Prion Disease
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FDA warns livestock feed makers
Irish BSE scare cattle cull begins
Organ donors face new screening
German investigation on BSE mistakes gets under way
Finland bans blood
European cosmetics banned in Asia
Scientist says mad cow tests not infallible
Farm lobby to lose influence
British test confirm case of mad cow in Denmark
A price to pay as autopsies lose favor

Makers of US feed fail to heed rules on mad cow disease

January 11, 2001 NY Times By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
Large numbers of companies involved in manufacturing animal feed are not complying with regulations meant to prevent the emergence and spread of mad cow disease in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration said yesterday.

The widespread failure of companies to follow the regulations, adopted in August 1997, does not mean that the American food supply is unsafe, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the F.D.A., said in an interview. But much more needs to be done to ensure that mad cow disease does not arise in this country, Dr. Sundlof said.

The regulations state that feed manufacturers and companies that render slaughtered animals into useful products generally may not feed mammals to cud-chewing animals, or ruminants, which can carry mad cow disease.

All products that contain rendered cattle or sheep must have a label that says, "Do not feed to ruminants," Dr. Sundlof said. Manufacturers must also have a system to prevent ruminant products from being commingled with other rendered material like that from chicken, fish or pork. Finally, all companies must keep records of where their products originated and where they were sold.

Under the regulations, F.D.A. district offices and state veterinary offices were required to inspect all rendering plants and feed mills to make sure companies complied. But results issued yesterday demonstrate that more than three years later, different segments of the feed industry show varying levels of compliance.

Among 180 large companies that render cattle and another ruminant, sheep, nearly a quarter were not properly labeling their products and did not have a system to prevent commingling, the F.D.A. said. And among 347 F.D.A.-licensed feed mills that handle ruminant materials ˇ these tend to be large operators that mix drugs into their products ˇ 20 percent were not using labels with the required caution statement, and 25 percent did not have a system to prevent commingling.

Then there are some 6,000 to 8,000 feed mills so small they do not require F.D.A. licenses. They are nonetheless subject to the regulations, and of 1,593 small feed producers that handle ruminant material and have been inspected, 40 percent were not using approved labels and 25 percent had no system in place to prevent commingling.

On the other hand, fewer than 10 percent of companies, big and small, were failing to comply with the record-keeping regulations. The American Feed Industry Association in Arlington, Va., did not return phone calls seeking comment.

FDA warns livestock feed makers

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 AP Online By LAURAN NEERGAARD
Hundreds of animal feed producers are violating rules intended to keep mad cow disease out of the United States, prompting the government to warn on Thursday that companies must shape up or expect shutdowns, even prosecution.

The food supply remains safe despite the violations because no cases of mad cow disease have been found in U.S. cattle, the Food and Drug Administration said. But the violations are serious because if the deadly brain disease does sneak into the country, companies that don't follow the FDA's rules could spread it through animal feed.

So the FDA warned that continued violations will prompt seizures of feed, company shutdowns, even prosecution. Many companies already have received warning letters, and some feed has been recalled. "Today's food is safe," because slaughterhouse inspections have found no suspicion of mad cow disease, FDA veterinary chief Dr. Stephen Sundlof said Thursday.

But Europe's mad-cow crisis "is not a result of them not having adequate regulations in place -- it was a problem of enforcement. And we don't want to end up like that," Sundlof added, promising more intense inspections. The report comes a week before the FDA, warily watching Europe's mad cow situation, is scheduled to debate strengthening blood-donation regulations meant to keep a human version of the disease from ever striking here.

Fear over mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, arose in the mid-1990s when Britain discovered a new version of the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease apparently was caused by eating infected beef. About 90 people have died of the new CJD disease in Britain since then, and now France, Germany and other European countries are grappling with infected livestock. Animals get the disease by eating the tissue of other infected animals, and British cows are thought first to have been infected by eating feed made from sheep harboring a similar illness.

So the livestock industry in 1996 voluntarily banned sheep and certain other animal parts from U.S. feed. The next year, the FDA formally banned any proteins from cows, sheep, goats, deer or elk -- animals that get similar brain-wasting diseases -- from feed for cows, sheep or goats. Poultry or pigs can still eat those proteins, but feed must be labeled "do not feed to cows or other ruminants" and companies must have systems to prevent accidentally mixing up the feeds.

Yet FDA inspections found:

--Of 180 renderers -- companies that turn slaughtered animals' parts into meat and bone meal -- that handle risky feed, 16 percent lacked warning labels and, worse, 28 percent had no system to prevent feed mixups.

--Of 347 FDA-licensed feed mills that handle risky feed, 20 percent lacked warning labels and 9 percent lacked mixup-prevention systems.

--Of 1,593 unlicensed feed mills that handle risky feed, almost half lacked warning labels and 26 percent lacked mixup-prevention systems. (FDA only licenses mills that add medications to feed.)

States are helping FDA inspect the companies, and hundreds are left to inspect. But Sundlof pledged Thursday that every company will be inspected. The American Feed Industry Association said it supported the FDA's enforcement of the rules, saying most companies inspected so far are complying.

Not all US feed companies follow mad cow rules

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 By Lisa Richwine  (Reuters)
Many companies that produce animal feed have failed to fully comply with regulations aimed at keeping mad cow disease from spreading to humans if it enters the United States, U.S. regulators said on Thursday.

Despite the lapses, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is confident the U.S. food supply is safe from the deadly disease that has caused a health crisis in Europe. U.S. cattle are being monitored at slaughterhouses, and so far the disease has not been found in the United States. "At this point we don't believe the disease is in the United States. Unless the disease were found in the United States, the food is safe," Dr. Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in an interview.

Still, the FDA is taking steps to improve compliance, Sundlof said. The agency has the authority to recall or seize products or prosecute companies that do not follow the rules. The feed industry, reacting to the FDA's findings, said it was encouraged that an "extremely high" number of firms were following record-keeping rules, which it called the most important sign that companies were trying to follow the FDA's orders.

The regulations were put in place in 1997 as a precaution in case mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), appeared in U.S. animals. The rules aim to prevent animals that eventually become human food from eating feed made from other animals that are infected. Scientists believe people can acquire a human form of the brain-wasting disease by eating infected beef.

Inspections by states and the FDA found that many animal feed companies were not properly labeling their products or using a system to prevent feed made from cattle and sheep, possible carriers of mad cow disease, from mixing with feed from chicken, fish and pork.

Of 239 firms known as renderers, which process animal parts and pass them on to feed mills, 16 percent were not using proper labels and 28 percent did not have a system in place to prevent mixing of products.

Among 846 licensed feed mills, 20 percent lacked proper labels, and 9 percent were missing a system to prevent commingling. Compliance rates were lowest among 4,344 unlicensed feed mills. Forty-one percent did not use proper labels, and 26 percent lacked systems to prevent commingling.

The animal feed industry, however, noted that between 91 and 98 percent of companies passed inspections on record-keeping, which it said was a sign that most were trying to follow FDA rules. Scores may have been lower for other areas, such as label requirements, because inspectors could interpret them subjectively, said Richard Sellers, a vice president for the American Feed Industry Association. "The fact that our members are keeping records in near-perfect fashion is our indication that compliance is excellent," Sellers said. "We continue to do all we can to keep the U.S. BSE-free."

FDA press release

Issued January 10, 2001by:Center for Veterinary Medicine, Office of Management and
Communications, HFV-12
7500 Standish Place, Rockville, MD 20855
Telephone: (301) 594-1755 FAX: (301) 594-1831 
Helping man and animals by ensuring the availability   of safe and effective animal health products
UPDATE ON RUMINANT FEED (BSE) ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a type of ýtransmissible spongiform encephalopathyţ disease that infects cattle. After the first case in 1986 in the United Kingdom, BSE quickly became an epidemic in cattle herds there. No cases of BSE have been found in U.S. cattle, despite active monitoring*.

