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Germany says seized beef is illegal British import
EU farm ministers were today accused of 'wasting precious time'
Blair Welcomes EU Beef Deal
Survey shows lax abattoir control
1716 BSE cases for first half of 1997
Britain fights to widen anti-BSE controls
Margaret Thatcher, 'industry knows best,' and the BSE epidemic
Mad Cow Disease Epidemic Slowing Down?
New EU hygiene measures against 'mad cow' disease
Europe bows to UK pressure over BSE controls
EU votes narrowly for stricter food safety rules
EU seeks more BSE safety measures
U.S. meat inspection law criticized


EU farm ministers were today accused of 'wasting precious time'

23 July 1997 Tony Robinson, Brussels
EU farm ministers were today accused of 'wasting precious time' in their handling of the mad cow crisis. The chairwoman of the European Parliament's all-party committee on mad cow disease, German social democrat Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, also criticised the postponement of a ban on so-called specific risk materials such as brains, eyes and spinal cords of cattle, sheep and goats.

But Ms Roth-Behrendt welcomed the late-night decision by farm ministers in Brussels to introduce the ban as 'a very positive signal'.

'The trade ban on SRMs gives European consumers much more protection and safety,' she said. 'But agriculture ministers could already have lined up with the Commission proposal in December 1996. Precious time was wasted.

'The argument that the trade ban should take effect as late as 1 January 1998 instead of October this year because of the lack of efficiency of European slaughter houses is not valid. 'The Commission proposal is lying on the table practically unchanged since the end of last year. Member states have had enough time to accommodate to it.'

Ms Roth-Behrendt agreed that removing brains, eyes and spinal cords increases slaughter costs. 'But this is outweighed,' she said, 'by the fact that consumer confidence in safe fod stuffs will be stabilized and will eventually grow again.' Increased slaughter costs would also be cushioned by increased meat sales which would allow farmers to have a greater income.

Blair Welcomes EU Beef Deal

July 23, 1997
PA News Jo Dillon
U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair was cited today as praising the deal secured last night by Agriculture Minister Dr Jack Cunningham on BSE controls for meat, telling the Commons that Labour were "showing the way to govern".

The agreement, which Mr Blair stressed the Tories had failed to win when in office, means that Europe has bowed to British pressure and agreed tough new public health controls on meat to combat BSE. The move followed British threats to ban imports of beef from the rest of the EU unless Britain's partners matched safety measures in operation in the UK.

Germany says seized beef is illegal British import

July 23, 1997
Reuter
SCHWERIN -- German prosecutors were cited today as confirming that 172 tonnes of frozen beef seized two weeks ago was British meat exported via France with Belgian papers, in defiance of a global ban.

A prosecutors' spokesman was cited as saying that the company would be accused of breaking the European Union ban on British beef and other German food hygiene laws.

Decline in in BSE cases

July 23, 1997
PA News Jo Butler
According to U.K. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods stats published today and cited in this story, cases of BSE in the U.K. have declined 70% in the past two years, with the number of cases of BSE in the first six months of 1997 at 1,716-- 56% lower than at the same time last year, and 70% below figures in 1995.

U.K. Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham was cited as hailing the figures as encouraging and evidence of a "dramatic" downward trend, adding that, "It shows that the measures taken so far are having a dramatic effect on numbers of BSE. A continued improvement is expected for the future."

Europe bows to UK pressure over BSE controls

PA News  Wed, Jul 23, 1997
By Geoff Meade, European Editor
Europe has bowed to British pressure and agreed tough new public health controls on meat to combat mad cow disease. The move late last night followed threats from agriculture minister Jack Cunningham to ban imports of beef from the rest of the European Union unless Britain's partners matched safety measures already in operation in the UK.

After ten hours of talks in Brussels EU farm ministers agreed by the narrowest possible majority - eight votes to seven - to remove all high-risk offal from cow and sheep carcasses.

