15 June 2001
French BSE crisis flares up again

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

FRANCE is on the brink of another food crisis, after revelations that nine Charolais cattle from a herd with BSE have entered the human food chain.

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 slaughter of 166 animals.

The farmer in Meurthe-et-Moselle was alerted on 18 April, according to a statement from the French ministry of agriculture.

But instead of being destroyed in accordance with 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.

In an attempt to reassure consumers, it added: “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. A similar situation last autumn prompted beef markets to plummet as demand collapsed by 40%.

But Remi Fourrier of the Meat and Livestock Commissions Paris office said consumption was only 10% down and the situation was improving.

He added: “The Press have handled this situation much more responsibly and given consumers a more reassuring message.”

It is 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.