MORE than 50 per cent of Germans have cut beef out of their daily diet or are eating it less frequently because of "mad cow disease", according to an opinion poll published yesterday. To counter the boycott, German farmers are throwing barbecue parties throughout the country, with only token fees being charged for prime, grilled chunks of German sirloin.
The Allensbach Institute found that 38 per cent of Germans now eat less beef and 15 per cent have given it up altogether. A further 5 per cent are vegetarians. Most importantly, 58 per cent of German women say they have reduced their beef consumption, making it clear that Germans have turned against beef in a big way.
The revolt is mainly concentrated in industrial regions and cities; in the Bavarian countryside beef consumption is still relatively high, partly because consumers know the farmers who supply local butchers.
Most German butchers now state in posters from which farmers they buy beef and mutton. Large announcements in supermarkets pledge that the shops do not stock British meat and that all dairy products are German.
"We are aware of no case in which consumer interest alone was sufficient to justify requiring a product's manufacturers to publish the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernible impact on a final product," said the decision, written by Circuit Judge Frank Altimari. Now, the state is prevented from requiring stores to label products made with BGH until U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha hears a trial on the case.
In 1993 the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of BGH, also known as recombinant bovine somatatropin, to help dairy cows increase their milk production by up to 15 percent. Extensive testing found that it did not change the makeup of milk and posed no human health threat. But opponents feared the hormone could have unknown long-term health effects and could cause a glut of milk that would put some small Vermont farmers out of business.
Vermont's Legislature in 1994 passed a law requiring the labeling of most dairy products with milk from cows treated with BGH. And since last September, stores have used blue labels on packages or signs to tell buyers. Dairies and grocery groups sued, arguing the law infringed on their right to free speech and that it violated the free commerce clause of the Constitution.
The appeals panel agreed. "Although the court is sympathetic to the Vermont consumers who wish to know ... their desire is insufficient to permit the state of Vermont to compel the dairy manufacturers to speak against their will," the decision said. Lawyers for the Vermont attorney general's office said Thursday they haven't decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Good riddance to bad policy," said Peter Shafer, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America. The Vermont Grocers Association said it would begin notifying the group's 800 members they could remove labels as soon as they received official word of the decision.
Vermont Agriculture Commissioner Leon Graves said he would push for a voluntary labeling law during the next legislative session. "I think the concept is worth defending," Graves said. "From the consumer's perspective, a voluntary approach" to labeling would provide the same information "in a much more positive fashion."
WASHINGTON -- What's for lunch? For millions of America's schoolchildren, the answer soon may be yogurt, not meat. The Agriculture Department has proposed allowing yogurt to be substituted for meat in school lunches. Some school officials think it will be a hit with kids. "I think they would like it, (but) certainly not as a steady diet," said Sally Rucker, co-manager of food service for the Rochester, Minn., schools.
Child-care providers and the food industry have pressed for the change at least for 15 years, but the Agriculture Department balked due to yogurt's lack of nutrients such as iron and niacin. The department's recommendation leaves to school nutritionists the chore of making sure children find their nutrients elsewhere.
However they do it, using yogurt as meat is a prospect that raises the ire of cattle producers, especially considering that beef prices are depressed just now. "USDA should be promoting meat, not pushing it under the carpet," Sen. Larry Pressler, D-S.D., said Thursday. "School children must be provided nutritious and healthy meals, and they should include meat." Coincidentally, the Clinton administration attempted this year to prop up cattle prices by stepping up purchases of beef for schools. USDA provided schools with 146 million pounds of beef during this past school year.
School lunch programs, which feed 25 million children nationwide, are a huge market for the food industry. The federal government subsidizes the cost of the meals and sets requirement for their nutrition and content. Agriculture already allows some meat substitutes, including cheese and peanut butter. Proponents say yogurt will add variety to lunches, is easy for children to digest and requires no preparation.
