BSEfreedom claims are rubbished by EUboffins
By Philip Clarke
CLAIMS by Germany, Italy and Spain that they are BSE-free have been dismissed by top Brussels scientists, who believe there are many cases in the pipeline waiting to emerge.
Their new study attempts to categorise all 15 EU member states, plus a number of Third countries, according to their geographical BSE risk.
The UK and Portugal are the only two placed in the top risk category (4) for those countries with a high number of confirmed BSE cases. But Germany, Italy and Spain have been lumped in with the likes of France, Ireland and Switzerland as having the next greatest risk.
The analysis is based on the likely exposure to the BSE agent during the 1980s and 1990s from imports of live cattle and contaminated animal feed, and the control mechanisms operating in each country.
In the case of Germany, the report notes that between 1980 and 1993 over 13,000 cattle were shipped from the UK, some of which must have been BSE-infected. "Germany also imported potentially contaminated meat and bonemeal from the UK, most notably in 1988 and 1989," it adds.
"Until 1994 the German (control) system was very unstable," it goes on. "It would have amplified rather quickly any imported BSE infectivity. It is therefore likely that BSE is currently present in the domestic cattle population."
Similar prognoses are made for Italy and Spain.
Part of the explanation for cases not yet showing up in these countries is the shortcoming in their surveillance systems. Unlike the UK and Switzerland where there is active screening, (through the OTMS survey in the UK), all other countries rely on farmer notifications.
"Passive surveillance, based solely on notification of symptomatic BSE-suspects, will fail to detect more than half of all clinical cases," says the report.
The findings have been welcomed by UK meat trade and farming representatives. "It is a fair reflection of the state of affairs in most of these countries," said Helene Judge of the Meat and Livestock Commissions Brussels office. "It has not just concentrated on the incidence of the disease, but on the exposure and propagation of the risk."
It is hoped that the findings will put more pressure on member states to vote in favour of commission plans for pan-European controls on specified risk materials, considered to be one of the principal sources of infectivity.