but the important thing to recognize is there is no evidence of transmission to people of CWD at all, by any route, so far. The investigations haven't turned up any evidence. That certainly doesn't mean that it's not possible, but at least to date there's no evidence for transmission by any route." [There haven't been any investigations. No one knows what to look for in hCJD or hunter CJD: it need not resemble nvCJD in any way. -- webmaster]

But like so much else about CWD, nobody really knows for sure. Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association executive director Brenda McLash goes on to say that one of the troublesome questions remaining is whether the disease has escaped the game farms and has made it into the wild population. It happened in the United States and any repeat of that here could be devastating to the outfitting and hunting industries.

Sask. Wildlife Federation president Lorne Scott was quoted as saying, "Once it gets into the wild we'll never get rid of it. It has very long-lasting potential to reduce tourism opportunities, both from a resident hunters' perspective and non-resident. Just the perception that there may be a diseased animal in Saskatchewan, people will say well, I'm not going to take any chances because it is related to mad cow disease. It's a grave concern."

Has the disease already migrated to the wild? Again, no one knows for sure. To answer that question the provincial environment department asked hunters to bring their elk heads in to a Saskatoon lab. Scientists are now cutting their way through 1,500 elk skulls to examine the brains for telltale holes in the nerve cells, the only means to detect CWD. No results are available from those necropsies yet, but if any tests come up positive, there are going to be a lot of very nervous outfitters in this province.

Can it infect cattle? Not likely, says elk expert Williams. Feeding cattle elk brains for 40 months didn't do it in one U.S. test. Even a radical approach like injecting infected elk brains into a living cow's brain resulted in only three of 13 animals contracting something that looked like CWD. So the chances of the cattle industry being at risk are remote. [How then does the disease spread so efficiently in wild deer in elk? -- webmaster]

If the CFIA has found all of the infected farms and animals as it believes, the elk industry may well survive the biggest setback in its short history. But you have to ask where the food inspection agency was when we needed it. Burton says that if the CFIA had the foresight to ban Brazilian corned beef with no evidence whatever, why did it wait until last year before banning the importation of American elk into Canada? [Easy. The industry didn't want it. -- webmaster]

Mad Cow disease alert in Thailand

Saturday February 10, 2001 The Times Of India
Thailand's Public Health Ministry on Friday issued a mad cow disease alert after two hospitalised patients were found to be infected with the disease, the Thai News Agency said. The identification of the country's first mad cow disease cases sends a warning that Thailand may not have escaped from the brain-wasting illness despite a ban on beef imported from Britain, where the disease started in 1996.

"It's no longer a novel disease. It's here," Somwang Darnchaiwichit, vice president for research at the Mahidol University, was quoted as saying. The Thai News Agency did not identify the patients or the hospital. It said Somwang declined to give any details, and has called a news conference on Monday. Somwang

was not immediately available for comment Friday. His cellular phone was turned off. A Public Health Ministry spokesman said he had no information on the cases. The cellular phones of other Public Health Ministry officials were also turned off.

The findings might come as a surprise even to Western scientists who had earlier predicted that the disease would not surface in Thailand for another three or four years.

Concerned by the outbreak of the disease in Europe, Thailand banned the import of beef from seven European countries two weeks ago -- Portugal, France, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Last week, the Thai Food and Drug Administration also released lists of imported beef products that it said consumers should avoid buying from supermarkets.

The ban, however, doesn't include dairy products and beef byproduct, gelatin, which are provided with certificates confirming that the products are free from the disease. Mad cow disease - formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE - is believed to spread through cows that eat infected feed.

Meanwhile, the Thai Red Cross Society has decided to stop accepting blood donations from people who had lived or stayed in Europe during the past 20 years to ensure that the country's blood banks will be free from the mad cow disease, the Thai News Agency said.

It quoted Sriwilai Tanprasert, director of the National Blood Center of the Thai Red Cross Society, as saying that the decision was aimed at easing public fears. "So far, there have no confirmed reports or evidence that the mad cow disease can be infected from any blood transfusion ... but we decided to temporarily suspend blood donations" by people from Europe, she was quoted as saying.

Malaysia bans beef from Brazil, Thailand

Friday February 15, 2001 THE TIMES OF INDIA
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has banned imports of beef and livestock from Thailand and Brazil because of fears about the spread of mad cow disease,

Health Minister Chua Jui Meng announced on Wednesday. The ban on Thai beef comes after news from Thailand last week that two people were infected with a deadly human variant of mad cow disease, though the doctor at the source of the reports has since said that he was misquoted and that the victims suffered from a different brain disease.