Rendered feed ingredients contaminated with an infectious agent are believed to be the source of BSE infection in cattle. Some of the feed given to cattle includes remnants of the slaughtering process, such as the brain and spinal cord, which may harbor the agent that causes BSE. Although the material is cooked during the rendering process, the BSE agent can survive.

To prevent the establishment and amplification of BSE through feed in the United States, FDA implemented a final rule that prohibits the feeding of mammalian protein to ruminant animals in most cases. This rule, Title 21 Part 589.2000 of the Code of Federal Regulations, became effective on August 4, 1997.

FDA developed an enforcement plan with the goal of 100% compliance with this rule. For the first two years it was in effect, the enforcement plan included education as well as inspections with FDA taking compliance actions for egregious actions or repeated non-compliance. As part of the enforcement plan, an assignment was issued to all FDA District Offices in 1998 to conduct inspections of 100% of all renderers and feed mills and some ruminant feeders to determine compliance.

FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has assembled data from the inspections conducted thus far, and presented the following data in a conference call FDA held with Federal and State feed control officials on January 9, 2001.

To date, there have been a total of 9,947 inspections. The majority of these inspections (around 80%) were conducted by State officials and the remainder by FDA. Various segments of the feed industry had different levels of compliance.

For Renderers, who are at the "top of the pyramid" since they are the first to handle rendered protein, and who send materials to feed mills and other ruminant feeders:

Total number of inspections -- 239. Firms handling prohibited material -- 180

Firms whose products were labeled with the required caution statement -- 84%

Had a system to prevent commingling -- 72%

Followed recordkeeping regulations -- 96-98%

For FDA Licensed Feed Mills -- 1,240 total -- Inspected -- 846. Of those feed mills inspected, 347 were handling prohibited material:

Firms whose products were labeled with the required caution statement -- 80%

Had a system to prevent commingling -- 91%

Followed recordkeeping regulations -- 98%

For Non-FDA Licensed Feed Mills -- 4,344 inspected (FDA does not know the total number since they are not required to be licensed by the Agency, but it could be 6,000 - 8,000.) Of those feed mills inspected, 1,593 were handling prohibited material:

Firms whose products were labeled with the required caution statement -- 59%

Had a system to prevent commingling -- 74%

Followed recordkeeping regulations -- 91%

FDA is continuing its enforcement efforts to achieve the goals of 100% inspection of all renderers and feed mills and some ruminant feeders and 100% compliance with the ruminant feed regulations. FDA Field offices have an assignment to re-inspect 700 firms that were not in full compliance with the rule but have committed to implementing the regulation. In addition, FDA is seeking assistance from State feed control officials to identify non-FDA licensed feed mills and to conduct additional inspections in all categories. FDA anticipates higher levels of compliance after completion of follow-up inspections.

Opinion (webmaster): The US has 101 million cows where as France has 5.7 million. This being 17.7 as many cows, the US would need to test 17.7 x 20,000 = 354,386 cows a week to be testing proportionately. This compares to about 50 cows a week tested now. In other words, the US needs to test 7,000 cows where it is now testing 1 to keep up with international norms.

Once a European country has started serious testing, they get religion. After stomaching the inevitable bad results, then they want their trading partners to test just as intensively. The above hog slop is not going to reassure European regulators that the US can merely issue reassurances. No one can predict what, if anything, would turn up in the US from a European scale of testing. Right now the US has not been using the international gold standard of the Prionics test.

Just as Austria and Belgium have been forced into unwilling testing, the US is going to be forced to test at an adequate level or forget about foreign trade in bovine byproducts, cosmetics, nutriceuticals, veterinary products, and pharmaceuticals. One sees from this just from announcements in Japan, Egypt, Australia, the EU, and other countries.

No country is going to base import policy on theoretical reasons > why there shouldn't be BSE in the US or Canada when the choice is real-world testing that proved so informative in other theoretical countries such as Germany. The US and Canada should have been preparing long ago for a more realistic soft landing with the consumer instead of going with blanket denial -- the actual BSE incidence is largely up for grabs. It serves no long term purpose to draw a line in the sand just when the tide is coming in.

Irish BSE scare cattle cull begins

Mon, Jan 8, 2001 By Nick Sommerlad, PA News
A scheme to destroy up to 25,000 cattle per week began today in an attempt to restore consumer confidence in Irish beef following the BSE scare. The programme, part of the EU's plan to control BSE, requires all cattle in the republic over the age of 30 months to be tested or destroyed and could see hundreds of thousands of animals culled.

Farmers will be paid 91p per pound for bullocks that are destroyed under the scheme, which is to run for six months. Eighteen meat plants will be used to process the carcasses. The EU is to pay 70% of the cost of the compensation scheme, with the Irish government paying the remainder and all the processing costs. The cost of the scheme in Ireland is expected to be at least IR 20 million.

A spokesman for the Irish department of agriculture said it would take some time before there was an indication of how many farmers were taking up the destruction option. He said: "700,000 would normally come to be slaughtered in the period. "You could have up to 700,000 taking part in the purchase for destruction scheme."

But Tom Parlon, president of the Irish Farmers' Association, said that figure was an "overestimation" of the numbers of cattle likely to be culled. He said: "With an effective testing regime and the reopening of commercial markets, the figure could be reduced by half."

There have been 580 cases of BSE affecting Irish cattle in the last 12 years at an infection rate of one in a million and the figures have been rising annually. But there has been just one death in the republic from human newvariant CJD - and that person is thought to have contracted the disease while living in the UK.

Ireland Expects To Destroy 300,000 Head Of Cattle By June 01

January 12, 2001 By BRIAN LAVERY NY TIMES
Since the re- emergence of mad cow disease late last year, European Union regulations have forced farmers across the Continent to test or destroy all cows more than 30 months old. But as fear about the disease and its human counterpart, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, sweeps across France and Germany, Irish agriculture officials are worrying about a more practical issue: what to do with the bodies.

An aggressive government program to prevent the spread of the disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, sent 300 head of cattle to slaughter on Wednesday and is to destroy 4,000 by Saturday. The Agriculture Department is prepared to take 25,000 head of cattle a week and expects to destroy 300,000 by June.

The department tested 10,000 head of cattle over the last week, and all returned negative results. But the disease continues to spread. Ireland has had 580 confirmed cases since 1989, with 149 recorded last year. December saw 20 new cases.

The "purchase to destroy" program is intended to help to control the disease and to compensate farmers who suffer from falling beef prices. It will also create a record number of carcasses.

"The single biggest problem we will have will be a waste disposal problem," Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh said.

Since the first mad cow crisis in 1996, Irish slaughterhouses have paid careful attention to body parts known to carry the disease. So-called specified risk material, including the brain, spinal cord and intestines, from all healthy cattle is separated from the meat for human consumption. It is processed into powdery meat and bone meal and liquid residue and sent to Germany for incineration. The incinerators in Ireland are small and privately owned.

The current program classifies the whole carcass as specified risk material, which has quickly shown serious bottlenecks in the system. One company in Ireland, Monery By- Products, is licensed to handle specified risk material, and it is already working near full capacity. Three other licenses are pending.

The German incinerator used by Monery is quite unlikely to be able to accept all, or perhaps even any, of the added waste, especially in light of European Union guidelines that each member process its own waste.

The guidelines, along with the specter of the 200,000 tons of processed meat and bone meal that will accumulate by June, are refocusing attention on Ireland's haphazard waste system.

"There is a national strategic imperative to have an incinerator," a spokesman for Monery, Pat Casey, said. Environment Minister Noel Dempsey and Mr. Walsh have endorsed the idea, but no contractors have emerged to take on the project.

Past efforts to build waste incinerators have been opposed by environmental groups and residents near proposed sites. Engineers say that even if an incinerator could bypass the planning and approval stages, it would take 18 months to build.