   Mr Cunningham immediately lifted his threat of unilateral action,
declaring: "I am extremely pleased that European consumers will now benefit
>from the same rigorous controls that are applied to British beef."
The deal was almost lost as a majority of member states held out against moves many insisted were unnecessary because they had not recorded any cases of BSE. But the European Commission said no member states could confidently claim there was no risk and a last-minute British concession to delay the start of the new measures until next January swung waverers Finland and Portugal to give Mr Cunningham an 8-7 majority.

Commenting on the vote, the Liberal Democrats' agriculture spokesman, Charles Kennedy, said: "This is a welcome breakthrough and the first step in the right direction towards re-establishing sense and fair play where our beef markets are concerned. "We must now build on this momentum and move towards a lifting of the beef ban in due course."
Last night's accord endorsed European Commission proposals to remove all "specified risk material" - the brains, eyes and spinal cords of cattle, sheep and goats over 12 months old and the spleen of all sheep and goats - >from the food chain. It was backed by the four member states who already have such controls - Britain, Ireland, France and Holland - plus Sweden, Luxembourg, Portugal and Finland.

Mr Cunningham said those not prepared to back the move were going against all the scientific advice.

"Those that don't want to do it have domestic political or economic reasons. That seems to be the reality," he said. He went on: "Britain pressed for these controls to be put in place right across Europe following advice from independent scientists on the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC). "The number of clinically suspect cases of BSE reported in Great Britain has continued to fall, showing that the measures we have put in place are having a dramatic effect. "We will carry on enforcing the stringent controls we have put in place, aiming to eradicate the disease from British herds entirely."
The UK government had wanted everyone to apply the new safeguards from the start of October, but Mr Cunningham said his concession of a three-month delay until the start of January 1998 was worth it to secure a majority agreement which now applies to all.

Britain imports a quarter of its beef, most of it from countries which already apply the higher standards. Of the 2,700 tonnes of beef imported in the first half of this year, 1,700 tonnes came from Ireland. Mr Cunningham appealed to Britain's partners during the talks, arguing that it was "absurd" that Britain now had the highest public health standards in Europe in the wake of the BSE scare but still faced a world-wide beef export ban, while allowing imports of beef into the country >from EU partners with less stringent safety checks.

The agriculture minister had risked putting Britain at odds with EU partners who insist the extra cost of the new safety measures was unnecessary as they are free of BSE. But last night he was jubilant that Britain has turned the tables and forced the rest to apply the kind of anti-BSE safeguards that more than half the other member states had deemed unnecessary.

The next and much tougher target for Mr Cunningham is to secure a start in easing a ban on British beef exports which has now been in force for The National Farmers' Union welcomed the EU's acceptance of new public health controls on meat.

Director of policy Ian Gardiner said: "It's very good news that consumers in Europe will have the same protection from BSE whatever nationality they are and wherever they eat their beef." But he urged the Commission now to consider lifting the export ban on British beef. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We need to push the Commission now to taking the next step as far as we're concerned, which is to make a formal proposition to the Council (of Ministers) on the export ban."

EU votes narrowly for stricter food safety rules

July 23, 1997
Reuter  ... Peter Blackburn
BRUSSELS -- European Union voted eight against seven in favour of stricter rules to protect consumers from BSE by removing cattle and sheep tissue, such as brains and spinal cords, from human and animal food, cosmetics and medicine, after Luxembourg presented a compromise text on Wednesday. The vote, says this story, allows the EU's executive to adopt it under the EU's decision making process.

EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler was quoted as telling a news conference after the meeting that, "The Commission will probably take that decision in the coming week." Luxembourg's compromise met a Portuguese demand to delay implementation until January 1, 1998, from October 1997, to allow time for its slaughter houses to adjust.

Finland was also allowed to feed meat from dead animals to mink, which are reared to produce fur.