Malaysia's move on Brazilian beef products follows similar bans imposed by the United States, Canada and Mexico on February 6. Chua said Malaysian health officials had no official confirmation from Thailand that humans had been infected with the disease, and that the bans were a precautionary measure.

He said Thailand may have been feeding its livestock with meat and bone meal derived from cows imported from the European Union, where mad cow disease has broken out in several countries. He said beef products imported from Thailand since February 10 and from Brazil since February 6 would be recalled, and that security along the porous Malaysian-Thai border would be stepped up to check smuggling of livestock into the country.

Malaysia barred beef and beef products from the EU and Switzerland on January 5. "We will continue with the ban until we get an assurance that there is no danger to consumers from eating beef and beef products from these countries," Chua told a new conference.

Mad cow disease has been linked with a human equivalent called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has killed some 80 Europeans since the mid-1990s, mostly in Britain. The latest measures would have minimal effect on the availability of beef in Malaysia, which imports most of its beef from India, Australia and New Zealand, Chua said.

Malaysia imported more than ringgits 400 million (US$ 105 million) of beef and beef products last year, ringgits 193,000 (US$ 51,000) of which came from Thailand.

Opinion (webmaster): We have heard this same story many times. A case of sporadic CJD shows up, the doctor tries to explain Creutzfeldt-Jakob to the family using common language ("mad cow disease"), and away it flies. Later, it turns out that it wasn't even CJD. There is simply not enough information above to support a conclusion of nvCJD.

Now this doesn't mean that nvCJD won't eventually show up in Thailand. Indeed, the UN is on record as predicting its globalization (though why they said nothing for 15 years of disease export remains baffling). Thai health authorities might thus be taking the right steps for the wrong reasons.

FDA, Red Cross preparing blood donor bans

February 15, 2001 By LAURAN NEERGAARD, Associated Press 
FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation ...  American Red Cross ... America's Blood Centers
As the government attempts to lower the risk of mad cow disease by banning some frequent travelers to France and Portugal from donating blood, officials fear American Red Cross plans for a much stricter ban might cause blood shortages and confuse the public. The Food and Drug Administration is about to forbid blood donations by anyone who lived or traveled in France or Portugal for a total of 10 years since 1980. [This figure has always puzzled observers. It amounts to residency in a country having significant BSE as well as considerable UK imports. Are people worth excluding at ten years but allowing at 9? -- webmaster]

The agency already prohibits donations by anyone who spent a total of six months in Britain between 1980 and 1996, when that country was the epicenter of the mad cow crisis. But the widened ban come as the brain-destroying illness spreads throughout Europe, particularly hitting France and Portugal.

Red Cross officials told the FDA this week that they probably will ban far more donors from Red Cross blood banks than government scientists termed justified. The Red Cross, which collects half the nation's blood supply, has not made a final decision but is leaning toward refusing donors who spent just three months in Britain or one year anywhere else in Europe.

The Red Cross legally could do so, the FDA's blood chief, Dr. Jay Epstein, said in an interview Thursday. But it could not say or imply that Red Cross blood consequently is safer than pints collected by other blood banks that follow FDA standards, Epstein said. [It won't need to, given all the publicity. -- webmaster]

Also, a stricter ban could worsen already tight blood supplies, particularly in New York City, where 25 percent of the red cell supply is imported from certain FDA-approved European blood banks, he said. The Red Cross estimates its ban would cut nationwide blood donations by 6 percent, while the FDA's standards would cut them by less than 1 percent. "We would be seriously concerned about any safety claims and would be concerned about the supply impact," Epstein said.

The Red Cross president, Dr. Bernadine Healy, said the charity was not claiming its decision was best or safer, only that time will tell. "We believe that we need to go, perhaps, a little further" than the FDA's "minimal standards," she said.

If the nation will not import any European cattle, Red Cross blood banks should follow a similar donor policy, she said. [Clever analogy, comparing blood donors to live cattle imports. -- webmaster] The FDA instead is setting blood policy according to individual countries level of mad cow risk.

"All we're saying is we're following our best medical judgment in the face of scientific uncertainty. They're making a judgment. We're making a judgment," Healy said, adding that she is confident her organization can find replacement donors.

