04 December 1998
Fears grow over BSE in Europe

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

MAD cow disease is being under-reported in several European countries as they try to hang on to their disease-free status, delegates were told at a conference this week in Brussels.

Most outspoken was Tito Fernandes of Lisbon Universitys vet school in Portugal — a country which has just had its beef exports banned due to the escalating number of BSE cases.

“How can we believe any countrys claim to be BSE-free when there is no way of ensuring the efficiency of diagnostic methods applied or even the completeness of reporting suspect cases?” he asked.

Portugal has experienced a surge in BSE cases from 30 last year to 80 this year since the Government raised the level of compensation to three times the market price in an effort to encourage farmers to report more cases of the disease.

Philip James of the Aberdeen-based Rowett Research Institute, said that the EU as a whole had underestimated the level of exposure to the BSE agent.

Consumer representative Caroline Naett said it was “surprising” that BSE seemed to stop at certain national borders.

German MEP and organic farmer Friedrich Baringdorf attacked other countries for failing to implement an EU-wide ban on specified risk materials, flying in the face of advice from scientists, vets and the European Commission.

The general failure of member states to enforce EU laws on BSE controls was also raised by many speakers.

Out of 15 countries, 13 had been subject to infringement procedures from the commission was described as “a scandal” by German MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt.

“There are still member states that will not learn the lessons,” she said. “They delay all they can and are happy to point the finger at others.”

Emma Bonino, consumer affairs commissioner, expressed her dismay at the lax approach of some countries but said she was unable to achieve a miracle reversal of their stance.

“I can step up the number of checks but the data we receive is the data we have to work with,” she said.