U.K. Farm Minister Jack Cunningham was quoted as telling reporters after the vote "I am extremely pleased," but, "It was very close." He said that Britain pressed for these controls following advice from independent scientists.
The EU vote averts the threat of British restrictions on beef imports which don't meet higher British standards. Britain, Ireland, Sweden, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal and Finland voted in support of the proposal. Other countries voted against, saying it was an unnecessary expense as they were free of BSE and scrapie. However, one wire story noted that EU veterinary inspections have revealed widespread shortcomings in detecting and controlling BSE, prompting the EU Commission last month to start legal action against 10 EU countries.

EU seeks more BSE safety measures

Reuter Information Service July 23, 1997
BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Wednesday proposed strict rules aimed at protecting consumers from mad cow disease, for the transport of substandard meat and bone meal between EU member states for destruction.

Infected meat and bone meal fed to animals is beleived to be a major cause of the fatal cattle brain disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which has destroyed some 168,000 British cattle during the past 10 years. Since April 1, meat and bone meal produced for animal feed must respect tough new heat processing standards to eradicate the BSE infectious agent.

Member states that are unable to respect these standards and do not have disposal facilities, may send the meat and bone meal to be burned or used as a fuel in other countries. British officials said that Britain had adequate facilities. The commission proposed that member states must seek prior EU approval of the destination of the meat and bone meal which should be labelled as unfit for animal feed and carried in a sealed container.

The commission proposal follows a strong warning from the European Parliament to improve food safety and recent EU inspections showing that some member states have not been applying the feed safety standards.

U.S. meat inspection law criticized

Associated Press July 23, 1997
WASHINGTON (July 23, 1997 11:09 a.m. EDT) -- Iowa meat processors can sell emu steaks or alligator ribs across state lines, but not their beef. The reason: All of that state's meatpacking plants have chosen to be inspected by Iowa, not the U.S. Agriculture Department. It's a contradiction that a lot of other states want the federal government to do away with so that processors can sell beef, pork and chicken wherever they can find customers.
"There is absolutely no rationale, equality, fairness or reason to hang onto this law," Iowa Agriculture Secretary Dale Cochran told federal regulators Tuesday.
Under current law, only meat inspected under federal eye can be shipped from state to state.

Twenty-six states do their own meat inspections, accounting for about 7 percent of U.S. meat and poultry production. For plants in those states, the products must remain in that state, even though state inspection programs are set up with USDA approval, must be equal or better than USDA's program and are partially financed by USDA.

It's a meaty issue under debate on several fronts, with small processors and state governments pitted against large producers and consumer activists. The controversy has USDA reconsidering the rule, Congress proposing bills to repeal it, and a court case filed by Ohio contending its industry has been fouled by a bias against plants that choose cheaper state inspections rather than federal.

Further complicating things, Uncle Sam allows barrier-free distribution of meat from Mexico, Canada and 32 other countries as long as it has been inspected according to standards at least equal to USDA requirements.

Michael Weaver, who is about to open a new, federally inspected beef jerky plant in Painesville, Ohio, said, "The foreign trade exposes it in black and white. "This ban on interstate shipment of meat and meat products discriminates against tax-paying Americans in their own country," he said.
Weaver urged the regulators to give his state-inspected colleagues the same sales opportunities as foreign meat producers.
But Oklahoma meat processor, Jerry Gisinger, contended states "cannot provide the proper degree of protection for the people." "The state program is driven by politics and expedience," he told USDA officials at a public meeting. "I could get relief through political interference."
That was met with varying degrees of hostility by some state officials who have been trying to convince Washington that their inspections are thorough, safe and reliable.
"We put people in jail for those sorts of things," huffed Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Daily.
"What you're saying is not true," said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom. "That's a disgrace to your industry. How can you say we let kids eat thousands of pounds of state-inspected meat when you say it's unsafe?"
An Illinois woman whose 6-year-old son died after eating a tainted hamburger scolded the advocates.
"There's a lot of whining that's going on in here," said Nancy Donley of the consumer group Safe Tables Our Priority. "There is nothing stopping any of you or any of your constituents from shipping interstate. Just do what is expected, follow the rules and you can do it."
USDA is accepting comments on the issue through Aug. 22.