The incineration plans are for animals that are more than 30 months old, not for those that have tested positive for the disease. Because the disease is spread by a particularly resilient type of protein, a prion, even incineration is not a viable option for the remains of infected cattle.

Until November, the government simply buried infected cows. That has halted because of fears of contaminating water supplies. Infected carcasses are being frozen and held in warehouses until a method of destroying the prion is found.

Irish farm union urges on meat factories

Fri, Jan 12, 2001 By BridgeNews
Irish meat factories must maximize the volume of commercial beef sales, which will reduce the numbers of cattle entering the country's purchase-for-destruction scheme, designed to combat rising fears on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, Irish Farmers Association president Tom Parlon said Friday. Parlon was responding to fears raised by other unions about meat factories shutting down due to the European Union-wide scheme.

Under the terms of the scheme, all cattle aged 30 months or over have to test negative for BSE in order to be sold commercially. Otherwise, they are purchased purely for destruction, and the carcasses are burnt. Parlon said earlier this week that less than the projected 25,000 cattle per week would enter the EU-proposed scheme, as farmers are opting to enter slaughtered cattle for BSE testing so that they can be sold as "tested BSE free," rather than just have them destroyed.

Some 10,000 cattle have been tested so far in 2001, with no BSE findings. Latest figures released by the Department of Agriculture show only 4,000 cattle are likely to be destroyed this week, since the start of the scheme on Wednesday.

Ireland is the subject of several unilateral beef bans including one from Egypt. Irish beef exports to Egypt are worth some 200 million punts per year. In 2000, 126 cases of BSE were reported in Ireland out of the 8 million-head national herd. All cases were detected before any of the animals could enter the food chain. Ireland is officially classed as a low-incidence BSE status country.

Madcow disease scares push EU beef consumption down

Fri, Jan 12, 2001  XINHUA
The European Union Friday said that both the beef price and beef consumption had been on the decrease union-wide after renewed scares of the madcow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

EU agriculture spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber told the press that compared with October last year, the average beef price in the 15- nation bloc went down by 26.2 percent while the average beef consumption decreased by 27 percent. The latest round of madcow scares started in France with Germany and Spain joining later on with new confirmations of the madcow disease cases in the three countries.

The spokesman said that EU citizens would have to wait until mid-January to get some idea on how the contingency measures are being implemented across the union to stamp out the disease and restore consumer confidence. The EU has instructed member states to purchase cattle over 30 months of age for destruction unless they are tested BSE-free and to ban for six months the use of animal feed made of cattle meat and bonemeal that has been suspected to have caused the spread of the disease from country to country.

By now 10 of the 15 EU member states have reported confirmed cases of madcow disease that first popped up in Britain in 1986. EU countries, however, are complaining of the contingencies that are causing pile-up of cattle carcasses in warehouses waiting for BSE test results, and of lack of funds to pay for the contingency operation.

The EU pays 70 percent for the purchase-for-destruction scheme while the member states pay the remainder plus the destruction cost. The same spokesman said that the EU did not want to over- compensate for farmers in the first contingency scheme, so it will not be a big difference between selling the cattle to the scheme without testing and screen testing the cattle for meat production.

BSE tests cost 30 euro (28.5 U.S. dollars) on a single head of cattle. But the spokesman could not say how much it costs to buy and destroy a cattle.

Spain mad cow crisis criticised

Thu, 11 Jan 2001 (SA)
Criticism of Spain's government mounted on Wednesday over its handling of the mad cow crisis, with agricultural workers, opposition politicians and the press calling for a German-style shake-up.

Several newspapers cited the resignation on Tuesday of Germany's Health Minister Andrea Fischer and Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke as an example to their Spanish counterparts and the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The German ministers "resigned for the same errors committed by Celia Villalobos et Miguel Arias Canete," Spain's health and agriculture chiefs, the normally pro-government paper El Mundo said.

The two have been accused of denying the existence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, in Spain, and then of causing widespread alarm after the discovery of Spain's first case in November.

Since then five cases have been discovered, and beef sales have plummeted by 25 percent amid an array of alarmist comments from government members recommending Spaniards change their diet.

"Everyday there is more uncertainty, with unpredictable and improvised declarations," socialist opposition leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero complained, accusing the government of "incompetence."

Health minister Villalobos "has given Spanish livestock farmers an image of being clandestine criminals, causing them to lose billions," the ASAJA agriculture union complained. The union is seeking 150 million euros in compensation.

And the scandal over mad cow gathered yet more pace earlier this month with the discovery of hundreds of rotting dead cows dumped by regional authorities in a former quartz mine near the village of Mesia, in the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia.

The cattle wwere not infected with BSE, or mad cow disease, regional authorities said in a statement [earlier they admitted the cattle had never been tested --webmaster], but Spain's main farming union said the inhumation was "a total and absolute act of irresponsibility", while a regional union called it "an authentic scandal."

The union said blood from the estimated 300 corpses was flowing into a nearby river, the water of which is used by local households. A local residents association said the burials contravened a European bill issued on 1 January, forcing EU members to test and incinerate cows over the age of 30 months. On Wednesday the regional agricultural chief for Galicia, Castor Gago, resigned over the scandal.

El Mundo newspaper said Villalobos "does not appear to be the best person to lead the health department, a post which requires more political tact and technical rigor." The paper illustrated its editorial with a cartoon, depicting Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar saying: "I have full confidence in the incompetence of my ministers. That is why at home, we will continue to eat Argentinian beef."

Spain veterinarians demand role in BSE

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 By BridgeNews
Spain's veterinarians are the latest group to become alienated by government moves to curb bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, the EFE news agency reported Thursday. The veterinary sector's governing body, complaining that the government has marginalized veterinarians in developing anti-BSE rules, is now demanding a consultative role in drafting new legislation to avoid a situation where the vets are "unable to comply" with it, EFE said.

Cattle farmers, slaughterhouses and meat processors have already expressed anger at the way Spanish authorities have been handling the mad cow crisis. The cattle farmers have scheduled a general strike Monday, and other sectors have threatened a series of protests next week.

Organ donors face new screening

Monday 8 January 2001 JULIE SZEGO
New rules governing organ transplants could be introduced as part of a growing list of measures aimed at preventing the introduction and spread of mad cow disease.

Yesterday Australia's chief medical officer, Professor Richard Smallwood, said the committee monitoring the spread of the fatal human variant of BSE - or mad cow disease - might recommend that would-be organ donors disclose time spent in Britain. He said the change would ensure organ recipients were aware of all risk factors from potential donors.

The committee of experts was set up by the National Health and Medical Research Council to advise the Federal Government on how to prevent the spread in Australia of the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, responsible for 88 deaths in Britain.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, attacks the brains of cattle. Humans who eat contaminated beef are at risk of contracting vCJD. Australia has already taken the precautionary measure of banning people who have spent more than six months in Britain between 1980 and 1996 from donating blood.

Professor Smallwood said although many Australians had spent time in Britain, few would be carriers of the disease. He said the risk of transmitting the disease through organ and tissue transplants could only be assessed on a case-by-case basis and had to be weighed against the benefit to the recipient.

The committee, to meet again next month, may also ban cosmetics and pharmaceuticals containing beef extracts, despite there being no recorded cases of vCJD transmission by such products.

Professor Smallwood said: "We, as health authorities, are looking at these issues across the board but some consumers are not far behind in thinking about it."

With cosmetics it would be about looking at the future, he said. He thought it would be a sensible policy not to import beef products from countries with BSE.

Last weekend supermarkets cleared shelves of beef products from 30 European countries after a precautionary Federal Government ban.

Australia to review measures against Mad Cow disease

Tue, Jan 9, 2001 (AP WorldStream)
The feeding of kangaroo, horse and pig remains to cattle in Australia is to be reviewed to ensure that mad cow disease does not spread to the continent, officials said Wednesday.

