29 August 1997

Cattle data implies BSE cover-up

HUGE discrepancies in the cases of BSE reported by other EU countries, compared with the expected incidence, have been revealed in a new report.

Using data on the numbers of UK cattle exported to each EU member state in the late 1980s, and the pattern of disease seen in Britain, scientists from the Netherlands, UK and Germany concluded that there should have been more than 1600 confirmed cases of BSE in other EU countries. Figures up to Jan, 1997, show only 285 cattle have been diagnosed with the disease.

Confirming widespread belief among British farmers that BSE is much more prevalent across Europe than has been admitted, the report, published in the Veterinary Record (Aug 23), said Germany should have seen more than 200 cases of BSE, instead of the five it has confirmed so far. And Portugals incidence of the disease should be almost 10 times greater than has been recorded.

Called into doubt

The scientists also called into doubt the claims of some member states who maintain that they are BSE-free. Every country except Greece, which only imported seven cattle from the UK between 1985 and 1992, should have seen the disease. NFU deputy president Ben Gill said: "We have made the point all along that BSE is not just a British problem. This report vindicates that position and also the position taken by EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler to secure tighter BSE controls throughout the EU."

The scientists results are based purely on the numbers of cattle exported, and take no account of the volumes of potentially infected meat and bonemeal that may also have been traded.

"There is no uniform method of surveillance for BSE throughout the EU member states, and it would be difficult to achieve practically. However, more important is the general awareness of BSE which would undoubtedly have been lower outside the UK."

Farm minister Jack Cunningham said he wanted to study the report in detail before deciding whether any action was needed and if it would be appropriate to pursue the issue at the EU farm ministers council.