Survey shows lax abattoir control

 July 23 1997  By Michael Hornsby, Agriculture Correspondent  The Times
ONLY two countries in the European Union, Ireland and Portugal, enforce abattoir controls against "mad cow" disease which meet British standards fully, a survey by The Times shows.

Most member states have no requirement for removing "specified risk materials" from cattle carcasses before these are sent from slaughterhouses to butchers' shops and meat-cutting plants. In Britain abattoirs remove brain, eyes, spinal cord, spleen, thymus, tonsils and intestines, which have all been identified as potential carriers of BSE.

Britain is unique in the number of its cattle that have died of BSE: more than 167,000 since 1986. But seven other EU member states have reported a total of 321 cases of BSE, only 28 in cattle imported from Britain.

Ireland: has reported 217 cases of BSE, 12 in cattle imported from Britain. Since April last year abattoirs have removed the same list of "risk" organs as in Britain.

Portugal: (67 cases), seven in cattle imported from Britain. Since December last year abattoirs have had the same BSE controls as followed in Britain.

France: (27 cases), all in home-bred cattle; removes brain, spinal cord and eyes from all cattle over six months old, but takes thymus, tonsils, spleen and intestines only out of cattle either born or imported before July 31, 1991.

Germany: (five cases), all in cattle imported from Britain. no risk materials are removed.

The Netherlands: (two cases), both of British origin. Since March has removed cattle brain, eyes, spinal cord and spleen but not thymus, tonsils or intestines.

Italy: (two cases), both said to be of British origin. No removal of risk materials.

Denmark: (one case), said to have been imported from Britain; no removal of risk materials.

None of the other EU members Austria, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Greece admits having cases of BSE.

Britain fights to widen anti-BSE controls

July 23 1997 
From Charles Bremner In Brussels  The Times
BRITAIN seemed close last night to winning its fight to force continental states to apply strict anti-BSE methods in its slaughter houses, a move that would avert a threatened ban on European beef imports.

Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, said he was cautiously optimistic that enough ministers would support a request by the Commission for a regulation requiring all potentially risky material to be removed from the carcasses of animals before sale to consumers. This would spare Britain the need to act against meat imports. Belgium, among others, appeared to be moving towards the Commission's view that tougher rules were needed.

The resistance of Germany and seven other of the European Union's 15 states would be enough to reject the Commission's proposal that abattoirs should remove all "risk material" before beef, sheep and goat meat is sent for human consumption.

The material is mainly the brain, spinal cord and the spleen. Britain, which is required to apply the measures as part of the fight against BSE, says its consumers could be at risk from beef imported from countries that do not apply the full anti-BSE treatment.

Dr Cunningham told EU colleagues yesterday that he would have no alternative to seeking parliamentary backing for a ban on all beef that is not subject to the stringent treatment. "I am on very strong grounds in European policy terms and in safeguarding the health of the British people to do exactly that, and that's what I will do," Dr Cunningham said.

Brussels officials gave a warning, however, that Britain would be breaching EU rules if it imposed a unilateral ban, and could face proceedings in the Court of Justice. Germany, which insists that it has no native cases of BSE, argues that it is unnecessary to apply a remedy for a disease that does not affect its livestock.

Similar arguments were being used by Belgium, Italy, Greece, Finland, austria, Denmark and Portugal. France supports the British approach, along with The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Luxembourg. Ireland, which already applies British-style measures, also supports the move. The Commission argues that the tough processing rules are necessary to stop any possible outbreak of BSE and they point to the widespread existence on the Continent of scrapie, the longstanding sheep equivalent of BSE.

Continental officials argue that the "mad cow" epidemic was entirely the consequence of the feeding of animal-based feed to cattle and that Britain must take the financial consequences of enforcing the more costly processing procedures.

Britain has the highest standards of meat processing in Europe and it was only reasonable, on grounds of science as well as fairness, to expect imports from the EU to come up to the same mark, Dr Cunningham said.

British experts believe that BSE is more widespread on the Continent than the handful of cases that have been so far officially reported.

Meltdown: the media and mad cows

editorial by TONY DELAMOTHE, BMJ, 30 March 1996
baesd on The Observer and The Independent on Sunday  of 24 March 1996 
Newspapers had printed extracts virtually verbatim from the chronology of events regarding BSE, circulated at the government's press conference the previous day; by Saturday they were querying how fast the recommended safeguards had been implemented. Although the prime minister had told the Commons on Thursday that the government had "accepted totally and immediately," lists of exceptions began to appear.

For example, the Financial Times wondered why the government never implemented the proposal by its BSE scientific committee in June 1989 that brains of cattle sent for slaughter should routinely be monitored to check the extent of unrecognised infection.

But the government's chronology should have started earlier.The Observer and Independent on Sunday began earlier with changes in the rendering process in the early 1980s, which may have been the key event in the disease "jumping" from sheep to cattle. Apparently, the Labour government had been aware of the problem with cattle feed before the 1979 election [The problem and the organisms of concern then were salmonella -- BSE was unknown then] and had published draft guidelines prohibiting any process that did not kill organisms.

According to the Independent on Sunday, Mrs Thatcher's administration favoured new arrangements that "reflected the wish of ministers that in the present economic climate the industry should itself determine how best to produce a high quality product." So almost first on to the incoming government's bonfire of regulations were the draft guidelines.

What we had last week was the very unusual spectacle, for this government, of a completely unmanaged, long running series of events. Like a bushfire out of control the flames moved fast and unpredictably, at various times threatening to engulf the firefighters and to leap to previously "safe" areas such as milk, lambs' meat, blood transfusion, and surgical instruments. The speed with which the government decided to go public with its news precluded the setting of the usual firebreaks - the off the record briefings, the reassurance from authoritative "neutral" spokespeople, the spin doctoring by special interest groups. As we went to press the fire looked anything but burnt out.

Mad Cow Disease Epidemic Slows Down

 OTC (COMTEX Newswire)
 Tue, Jul 22, 1997
LONDON (July 22) XINHUA - The epidemic of BSE, or mad cow disease, is rapidly slowing down and the risk of further infection of cattle from contaminated feed now appears to have been contained, the British Royal Society said in a statement today. The statement estimated that no more than 7,000 new cases of BSE are expected over the next five years, compared with an estimated one million cattle infected since 1986.

The statement said that the number of confirmed cases of new variant CJD, BSE's human equivalent, is too small to predict the eventual size of any outbreak. CJD's mostly likely source is transmission from mad cow which brain is known to be infectious to humans; muscle and milk are not thought to be infectious.

"However, it is not yet clear whether the measures implemented in 1988 and 1990 have succeeded in completely removing infectious material from the human food chain," said the statement.

New hygiene measures against 'mad cow' disease

Agence France-Presse July 22, 1997
BRUSSELS (July 22, 1997 9:04 p.m. EDT) - The European Commission will be able to adopt new sanitary protection measures against "mad cow" disease by banning totally certain high-risk animal tissues, following a decision taken early Wednesday by European agriculture ministers.

The ministers were unable to adopt the measures themselves as they had only a simple majority of eight countries against seven, while a qualified majority was necessary -- weighted according to countries' size. These measures include the total withdrawal from the human and animal food chain of brains, eyes, tonsils and spinal cords from cattle, sheep and goats.

On Tuesday, British Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham had reiterated threats to ban imports of European beef which do not meet national health standards unless his EU colleagues agreed to implement tougher hygiene controls. But he denied that the move was in retaliation for the continuation of a 16-month European ban on British beef, insisting that public health concerns were behind London's tough stance.

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