Mad cow disease seems to spread to people through eating infected beef. There is no proof yet that it or its human counterpart spreads through blood. But debate continues concerning how to protect the blood supply if the disease eventually hits the United States.

The conflicting bans have competing blood banks worried that patients will perceive the Red Cross policy as safer and thus they will have to follow suit, risking shortages by turning away longtime donors like military families.

There will be "concerns on the part of patients because they need the blood and they don't understand this ... theoretical risk," said Dr. Celso Bianco of America's Blood Centers, which provides the other half of the blood supply.

The FDA issued the British blood donor ban last year, citing tens of thousands of British cattle infected with "bovine spongiform encephalopathy" in the late 1980s and early 1990s and BSE's spread, through infected beef, to 94 Britons so far.

With the crisis now European-wide, top mad cow experts last month recommended forbidding donations by people who spent a total of 10 years since 1980 in Portugal, with particularly hard-hit cattle; France, with infected cattle and three human victims; and Ireland, with one human victim. That panel rejected the Red Cross' call for tighter restrictions. The FDA will "as soon as feasible" formally notify blood banks that it will follow the France and Portugal recommendations, but decided Irish-traveling donors are not enough of a concern, Epstein said.

BSE has not been found in American cattle. Americans can suffer a similar brain illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but regular CJD has not been linked to food and no Americans have been diagnosed with beef-linked "new variant CJD." <

Geographical risk assessment for Botswana, Lithuania, Namibia, Nicaragua and Swaziland

13 Feb 01 EU report
The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) advising the European Commission inter alia on BSE related issues has today published its opinion on the Geographical Risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (GBR) in Botswana, Lithuania, Namibia, Nicaragua, and Swaziland. The committee concludes that it is likely that BSE is present in the cattle herds of Lithuania and highly unlikely that cattle infected with the BSE agent are present in the domestic herds of Botswana, Namibia, Nicaragua, and Swaziland.

Lithuania has since 1993 imported 1.900 live cattle and 30.800 tons of meat-and-bone-meal from EU countries. The appropriate risk management measures such as a MBM feed-ban and its control were not put in place until very recently. Therefore it is regarded highly likely that Lithuanian cattle were exposed to potentially BSE contaminated feed and subsequently infected.

The conclusions of the assessments for Botswana, Namibia, Nicaragua and Swaziland are based on the fact that, according to all available data, imports of potentially infected live cattle or potentially contaminated meat-and-bone meal into these countries were always negligible. As the systems in Botswana and Swaziland are qualified as "neutrally stable" and as "unstable" in Namibia and Nicaragua, the assessments would have to be revised if imports of cattle or MBM would turn out to have taken place.

The SSC recommends that BSE related aspects are included in the programme of future inspection missions of the FVO as far as feasible so as to obtain confirmation of the information it has received from the national authorities in the countries concerned.

The evaluation of the GBR in these third countries was made on the basis of the same method and assessment process as described by the SSC in its July 2000 opinion on the GBR. In the July-opinion the scientists already assessed the GBR risk in all EU Member States except Greece, and in a first series of third countries. An assessment for Uruguay was published last month. Assessments of the GBR of another 25 Third Countries that have provided a dossier for analysis to the Commission, are ongoing. They are hoped to be finalised next month, at the next SSC-meeting end of March.

Mad cow rules threaten Spanish bullfighting

February 14, 2001 By CIARAN GILES, Associated Press
Tough European measures against mad cow disease threaten to end one of Spain's oldest traditions: small town festivals featuring bullfights. "The regulations could be catastrophic," said Jaime Sebastian de Erice, spokesman for the Union of Fighting Bull Breeders. "Up to 80 percent of the bullfighting festivals in Spain will not be able take on the costs of the new measures." New European Union rules state that cattle over 30 months old must be tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, popularly known as mad cow disease, before they are slaughtered for human consumption. Otherwise they must be destroyed, usually by incineration.

But these measures collide head-on with the centuries-old tradition in Spain of selling carcasses of fighting bulls killed in the ring directly to butchers. Steaks, stew, tails, ears and testicles from the slain animals are popular fare in restaurants and meat markets after each fight.

According to Sebastian de Erice, about 40,000 bulls are slaughtered annually in an estimated 17,000 bullfight festivals, an industry that generates $4.5 billion a year. He said 14,000 of the festivals are small-town affairs run on a shoestring.