Department officials do worry that children may drink less milk if they eat yogurt. When children in a Michigan study were offered both yogurt and milk, just 2 percent wanted both. On the other hand, for reasons only a dietician could appreciate, children like cheese and milk together. The Agriculture Department is taking comment on its yogurt proposal until Aug. 19.
THE thousands of cows that gave this verdant hilltop its name may soon be reduced to a mere handful, according to residents of the Plateau de Millevaches who fear that the effects of the "mad cow" disease crisis could be the final blow to a farming population that has steadily dwindled over the past five decades.
Even before the BSE crisis sent beef prices plummeting, French farms were dying off at the rate of almost 5 per cent a year. As late as the Second World War, agricultural workers made up 40 per cent of the French population, but today fewer than 2 per cent earn their living from the land. Between 1993 and last year more than 66,000 family farms vanished, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture.
René Courteix, Mayor of the tiny town of St Merd-les-Oussines perched on this plateau in the heart of the Corrèze region of central France, has seen the value of his herd of Limousin cattle dwindle since March. "It is catastrophic. Already some of the younger farmers are going under and heading to the cities," he observed.
Driving through this rolling countryside, the effects of rural depopulation are visible in the many boarded-up stone houses, some already in ruins. "Last century St Merd had a population of more than 500 people, now we are reduced to just over a hundred," M Courteix said. For the French Government, the gradual "desertification" of the land, now compounded by the effects of mad cow disease, represents a psychological as well as a political crisis, not least for President Chirac who has made much of his rural roots in the Corrèze. M Chirac was raised in Brive-la-Gaillarde, and the Corrèze is often referred to as his personal fiefdom. He is, the locals proclaim proudly, the only President of the Fifth Republic able to milk a cow. Now, M Courteix insists, M Chirac must milk Brussels for increased compensation to help beleaguered French cattle farmers.
On the road leading to St Merd, cardboard placards nailed to gateposts state: "We need a fixed price for our cows this autumn" they are remnants of the protests over mad cow disease earlier this year. Many French farmers blame Britain for the disaster but M Courteix insists: "This crisis has been building for a long time".
In February the French Government began offering incentives to the rural population, including relief on social security charges and reduced property taxes, in an effort to anchor the declining rural population to the land. French farms have grown in size just as they have shrunk in number. On the Plateau de Millevaches, farmers have taken to planting conifers and begun diversifying into sheep, but in many cases the land is simply being allowed to lie unused.
Cattle breeders are not the only sufferers. Many grain farmers blame European Union rules, which require land to lie fallow to prevent over-production, for reducing profits and accelerating the flow of young people to cities. The statistics show that France is no longer a land of country people, but that conceit remains central to the national self-image. This month millions of city-dwellers will head to the countryside for a month of bucolic relaxation for, as one historian has observed, "a French man's second home is his castle".
"In the past local men travelled north to carry out seasonal labour as stonemasons and the like. Now they go, but they do not come back," M Courteix said. "Instead we have seasonal people who come from Paris for a few weeks and then leave again."
Robert Mazaud, 80, said: "This cow disease may be the end. Not a single cow here has caught this plague, but we are suffering. It does not make sense," he says, draining his glass.
M Mazaud's bafflement is repeated across the Plateau de Millevaches as the remaining farmers watch their once rich land left to grow weeds, their cattle suddenly rendered cheap and the cows themselves, shining with good health, threatened by the effects of an unknown disease from a foreign land.
WILMINGTON, N.C.- Crop damage from Hurricane Bertha has prompted North Carolina officials to begin testing for a cancer-causing mold earlier than normal this year. The North Carolina Agriculture Department is offering free aflatoxin testing for farmers with hurricane-damaged corn. Pender and Onslow counties asked the state to provide the testing because their farmers were hit hard by the storm.
Aflatoxin, produced by a mold that thrives in humid and wet conditions, can cause cancer in humans if ingested in large quantities, said Dr. Joel Padmore, the department's laboratory director.
