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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 17:32 GMT
BSE threat to EU farm programme
Cows wait to be fed dehydrated food at a farm in Normandy, France
A blend of panic and prohibition has proved a sour sauce for French beef.
By the BBC's Rodney Smith.

Tony Blair's government's response to the official report on the BSE crisis in Britain - the 17-volume report was published last October and listed 167 recommendations - will be read as avidly throughout the European Union as at home.

Fear of BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad cow disease, has already cut beef consumption in some markets, like Spain, by 30%.

This is likely to get worse, not better.

The EU estimates that it will cost at least 10bn euros to deal with the scare. That is a largely arbitrary figure; no-one yet knows how big the problem will be.

However, it will probably have one long term benefit for some.

It could force radical change in the European Union's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) - seen by many developing nation food exporters as the biggest evil they face.

German farmers protest against the agriculture policies of the German government.
Germany expects to destroy about 400,000 cattle under a purchase for destruction launched by the EU.

In 1996, the European Union subsidised European farmers to the tune of $120bn - that is nearly $18,000 per farmer, or $322 per consumer.

That huge cost is dwarfed by no other country, although Japan, the US, Switzerland and Norway spend more per farmer.

But pressure is growing to reduce the huge CAP - ministers realise that the twin aims of a bigger EU and a smaller CAP will mean radical adjustments in the amount that farmers can be paid.

Many of the countries applying to join the EU see the CAP as one of the biggest appeals - a huge bowl of money just to support their farmers. They are going to be proved wrong.

BSE may be the catalyst.

No one really knows yet how much the BSE crisis will cost, but consider that the millions of tonnes of beef in cold storage - the beef mountain - will now have to be destroyed, on top of the estimated 400,000 cattle in Germany.

And the cost and the simple management of such a huge task could become horrendous enough to pull the already stressed CAP budget apart.

Meanwhile, consumers in some of the east European states are anxious that they could be unwitting victims of Europe's problem.

Without the tough checks and balances of the food industries of Western Europe, they fear they could end up consuming beef sold to them by unscrupulous farmers to their west.

We may all find that eating more vegetables is better for us in the end after all.

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See also:

25 Oct 00 | UK
BSE: The spectre spreads?
01 Jan 01 | UK
New rules to cut BSE risk
15 Jan 01 | Europe
Brussels plays down BSE crisis
05 Jan 01 | Europe
Europe's growing concern
30 Jan 01 | Europe
EU facing BSE cost explosion
26 Oct 00 | UK Politics
BSE report: The main points
09 Feb 01 | UK
UK condemns BSE secrecy
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