A government commission set up to study the risk of the disease, which can devastate animals herds, said that animal feeding practices would be reviewed along with cosmetic labeling and surgical procedures.
Australia, a major meat exporter to Asia and Europe, has not reported any cases of the disease [This is false. Two cheetahs imported from a British zoo died of BSE -- webmaster]. Australia last week banned imports and sales of meat products from Europe, which has been hit by the disease.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, which experts have linked to its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, has caused widespread concern in recent months in Europe. About 80 people have died of the brain-wasting disease in Britain alone since the mid-1990s.
Australia in 1996 banned the feeding of sheep remains to cattle, a practice which has been linked to BSE. But feeding cattle with rendered or powdered kangaroos, pigs, horses, poultry and fish is still allowed in some states.
"We're coming from a position of strength, in that we don't have the disease in Australia, but we can't be complacent," the head of the commission Graeme Ryan was quoted as saying in Wednesday's edition of The Australian newspaper.

State's organ shortfall is target of plan

03 Jan 01 By TODD ACKERMAN  Houston Chronicle Science Writer 
Texans would be assumed willing donors after death

In a reversal of current practice, Texans would be assumed to be willing organ donors after death unless they declare contrary wishes under recommendations in a new state report.

The report, prepared by a panel set up by the 1999 Texas Legislature and expected to form the basis of a bill in the 2001 Legislature, seeks to overcome an organ-donor shortfall that results in 300 Texans a year dying while waiting for a transplant.

"The thing to remember is that what we're doing now is losing the battle," said Dr. Phil Berry, head of the panel and a former president of the Texas Medical Association. "We need to do something to get out of the hole. Bold changes are needed."

The report gives no details on the mechanism for individuals who want to opt out of the system. But typically under such plans, people who don't want to donate organs after death obtain a nondonor card or nondonor sticker on their driver's license or check a box against organ donation on their state income tax return. The practice, known as "presumed consent," is fairly common in Europe. The few attempts to try it in the United States have failed in state legislatures.

Current law in Texas and all U.S. states requires either the permission of the immediate family or a donor card that says the person wants to donate organs. About one adult in five in America has an organ donor card or a sticker on the back of his or her driver's license permitting it.

Texas Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, chairman of the Senate's health and human services committee, said any historic political unpopularity of presumed consent is no reason to "roll over and not try to improve matters." A supporter of presumed consent, he said he expects the legislative session that begins Tuesday will produce organ-transplant legislation.

"This is a big state and a big problem, but it's not something we can't overcome," said Moncrief, a sponsor of previous organ transplant legislation. "We just have to be creative; we just have to start thinking outside the box."

The new state report was requested because the supply-demand problem involving life-saving organ donations has reached crisis proportions. With only 20,000 organs expected to be donated nationally this year, about 6,000 of the nearly 72,000 patients in line for transplants of hearts, livers, kidneys or other organs will die waiting -- about 16 a day.

In Texas, there are more than 4,200 on the waiting list, which is growing by 10 percent annually, according to the report. Because the number of organ donors has remained fairly static, less than a third of eligible patients are able to receive a transplant.

The report says it is appropriate to place the burden on non-donors because recent public opinion polls show that 86 percent of the public supports organ donation. In Belgium, since the inception of presumed consent some 12 years ago, the report notes, less than 2 percent of the population has opted out.

Presumed consent has helped but not ended the donor supply problem in Belgium, Luxemburg, Slovenia and Austria. According to the Eurotransplant International Foundation, which coordinates organ donation procedures in those and other European countries, those four countries still have significant waiting lists for vital organs.

In the United States, presumed consent legislation previously has been unsuccessfully introduced in Pennsylvania, Oregon, Minnesota, California and Maryland. Experts say the idea runs counter to American notions of individualism and independence.

"Americans believe the state shouldn't presume to know what's good for the public good," says Art Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. "It's deeply ingrained in American values that if individuals want to help, it should be up to them to help, not for the government to presume that."

Caplan, a pledged organ donor who favors presumed consent, also said he thinks there is some cynicism among Americans that being a donor might result in their not getting the aggressive medical care they need in a life-and-death situation, so great would the need be for their organ.

Presumed consent caused controversy in Texas 2 1/2 years ago when Berry, then head of the Texas Medical Association, said he planned to push for legislation for it in the 1999 session. Claiming Berry spoke for himself, not the association, TMA officials dressed down Berry for the comments and distanced themselves from the idea, which quickly died.

But Dr. Michael Speer, chairman of the TMA's council on scientific affairs, said Friday that he thinks the TMA would be "favorably inclined" to the idea of presumed consent now if legislation is carefully crafted. He said the TMA would be happy to work with the 2001 Legislature if it is interested in changing state law on organ donation.

Still, there is far from unanimous support for presumed consent in the organ-donation community. A paper of The United Network for Organ Sharing, which maintains the nation's organ-transplant waiting lists, says that "ethically, presumed consent offers inadequate safeguards for protecting the individual autonomy of prospective donors. (It) too closely approximates `routine salvaging' in practice, although in rhetoric it pays homage to the value of individualism inherent in the consent model."

Pam Silvestri, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Transplant Alliance, one of the three regional Texas organ banks, said that people in the field will likely be split on presumed-consent legislation. She said many fear it could cause a backlash and ultimately end up reducing the number of people who might otherwise opt to be a donor.

Skeptics note that a presumed consent law is not likely to yield as many additional donors as advocates say because doctors will still yield to loved ones' wishes in the cases in which the dying individual did not opt out, even though the law would allow them to do otherwise. Caplan estimates a presumed consent law would result in a 20 percent increase in the supply of organs. The new state report also calls for legislation:

Allowing the state to pay funeral expenses of cadaveric organ donors up to $3,000, a controversial plan that raises the specter of organ-selling. The benefit would be paid to the funeral home, rather than the family of the donor, but the report says it still may require an amendment of the state Penal Code, which prohibits the sale of human organs. (Pennsylvania passed a similar law a year ago but hasn't implemented it because of fears the law is unconstitutional.)

Providing 30 days paid leave of absence for state employees who become living organ donors. There is already similar legislation for federal employees.

There are also multiple recommendations in the report that would eliminate barriers to organ donation within the hospital setting and that would significantly reform the way vital organs are allocated around the state.

German investigation on BSE mistakes gets under way

Mon, Jan 8, 2001 AP WorldStream
A German commission appointed by the government to draw up a plan against mad cow disease started work Monday, but its chairwoman cautioned against expectations of quick results. Hedda von Wedel, a senior official and former Christian Democrat lawmaker, was chosen last month to head the panel, which is to identify policy mistakes in dealing with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

"Officials are duty bound to give us information, and we can view all documents," von Wedel told Germany's ZDF television. Von Wedel said in Bonn that she hopes to put together recommendations on how to improve consumer protection by this summer, a target she described as "ambitious."

The commission is part of government efforts to calm consumer fears over mad cow disease, following criticism of officials for maintaining that German beef was safe until shortly before the first BSE case was discovered in November. Seven cows have now been found carrying the disease. Scientists link it to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a similar brain-wasting condition in humans that has killed more than 80 people, most of them in Britain.

Von Wedel is expected to focus on improving coordination between the federal government and authorities in Germany's 16 states. German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke has faced direct criticism from the European Union's health and consumer affairs commissioner for ignoring an EU warning last March that mad cow disease would likely be found in Germany.

Funke, who insists his assurances that beef was safe were based on reports from an international agency for animal diseases in Paris, has said the states last year refused federal appeals to step up testing. The agriculture minister of eastern Saxony-Anhalt state, Konrad Keller, conceded that politicians had fallen short in the BSE crisis.

"All of us spent too long swallowing too many tranquillizers," he told Super Illu magazine.

German farmers protest BSE culling

Fri, Jan 12, 2001 (Reuters)
Hundreds of farmers launched separate protests across Germany on Friday against the slaughter of entire herds of cattle when one member is found to be infected with mad cow disease.

More than 1,300 farmers driving tractors hung with banners such as "End this senseless murder" gathered near the northern town of Celle on a farm where a herd of 105 animals is due to be taken to slaughter following the discovery of an infected cow.

Farmers said they wanted to cooperate with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's plans to overhaul agriculture and promote organic farming in the wake of the confidence crisis over mad cow disease, but said they should not take all the blame.

"Politicians must stop depicting us as poisoners of food," said Werner Hilse of Lower Saxony's Countryside Organisation. The crisis over mad cow disease, linked to the fatal new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans, prompted two German cabinet ministers to resign this week.

Green co-leader Renate Kuenast takes over at the agriculture ministry with new powers for consumer safety. Claudia Roth, the Green head of parliament's human rights committee, said on Friday she was ready to take her place as party leader. In Bavaria, where many of Germany's dozen confirmed cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) have been reported, 350 farmers gathered on another farm whose herd was to be killed.

"End this senseless culling," said Christian Moegele from the neighbouring farm.

Although the state of Bavaria has ruled that farmers are not obliged to cull whole herds on discovery of a case of mad cow disease, farmer Leonhard Kirchensteiner decided to go ahead because he could no longer sell their milk or meat.

About a hundred farmers also demonstrated outside the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food in Frankfurt. "Emotions are really running high," said Michael Starp, spokesman for the German Farmers' Association, predicting more protests by farmers. "If something doesn't happen soon I am quite sure we will soon have cows running wild on the motorways," association president Wilhelm Niemeyer told ZDF television.

The government confirmed a newspaper report on Friday that a European Union plan to destroy older cattle untested for mad cow disease to keep them out of the food chain could mean that up to 400,000 cattle are culled in Germany in the next six months.

The EU and the German government are set to share the cost of compensating the farmers. The cost of culling up to two million cattle across the EU could run to over a billion euros, EU officials said when the measure was agreed in December.

On German farm, govt is villain of mad cow saga

Tue, Jan 9, 2001 By Adam Tanner (Reuters)
The resignation on Tuesday of two cabinet ministers over Germany's mad cow crisis may not be enough alone to secure the future of Karsten Ulbricht's dairy farm. But he said it was high time nonetheless that the government paid the price for claiming that Germany was free of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) long after scientists said the brain-wasting disease had reached the country's herds.

"The politicians have responsibility in this whole mad cow affair," said the 35-year-old, the latest of a long line of farmers in the village of Lipprandis in southeastern Germany.

Although Germany banned feeding animal-based meals to cattle -- believed by scientists to be the main transmission route for BSE -- as far back as 1994, Ulbricht said fodder controls had been lax. "Nobody was tackling BSE six months ago," said Ulbricht, who breaks with conservative local traditions and wears a gold earring with his knee-length rubber boots as he checks his cows.

His father, Werner Ulbricht, said he welcomed the resignations of Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke and Health Minister Andrea Fischer after both admitted mistakes in their handling of the crisis. "I think it's the right move, but I don't think things will get much better," Ulbricht senior said.

But he doubted whether Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would find anyone who could to a better job than Funke, who like Schroeder is a Social Democrat, and Fischer, a member of the environmentalist Greens party. "I don't think it's possible for this government to make any big changes -- it will take an entire change of government," he added, voicing support for the conservative opposition Christian Democrats.

Germany has found 10 confirmed cases of BSE, almost all on small family farms like the one run by the Ulbrichts, since comprehensive testing on older slaughtered animals was launched last November. And the Ulbrichts, who keep 140 cows, admit that they are not sure that their herd is free of the disease, linked to a similarly fatal illness in humans that has killed over 80 people, mainly in Britain.

They say they cannot be sure that the food supplement they bought to feed their cows in recent years was free of infected animal products suspected of causing BSE.

"I believe there were probably cases of mad cow disease in Germany five or 10 years ago, but it was not controlled," Karsten Ulbricht said. "The government should have helped institutes develop tests to recognise BSE early on, but it didn't."

The Ulbrichts, who reclaimed the family farm in the formerly communist east after German unification in 1990, also blamed suppliers for putting animal byproducts into feed supplements, unbeknown to farmers, despite the ban on doing so. Consumer confidence in German beef has been shattered since the crisis began and beef sales have fallen by over half. The Ulbrichts have sold only a few animals in recent months.

Werner Ulbricht said too many people had believed for too long that Germany was safe from BSE, which originated in Britain and has affected several other European countries. "The politicians took it too lightly, but then we all did," he said. "Now we are faced with a pig-sty."

Germany confirms 13th case since November

Jan 12, 2001 (FWN Financial via COMTEX)
A new case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, was confirmed in Bavaria in southern Germany, authorities said Friday. The local authorities said the infected animal came from a farm in Lindau and Bavarian state authorities have taken samples of feed for testing. Two other German BSE cases were also officially confirmed Friday, bringing the total since a November outbreak to 13.

Germans end use of meat stripped by machine

Fri, Jan 12, 2001 (COMTEX Newswire)
The German national meat industry association said Friday its members have agreed a voluntary end to use of meat stripped from bones by machines. The association said that although it regards the process as safe, in view of the current BSE crisis it is not regarded as acceptable by consumers. The ban includes beef, pork and poultry.

The association said it is calling on the German government to put this voluntary ban into German law. It also wants the government to press for an EU-wide ban on use of such meat.

There have been repeated reports in the German media of traces of beef found in products such as sausages and other processed foods. There has been speculation that remains of beef from bones stripped from cattle had mixed in meat processing machinery with other meat types.

Second suspected BSE case found on same day

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 (FWN Financial via COMTEX)
The second suspected case of the mad cow disease BSE has been discovered in a single day in the central German state of Hessen, the Hessen state Health Ministry said Thursday. "Both come from farms in the Giessen area but these are separate cases and the farms are not connected with each other," a ministry spokeswoman said. Further tests will be carried out to obtain confirmation. Results are expected Monday. Germany has so far had 10 confirmed cases of BSE.

German farmers see organic cattle as road to ruin

Fri, Jan 12, 2001 By Adam Tanner (Reuters)
The rolling hills in this corner of eastern Germany appear to provide a timeless pastoral setting for slowly meandering cows chewing languidly at grass on a traditional dairy farm. Yet inside the long shed outside the village of Lipprandis where the cows actually spend most of their time, they wear not traditional bells but radio transmitters around their necks.

For feeding, a computerised device, not a farm hand, doles out exact amounts of high-tech feed packed with vitamins to help them grow faster and produce more milk.

Following the resignation of Germany's health and agriculture ministers this week over their handling of mad cow disease, new Consumer Protection and Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast of the Greens party has criticised such "factory farm" techniques and called for new incentives for organic farming.

Appointed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder after he sacked the previous farm minister for stoutly defending intensive methods, she wants farms to go "back to nature." But farmers Werner Ulbricht and his son Karsten say turning away from the feed supplements could drive them out of business -- even if scientists believe those supplements that include meat-based matter may be the cause of mad cow disease, or BSE.

"Without the feed, the business would be completely unprofitable, there just would not be enough income," Werner Ulbricht said. "A cow eating just grass would produce only 4,000 litres of milk a year," he said. "With the supplement, our cows give 9,300 litres, sometimes as much as 10,000. Without the nutritional supplement, a cow needs 30 months to grow to maturity before slaughter. With the supplement, it takes 24 months."

Until recently, few quibbled with those results and German consumers -- long known for their passion for meat, especially of the wurst kind in sausages -- were pretty happy. While the human brain-wasting illness new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), believed to be triggered by meat from cows with BSE or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has killed some 90 people so far, these have been mostly in Britain. There has been no confirmed case in Germany.

But in November authorities found that despite long claims to the contrary, Germany was not free of BSE. Since then it has confirmed a dozen cases. Though Germany banned animal products in cattle feed supplements as far back as 1994, officials now say that some were still used, through contamination or crime.

"Farmers have no influence on what is in the feeds, that's the worst thing about this," said Ulbricht, whose dairy farm has 140 cattle. "We don't always know exactly what's inside. People weren't so bothered before. The mad cow crisis was far from Germany and we thought it could not reach us," he said. "Now, every time we send a cow to slaughter we are afraid we will get back a report saying BSE has been found."
The move to so-called industrial farming methods took hold across Europe after World War Two, and spread rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, helped by generous European Union subsidies. Today, 98 percent of German beef is produced with such methods, up from none half a century ago, said Wolfgang Lutz, head of consumer safety at the German Meat Trade Association.
Consumers seeking organic meat -- that is from cows that eat only food from a farm free of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and which receive no medication -- have to pay about 40-70 percent more than for normal beef, officials say. Schroeder's government is now talking about setting a target of boosting organic food production to 10 percent of the total, about four times its current share.
The Ulbrichts and many other farmers have complained over the past few days that such a plan could lead to financial calamity, but supporters say it is the price for safety. "The problem is that conventional meat is so cheap," Robert Hermanowski of the Organic Farm Association said on Friday. "No other country in (western) Europe has food as cheap as in Germany. Now there is no alternative. Whether people like it or not, they will have to pay more for the quality they want," he said.
In Lipprandis, 230 km (150 miles) south of Berlin, Werner Ulbricht has adapted to dramatic change more than once. Born days after the end of World War Two, he eventually became the local collective farm boss following the communist East German state's takeover of the area's farms.

Ulbricht regained the farm after German unification in 1990 and, helped by favourable loans, prospered. Now, BSE could bring another revolution. "It could happen tomorrow that they find BSE in one of my cows and then the business will be kaputt and I won't be able to pay my debts," he said. "It would be painful if our income falls, but we can survive that. But it's another thing if the whole business is liquidated."

European organic farmers benefit from BSE crisis

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 By Elizabeth Piper (Reuters)
- Richard Counsell is one European farmer who is at ease with his cattle, confident the latest mad cow crisis can only spur demand for his meat. Counsell feeds his animals grass and grain free from pesticide, allows them to roam his 300-acre farm in southwest England and has hit on a winner as thousands of consumers scared by a series of EU food debacles have turned to organic beef.

"The shift to organic farming is happening in Britain and European farmers should do the same now as BSE takes hold," he said Thursday from his farm in Somerset. "Every time there's another scare our customers increase," said Counsell, who had the idea of marketing organic beef direct to consumers at the height of Britain's BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) epidemic in the early 1990s.

He and other supporters of organic meat say a consumer-driven revolution is happening on the farm as shoppers begin to question their food after living with mad cow disease, e.coli and salmonella. Shoppers want to know where their meat comes from and what the animals have been fed in hopes of avoiding the deadly human equivalent of mad cow disease, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has already killed more than 80 in Britain.

"It's nice for them to see the farm, to see where it comes from. There's a connection with someone real," he said. "If you really want to know about the food -- what has gone into it, what are the processes that have led it from the field to the plate -- the best person to ask is the farmer."

Britain has had to catch on fast, with almost a quarter of a million livestock farmers abandoning the factory methods that squeeze animals into cramped, dirt-filled pens and feed them meat-based feed, which scientists have linked to BSE. Phil Stocker, senior agricultural development officer at organic group the Soil Association, said there had been a massive expansion in conversions over the past three years.

"I get the impression that we are at a threshold at the moment and there are going to be some really major changes in the next few years," he said. Between 16,000 and 17,000 farmers, about 10 percent of those registered, had used the agriculture ministry's organic conversion information service since its launch in 1996.

"It wasn't really until BSE struck that there was a large-scale level of interest both by consumers and producers." Stocker said he expected European farmers wanted to switch to organic methods but they faced big obstacles created by a lack of understanding at government level.

In Denmark the livestock and meat board (KF) said it saw any shift to organic methods as a political issue. "Organic meat represents only a tiny fraction of the market and consumers are put off by the high prices. This is mainly a political question," KF Deputy Director Erhard Frandsen said. "There is no difference between factory-farmed and organic meat, the rules require all meat to be treated the same way."

A spokesman for the European Union's Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler said it had provided funds for conversion but that it was largely up to member states to decide what to do. "Organic farming is a matter for member states themselves. They have to set their own priorities," he said in Brussels.

"Under Agenda 2000, ... there is a greater flexibility open to member states to modulate their aid. For example to reduce direct aid to large farmers and to use this to cover additional measures in favor of the environment."

But for many consumers and producers, higher prices for organic food have stopped conversions. In Germany, lobby group Bioland said output and demand for such meat had until recently been an almost insignificant part of the organic market, but it had picked up pace since BSE. "Consumers can still expect to pay a price premium of up to 100 percent for organic meat," Thomas Dosch said in Berlin.

But the government says it hopes to boost output of organic food to 10 percent in the medium term -- a fourfold increase. Stocker said all governments should take such measures. "There is concern over how long premiums are going to last and what percentage of the population is prepared to pay more for food. ... But a lot of that comes down to policies," he said. "There's a lack of awareness among some ministers about organic food. But I think that will definitely have to change."

Finland to ban blood

 Wed, Jan 10, 2001 (Reuters World Report) By Anna Peltola
A British scientist said on Wednesday Finland's tentative plans to ban blood donations by people who have lived in Britain was a reasonable precaution against the risk to humans from mad cow disease. The extremely rare new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is the human form of mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which has killed thousands of cattle and sparked political crises across Europe.

"You have to strike a balance between caution as regards to the probably small but unknown risk for vCJD on one hand and preserving enough blood for medical use on the other," James Ironside, professor of neuropathology, said.

Ironside, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the group that first found vCJD in 1996, told a Finnish Medical Convention news conference that there was still no evidence the disease could be transmitted through blood [this was proven recently in sheep == webmaster]

Finland, where no BSE cases have yet been found and which is in the low-risk group of EU countries, is currently considering banning blood donations by people who stayed in Britain for at least six months between 1980 and 1996. A Finnish Red Cross spokesman said a ban, like those already imposed by nine countries, would affect less than one percent of blood donors in Finland but could raise unnecessary fears.

Ironside said that people who eat steak faced minimum or nil risk of getting the brain-wasting and deadly BSE, as the risks were associated with meat products such as spinal cord. Ironside said that it was still not certain how nvCJD was passed to humans, but the best suggestion was that contamination occurred through the food chain. "I believe that contaminated food products are the most likely source of infection...however, statistical proof of what has caused it is not with us yet," he said.

Scientist says mad cow tests not infallible

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 Reuters Online Service By David Brough
A leading Italian scientist has warned that tests of cattle for mad cow disease under new EU rules are not an infallible guarantee of the health of animals.

"Anything you test in terms of infectious disease has a window of false negatives," said Adriano Aguzzi, professor of pathology at the University of Zurich's Institute of Neuropathology. "That applies to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease)," he told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Even if many tests are negative, we cannot be sure that BSE has been defeated," said Aguzzi, widely considered one of the leading scientists in his field.

His remarks were supported by Professor Ralph Blanchfield, a food scientist at the London-based Institute for Food Science and Technology, who said, "None of these (BSE) tests have been 100 percent validated."

Under tough new EU rules to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, cattle aged over 30 months must be tested for BSE. Farmers in some countries have complained authorities have been slow to get testing started because of a lack of suitable equipment, creating beef supply bottlenecks.

The Prionics test used in Europe examines the brain of the dead animal for the presence of prions, the protein that causes the deadly brain-wasting disorder.

Many scientists believe the illness can be passed on to humans via infected beef. More than 90 people have died of the human equivalent of mad cow disease, or new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), in Britain and two have died in France.