Maximino Perez, organizer of the four-day Valdemorillo town festival this month outside Madrid, said the mad cow scare has been an "economic disaster." "I lost 6 million pesetas ($34,000), or some 20 percent of the festival budget, just abiding by the mad cow regulations," he said. Perez, who organizes about 50 such festivals a year, said he's not likely to see the season through unless authorities change the regulations or subsidize the festivals.

For the moment, Sebastian de Erice said, neither the central nor regional governments have offered any help. Sebastian de Erice said the top-category bullfights in major towns and cities are not likely to be affected by the measures since their budgets can absorb the extra costs more easily.

Perez said he lost about $340 for each of the 52 bulls he used at Valdemorillo and spent about as much incinerating each animal. He said some bulls and calves used in small-town festivals escape the regulations because they are less than 2 years old. The average age of bulls used in the larger festivals is 3 or more.

Some festivals this year have had veterinary facilities available to test the dead bulls. On testing negative, they were slaughtered and the meat sold to butchers, Sebastian de Erice said.

Breeders fear that if one of their bulls tests positive after a fight, it could lead to the mandatory slaughter of every cow and bull on the ranch where the bull was raised. A fighting bull from a prestigious breeder can cost up to $17,000 - 30 times the price of some cows - and a ranch can have up to 40 such bulls, plus some 200 cows.

No cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy - a brain-wasting illness with a crossover, incurably fatal human equivalent - have been reported among Spain's fighting bulls, although 23 cases among cows have surfaced since November.

Breeders say that Spain's fighting bulls traditionally graze in pastures, rather than eat now-banned feeds made from ground-up animal remains - the practice blamed for the original outbreak of mad cow in Britain in the 1980s.

Washington's biggest slaughterhouse under fire for inhumane tactics

Wednesday, January 24, 2001 By Jim Lynch of The Oregonian staff 
Washington is investigating the IBP meatpacking plant after a secretly shot video shows cows kicking while being butchered A clandestine video shot inside the Northwest's biggest meatpacking plant has alarmed people from as far away as Switzerland and triggered a seven-month investigation by Washington state authorities.

The video shows upside-down cows kicking and seemingly struggling to release their hooves from an overhead chain winding through a slaughterhouse near the Tri-Cities. It also shows an electric prod being jammed down a cow's mouth.

Armed with the video and supporting affidavits from 23 workers at the IBP Inc. plant, the San Francisco-based Humane Farming Association asserts that many of the cows that enter the plant are being butchered while they are still conscious.

The federal humane slaughter law requires that all the cows be rendered "insensible to pain" before they are butchered. Some reflexive kicking may occur, but cows shouldn't be mooing, nodding and blinking while they're getting cut.

The Washington State Patrol, with the help of two other state agencies, hopes to conclude its investigation this month into whether slaughter or animal cruelty laws were violated. A Walla Walla County prosecutor then will decide whether to press charges.

Gary Mickelson, spokesman for IBP, the world's largest beef and pork producer, suggests the allegations are "residue" from a June 1999 strike at the plant in which workers walked off the job, alleging that an unreasonably fast production line caused worker and food-safety hazards.

Mickelson said that while the company is "extremely concerned" about the animal treatment depicted in the video, it is not representative of the way cattle are treated at the plant, where 1,400 workers butcher about 300 cows an hour. "IBP takes the issue of proper livestock handling very seriously," he said.

Interviews with three former and two current plant workers last week indicate cattle-handling procedures may have improved slightly since the video aired regionally in June, but that problems persist.

They say "the chain" -- production line -- still moves too fast to give "the knocker" enough time to adequately stun cows senseless with a hand-held device that thrusts a steel bolt into their skulls.

One slaughterhouse worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing a job he's held for almost a decade, said he saw 14 "live cows" wiggle through the butchering stations last Wednesday. He mimicked their antics, rolling his head and torso and blinking. He estimated one cow struggled for 10 minutes.

"This cow had no back feet and 70 percent of its skin gone, and it had to be stunned again," he said, through a Spanish-speaking interpreter.

"This allegation is simply not true," Mickelson said, adding that "we have not received any employee complaint about any such incident."

To demonstrate its diligence on the humane slaughter issue, IBP paid Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University professor and national expert on animal treatment at slaughterhouses, to inspect the Wallula plant last summer.

Grandin, who has designed stockyards for 25 years and inspected 50 plants during the past five years, said she saw no live cows on the chain when she visited the IBP plant, which sits alone atop a cattle-freckled knoll between Pasco and Walla Walla.

Grandin said workers exercised good cow-stunning protocol during the three hours she was there, but she didn't like the way the cattle were led to slaughter. Noisy chute doors, poor lighting and bad traction needlessly alarmed cows, she said. As a result, the animals backed up, requiring the use of electrical prods, which made them jumpy and more difficult to stun.

"When a good plant is working right, (cows) just walk up the chute and bang, they're done," she said. "It's no more stressful than vaccinations in the feed yard." But with bad management or bad equipment, she said, "it can be a nightmare."

Grandin says IBP's plants vary in quality. "Some of their plants are excellent," she said. How would she rank the Wallula plant? "Bad," she said, noting, however, that the controversial video unfairly tarnished the entire industry.

"This is a plant that just really messed up," Grandin said. "But to imply the whole industry is hanging live cattle is just wrong."

Grandin said she knew the chain was running slower than normal when she inspected the Wallula plant, something workers also confirmed.

Whenever inspectors arrive, the chain is slowed by 10 percent to 20 percent to give workers time to do their jobs well, workers claim. Electrical prods are used less often, too, said Adelaido Ramirez, whose jobs at the Wallula plant included coaxing the cattle into the slaughterhouse before an injury forced him to leave the plant earlier this year.

IBP's Mickelson said the company heeded Grandin's suggestions and made some modifications. Workers confirmed that noisy doors were replaced and that tread was altered to improve traction.

The petition Gail Eisnitz, an investigator for the Humane Farming Association, an animal rights advocacy group, began examining the Wallula plant after she heard striking workers had complained that the chain was moving so fast that they were forced to work on live cows.

Eisnitz argues in her 1997 book, "Slaughterhouse: The shocking story of greed, neglect and inhumane treatment inside the U.S. meat industry," that unreasonable production speeds are not only hard on animals and workers, but also responsible for the rise of food-safety concerns such as deadly E. coli bacteria. (IBP has had several E. coli-related beef recalls since 1998, including three in one two-month stretch last summer, but none involved beef from the Wallula plant.)

After interviewing workers about the plant's problems, Eisnitz asked one to sneak a camera into the plant. She also collected workers' affidavits, excerpts of which she included in a May 31 petition to Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

"The chain goes too fast, more than 300 cows an hour," according to one worker's signed affidavit. "If I can't get the animal knocked right, it keeps going. The chain doesn't stop. . . . The cows are getting hung alive or not alive. They keep coming in."

Another worker signed a statement for Eisnitz that included this observation: "Sometimes the supervisor comes and works on the live cows. They don't want workers to stop the chain, so when the live cows are really active, workers are supposed to honk the horn and the supervisor will come to help them skin the live cow. I would estimate that one out of ten cows is still alive when it's bled and skinned."

IBP's Mickelson pointed out that even the video doesn't show cows being skinned alive. He also says the line speed hasn't increased since the early 1990s.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, charged with inspecting meat and enforcing humane slaughter laws, interviewed Wallula workers in June 1999. Copies of workers' responses, obtained by The Oregonian, indicate the USDA was repeatedly told about live cows and unsanitary conditions.

But Helmut Blume, the USDA's Northwest district manager, pointed out that his 10 slaughterhouse inspectors at Wallula have found only minor problems at the plant over the years. He calls the plant's performance record average.

"I don't want to say that never anything goes wrong in the place," Blume said. But he questioned the legitimacy of the controversial video, parts of which were later aired on KING-TV in Seattle and in San Francisco. "If any one of our inspectors had seen that, the plant would not be operating."

However, the union that represents 6,000 USDA food inspectors nationwide, supported the Humane Farming Association's petition to the state, asserting that reduced access to slaughterhouses and increased production speeds make plants harder to police.

Interviews with Washington state investigators indicate the inquiry has been awkward and difficult. When investigators performed their "surprise" inspection in June, they had to wait for more than a half-hour before they were allowed into the slaughterhouse.

Bill Brookreson, deputy director of the state Agriculture Department, one of three agencies participating in the investigation, said he didn't consider the wait unreasonable.

IBP, which denied a request by The Oregonian for a tour of the plant, has installed its own cameras in its Wallula slaughterhouse. "They confirm that livestock continue to be properly stunned and slaughtered," Mickelson said.

Meanwhile, animal-rights groups continue to rally their members to pressure Washington state officials to take action against the company, with more than 20,000 cards and a thousand letters and e-mails from as far away as Argentina and Switzerland.


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