Researchers are primarily concerned about corn used for animal feed because the toxin can be passed to humans through pork, beef, poultry or milk, Padmore said. "If we can prevent it from getting into the food chain, we'll be a lot better off," Padmore said. He didn't expect to find many problems in harvested corn, because North Carolina has had adequate rainfall, and aflatoxin normally is associated with drought stress in corn. "I suspect it probably isn't going to be a problem, but... it's better to be safe than sorry," he said.
Sweet corn bought in grocery stores and at produce stands is not as big a problem, Padmore said. Because the mold is easily spotted, consumers usually just break off the rotted portion or throw the entire ear away. The corn was nearing harvest and at its most vulnerable stage when the hurricane hit North Carolina's coast July 12. Many farmers stood their windblown-stalks upright again, hoping the corn would continue to grow. The corn could easily have grown mold after lying on the ground for several days, Padmore said.
Sandy Maddox, Pender County cooperative extension director, said her main concern is the extremely wet conditions of the past few weeks. Because mold thrives in moisture, the frequent heavy downpours have added to the corn crop's troubles. Aflatoxin has not been found in Pender County, Maddox said, primarily because farmers have not begun harvesting corn. That is when toxin tests are done, she said.
The Times: Britain: July 29 1996
Scientists fear worldwide brain disease epidemic
BY JEREMY LAURANCE
A UNIQUE collection of human brains that has been stored in a hospital vault for more than 70 years could provide a clue to the cause of one of the worst epidemics the world has seen. Scientists at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, believe that genetic analysis of the samples will help public health authorities to prepare for the next flu onslaught. The pandemic in 1918 killed more than 20 million people. They say that the investigation is essential to answer the question of whether the flu virus can attack the brain, raising the prospect of an epidemic of neurological illness triggered by flu.
The 1918 pandemic was followed by outbreaks of encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s, the sleeping sickness made famous by Oliver Sacks in his book Awakenings filmed by Penny Marshall with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams and of Parkinson's disease in the 1930s. Scientists have long suspected the diseases were linked with the earlier flu pandemic, but until now have lacked the technical means to confirm it. There have been three flu pandemics this century: in 1918, 1957 and 1968. The next is overdue. John Oxford, Professor of Virology at the Royal London, who is leading the research, said: "Everyone is worried we are going to get another pandemic and it has reawakened anxieties about 1918. We need to know more about it. I would guess there was something odd about that virus."
The research team is analysing sections of lung and brain preserved from victims of pneumonia in the 1918 outbreak and in the subsequent outbreaks of encephalitis and Parkinson's disease. Using the technique of polymerase chain reaction, they aim to identify the flu genes and reconstitute the virus. "If we find flu genes in the brain samples it will confirm that the diseases are linked. That would add another worry about a new strain of pandemic flu: that it could be neuro-virulent [attacking the brain] as well as pneumo-virulent [attacking the lungs]. It would mean we would have to take it very seriously."
Governments were doing too little to plan for the next flu pandemic. "It is one thing to produce pieces of paper, but one could do more than that. We could sensibly deduce which viral strains could be in the next pandemic and produce experimental vaccines." Professor Oxford, whose study is part funded by the Parkinson's Disease Society, is appealing for donations of tissue preserved from the early decades of the century to assist the research. Samples have already been sent to the Royal London Hospital from Prague and more are being collected from Istanbul. "We are worried that the evidence is being thrown out just as we have acquired the techniques to analyse them. At the Royal London, all the clinical records, the post-mortem books and the pathology reports are preserved." He dismissed fears that the reconstitued virus might escape, triggering a fresh pandemic. He said there was no danger because of the difficulty of recreating the whole virus. "I will be content if we can find the virulent gene. That will tell us if the 1918 gene was something special."
The flu virus has eight genes, two or three of which control the level of its virulence. It is constantly mutating, creating new strains, which accounts for its capacity to cause epidemics year after year. Occasionally the virus undergoes a more dramatic change, giving it a renewed capacity to attack human cells and causing the pandemics.