Italy's Health Ministry said this week that some 1,700 tests of cattle for mad cow disease had been carried out so far, and all were negative. Two confirmed cases of BSE were detected in Italy in 1994, involving British cattle imported to Sicily. Both animals were destroyed.

Aguzzi said that the presence of the disease in cattle could only be detected late in the incubation period. Researchers were now scrambling to improve the efficiency of tests.

Aguzzi said that the fallibility of BSE tests did not mean that beef was unsafe to eat. "The best way to protect the consumer is to make sure that no brain or infectious tissues enter the food chain," he said.

Effective from October 1 last year, the European Commission adopted rules banning from the food chain cattle tissue at risk of carrying BSE. The move outlaws the use of so-called Specified Risk Materials (SRMs), such as cattle's eyes, spinal cords and brain tissue, in food and animal feed.

Aguzzi said that the number of people likely to die from nvCJD was likely to rise. "If you look at the numbers, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the number of nvCJD cases is increasing exponentially," Aguzzi said. "I am not optimistic."

Farm lobby to lose influence

Jan 11, 2001 (FWN Select via COMTEX) By Andrea Thomas, BridgeNews
Schroeder presented the government's changed agricultural policy to the public Wednesday by creating a superministry to be named the Consumer Protection, Nutrition and Agriculture Ministry, with consumer protection given the most prominence. The shift in policy is represents a fundamental reorientation of German farming.

Schroeder stressed his commitment to a more consumer friendly agricultural policy and said the current BSE problems indicate longstanding misdirection of agricultural policy.

"The farmers' association will have to expect a loss in influence. And that's how it should be," Schroeder said Wednesday. The comments were considered an affront to the farming lobby.

Reiterating earlier statements, Sonnleitner warned against entering a "spurious debate between good ecological farming on the one hand and bad conventional farming on the other."

A farm lobby leader reminded that Schroeder supported industrialized farming when the politician was prime minister of the German state of Lower Saxony. "The BSE crisis has nothing to do with (an organic vs. industrial farming debate)," Sonnleitner said.

Germany plans to increase ecological farming to 10%, Renate Kuenast, the new Consumer Protection Minister announced Wednesday. Kuenast, a member of the junior coalition party Alliance 90/The Greens, replaced Agriculture Minister Funke.

The German Farmers' Association fought back against German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder who Wednesday said the lobby group should expect a loss of influence due to the growing BSE crisis. Speaking to reporters here, the association's head, Gerd Sonnleitner, blamed Schroeder's comments on the stress the chancellor must have gone through over the rash of resignations in his cabinet.

"I would put the harsh criticism expressed by the Chancellor yesterday down to stress," Sonnleitner told reporters Thursday here, referring to the resignation of Agricultural Minister Karl-Heinz Funke and Health Minister Andrea Fischer Tuesday evening over their allegedly poor reaction to the health threat posed from mad cow disease.

Sonnleitner however supports the government's decision to bundle the responsibility for consumer protection into one ministry. The consumer protection function previously was divided between the Agriculture, Health and Economics Ministries. The new arrangement "will strengthen the Agriculture Ministry.... Consumer protection has always been our top priority," he said.

He suggested to the German government that the high food production standards of Europe need to be implemented worldwide. "We can't create a ideal world here if we are undermined by products produced under completely different standards," he said.

He insisted that there should not be "an unlimited, uncontrolled exchange of products" in Germany, the world's fourth largest exporter of agricultural products.

Examination of food production should be "cast-iron" and "merciless," he said, for imported as well as German products. While noting that the farming sector accounts for only 1-2% of German gross domestic product, Sonnleitner reported that the sector employs around 4 million people.

Greens see EU farm policy shift

Thu, Jan 11, 2001 By David Evans Reuters
) European Union agricultural policy may undergo a radical shift following the appointment of a Green to the ministerial post in Germany, the bloc's only other Green farm minister said on Thursday.

"I see it as an opportunity to change the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to be more favourable to consumers," Italy's Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio told Reuters during a visit to Brussels. Pecoraro Scanio was, until the appointment of Renate Kuenast on Wednesday, the lone voice of the Green movement at the European Union's monthly farm ministers' meetings, where policy decisions under the 40-billion-euro ($37.66-billion) a year CAP are taken.

"This is a very important step. There will be more priority for animal welfare, organic and environmental issues," he said. Pecoraro Scanio said recent health scares in Europe, such as the crisis over mad cow disease, had already begun to change attitudes and the addition of another Green -- particularly from such a powerful member state -- would accelerate the development of a farm policy not based on intensive production.

"The German government was previously very conservative when it came to change. Now farmers can have a new mission," he said. "It will be about food quality and not just production."

Kuenast was appointed to the farm ministry by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder after the resignation of Karl-Heinz Funke over his handling of the mad cow scare. Funke had faced sharp public criticism for denying Germany had a problem with mad cow disease, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), and had insisted that suspect animal feed was safe until the first cases appeared in late November.

A former farmer, Funke had strong links to the German Farmers' Union and was seen as a staunch defender of industrial farming with its emphasis on maximising production. By contrast, Kuenast is a former lawyer. Health Minister Andrea Fischer also quit in the crisis, giving Schroeder the opportunity to switch responsibility for food safety from the health ministry to agriculture.

EU officials said that with Kuenast sitting in Germany's ministerial seat, environmentally-friendly farm policies would have more chance of winning general support. "In many ways, the brakes will be off," one said.

Schroeder, battling to save his government from further political fall-out from the mad cow scare, has pledged to turn away from "agro factories," although he tempered his comments by saying Germany would work with its EU partners.

The EU's Farm Commissioner, Franz Fischler, is also known to favour more environmental payments for farmers, particularly as aid linked to agricultural production has been increasingly restricted by World Trade Organisation (WTO) accords.

Fischler's last attempt to push through radical farm reform, under the Agenda 2000 plan, was watered down at the last minute by EU leaders at the Berlin summit in 1999, but a final compromise called for a review of farm policies in 2002/2003.

Many believe Fischler, who has a farming background, will use the chance to propose a fresh set of reforms and that environmental measures will have more chance of success with German backing. "2002/2003 will be interesting now. Germany has not previously been a front runner (in reforms)," one EU official said.

Cosmetics import concerns

Tue, Jan 9, 2001 AsiaPulse via COMTEX
The cosmetics industry is concerned that the government may ban cosmetic products made from cow placenta following import bans on similar European products by Japan and Australia due to fear of mad cow disease, industry sources said Wednesday.

The sources said Japan banned imports of European cosmetics and some pharmaceutical products containing materials from cow's placenta and other animal contents last week, and Australia is also considering to take the same action on these European products.

A British government researcher from the Bovine Sponsiform Enphalopathy (BSE) Committee, claimed that mad cow disease could spread into humans through cuts or bruises. However, domestic cosmetic products manufacturers assert that their p roducts are made from plant or chemical base ingredients.

But most foreign cosmetics manufacturers have been reluctant to specify the composition of their products for fear of revealing manufacturing secrets. Domestic cosmetic makers and customers suspect they use animal products in anti-wrinkle ointments.

In a related move, the KFDA plans to soon launch safety probes on cosmetics imported from Europe. "After the safety analysis, a decision will be made whether to ban the imported cosmetics," an administration official said.

The 13 foreign cosmetic firms operating in Korea, including Chanel and Christian Dior, have been stressing their products safety for fear the Korea Food and Drug Administration could take action to regulate imports of their products because of the mad cow disease threat.

A foreign cosmetics importer said his company has affixed several announcements to its product clarifying that no risk of mad cow disease exists, including documents issued by the European Union.

The domestic market for anti-wrinkle products is around 200 billion won (US$159 million) to 300 billion won a year and foreign products take up from 25 to 30 percent of the market.

