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The BBC's Jon Sopel, in Paris
"For French butchers at the moment, all publicity is bad publicity"
 real 56k

Friday, 17 November, 2000, 12:13 GMT
Italy bans French beef imports
beef
Beef sales in France have slumped 40%
Italy has banned imports of adult cows and beef on the bone from France as fears over "mad cow" disease spread.

The move follows revelations that several tonnes of meat from a BSE-infected herd had gone on sale in French supermarkets. Italy is France's biggest customer for meat and dairy exports, importing about one million head of cattle a year.


Mad cow disease exists and it's serious - one must take precautions but not panic

European Commission President Romano Prodi

France has itself banned beef on the bone and Spain, