15 June 2001

Another French crisis as BSE enters food chain?

FRANCE was this week on the brink of another food crisis, after revelations that nine Charollais cattle from a herd with BSE had entered the human food chain.

The problem arose because the animals had been moved last August from their original herd in the la Meuse department to another farm in neighbouring Meurthe-et-Moselle.

Their existence only emerged two weeks after BSE had been detected in the la Meuse herd in early April, leading to the automatic slaughter and destruction of 166 animals.

The farmer in Meurthe-et-Moselle was alerted on April 18, according to a ministry of agriculture statement. But instead of being destroyed, in accordance with French health rules, the nine animals were sent for slaughter and their meat entered the human food chain.

"As a result, the authorities in Meurthe-et-Moselle have launched an inquiry with a view to establishing the existence of fraud," said a government statement.

"The animals sent to the abattoir were young, the oldest being 18 months. They were not cohorts (of the BSE casualty), and were not exposed to the same (feed) risks," it added, in an attempt to reassure consumers.

Despite this, the industry remains on tenterhooks. It was a situation just like this that prompted beef markets to go into free-fall last October, with demand collapsing by 40%.

But Remi Fourrier of the Meat and Livestock Commissions Paris office is optimistic there will not be a repeat of this. "Consumption is only 10% down and things are getting better," he said. "The Press have handled this situation much more responsibly and given consumers a more reassuring message."

It is also possible that the French may abandon their policy of whole herd slaughter where BSE cases arise, in favour of selective slaughter of cohorts. "There is great pressure from the farming unions for this, though the health minister is opposed. A government decision is expected soon," said Mr Fourrier. &#42