In the meantime, a Korea Cosmetics Industry Association official said domestic cosmetics firms are awaiting the KFDA's analyses of various cosmetics products, but so far, he doesn't know of any anti-aging cosmetics made from animal products.

British test confirm case of mad cow in Denmark

Fri, 12 Jan 2001 Associated Press
A British verification test on Friday confirmed that a third Danish cow had been found with mad cow disease. The milk cow, which was born and bred in Denmark, died in December. It was not slaughtered.

The rest of the 110-head herd in Fjerritslev, which had been under observation since early December, would be destroyed, said Knud-Boerge Petersen of the Danish Veterinary Laboratory, which had performed the original test. The other cows also would be tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name of the disease, as a protective measure.

A second animal from the same herd was slaughtered Dec. 7 because it suffered from spasms -- symptoms of BSE. However, Danish and British tests were negative. It was the third case of mad cow in this Scandinavian country.

In 1992, a first case was recorded on a cow imported from Scotland. Last year, a Danish-born milk cow was destroyed after it was detected it had BSE, and the 70-head herd was slaughtered. Fjerritslev is 300 kilometers (185 miles) northwest of the capital, Copenhagen.

Mad cow disease has caused a panic in Europe since the late 1980 after British cattle contracted it. The disease has been linked to a fatal brain disease in humans called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. About 80 people have died of the disease in Britain since 1995.

Stock cubes safe from BSE in Italy, ministry says

Fri, Jan 12, 2001  (Reuters) 
Stock cubes pose no health risk in Italy because they are made from meat imported from South America, where livestock is free of mad cow disease, the Health Ministry said on Friday. "For some years the national industry has used for the production of meat extracts, powdered soup and stock cubes raw material imported from South America, in particular Brazil and Argentina," the ministry said in a statement on its web site.

The ministry also said that consumer safety was guaranteed by a recent European Union ban on the use of so-called Specified Risk Materials (SRMs), such as cattle's eyes, spinal cords and brain tissue. Two confirmed cases of BSE were detected in Italy in 1994, involving British cattle imported to Sicily. Both animals were destroyed.

A price to pay as autopsies lose favor

Tue,  9 Jan 2001 By JANE E. BRODY
A Roto-Rooter operator collapses and dies while working on a drain. Assumption: a heart attack. A seemingly healthy baby dies in his sleep. Assumption: sudden infant death syndrome. An elderly Kentucky woman known from C.T. scans to have malignant-looking lesions in her brain dies before undergoing exploratory surgery. Assumption: metastatic cancer. A 43-year-old Connecticut man with shortness of breath, a cough, positive skin test for tuberculosis and multiple clots in his lungs dies before a biopsy can be performed. Assumption: tuberculosis.

But when autopsies were performed on these people, quite different stories emerged. The Roto-Rooter operator was electrocuted, a finding that may have saved the lives of others using the faulty equipment and that resulted in double-indemnity insurance for his survivors.

The baby succumbed to previously undiagnosed meningitis, prompting protective vaccinations of other children in the family and the neighborhood. The woman turned out not to have cancer at all but rather abscesses in her brain resulting from an advanced case of periodontal disease. But the Connecticut man did have cancer that had spread from his pancreas.

Forensic pathologists, the physicians who perform autopsies, are quick to relate numerous tales of mistaken diagnoses, missed diseases and wrong assumptions, any of which can, if undetected, undermine the quality of future medical care and leave survivors racked with guilt, deprived of deserved compensation or vulnerable to preventable diseases.

Yet the rate of autopsies in the nation's hospitals has been declining for decades. In many institutions, the rate is so low no more than 5 percent to 10 percent of all deaths that it is no longer possible for the living to learn from the dead, as the value of autopsies is described. In many institutions, fewer than 3 percent of deaths prompt an autopsy, and the autopsy rate is even lower in nursing homes, where at most 1 percent of deaths result in autopsy. Many new hospitals do not even have autopsy rooms.

When an out-of-hospital death occurs suddenly, unexpectedly or results from unusual or violent circumstances, in most states it is up to the county coroner or medical examiner to decide whether an autopsy is warranted, although some states mandate that autopsies be done in certain situations.

Dr. Gregory Davis, a forensic pathologist at the University of Kentucky, says about half of unusual or suspicious deaths turn out to be due to natural causes. That information can provide valuable medical information as well as emotional relief for survivors.

Financial pressures have prompted many hospitals, which traditionally have covered the cost of autopsies as an operating expense, to discourage or abandon them entirely. As Dr. Davis put it, "In a lot of modern hospitals, doctors are told indirectly that doing fewer autopsies means more money is available for something else."

When survivors request an autopsy, some hospitals now charge the family, which may think twice when told that the minimum cost is $2,500.

Another factor is the advent of advanced diagnostic tools like C.T. scans, M.R.I.'s and PET scans. That technology sometimes causes people to assume falsely that nothing more of value can be learned from an autopsy. But, as the Kentucky woman's case demonstrated, no test can replace the accuracy of "seeing for oneself," the literal meaning of the Greek-derived word autopsy.

Time pressures also are a factor. Dr. Davis says hospital-based pathologists today are dealing with a workload at least 50 percent greater than that of two decades ago. A proper autopsy takes a minimum of two hours, which may not seem justifiable when families of living patients are waiting impatiently for biopsy results.

Some doctors may be reluctant to request an autopsy for fear that the findings may result in a lawsuit. But Dr. Davis said: "Ninety-five percent of the time, a good autopsy dispels any notion of malpractice suspected by the family. In 15 years, I've seen many more lawsuits thrown out because of autopsy findings than won."

Survivors may be reluctant to request an autopsy because of mistaken beliefs about what is involved. An autopsy does not distort the body in any way apparent to mourners viewing an open coffin. An autopsy cannot increase the suffering of someone who is dead. And an autopsy does not interfere with embalming and need not delay a funeral by more than a few hours.

At the societal level, accurate data on the causes of death are critical for planning a health care system responsive to the needs of the people. Without knowing why people die, it is not possible to provide the facilities needed to care for the living.

Through autopsies, Legionnaire's disease and AIDS were discovered, and the "cafe coronary" was revealed to be a choking death that could be averted by the Heimlich maneuver. Autopsies of crash victims have led to improved safety standards in cars and planes. Autopsies have also alerted officials to growing threats of infection or drug addiction. And sometimes car "accidents" are discovered in autopsies to have been suicides or even homicides.

"A good autopsy uncovers the true disease process," Dr. Davis said. "In 20 to 40 percent of cases, the autopsy finds a diagnostic discrepancy between the medical diagnosis and the actual disease" that may help improve the care of future patients.

For example, in a Connecticut study of 272 randomly selected autopsies and their corresponding death certificates, Dr. William H. Hartmann, executive vice president of the American Board of Pathologist, said, "In 29 percent of the deaths, a major disagreement on the underlying cause of death led to a reclassification of the death in a different major disease category."

He added: "An additional 26 percent of deaths were attributed to a different specific disease. And of those, 14 percent would in all probability have led to a change in clinical management that might have resulted in cure or prolonged survival."

For the survivors, knowing the real cause of death may help them avert a similar fate. For example, a man who dies in an automobile accident may have suffered a heart attack before losing control of the car. This can alert his siblings and offspring to an increased risk of heart disease and prompt them to pursue heart-healthy living habits. Or the autopsy may reveal a hereditary condition that may influence family decisions about future childbearing.

If malpractice is a possibility in the death, the autopsy can provide the facts the family needs to win a lawsuit or negotiate a settlement. Or the findings may increase an insurance award, as in the case of the Roto- Rooter worker.

In other cases, autopsy findings can assuage the guilt family members and friends may harbor. For example, when a man dies while shoveling snow, his spouse may berate herself for not hiring someone to clean the walk, until the autopsy reveals an advanced heart condition that could have caused his death at any time.

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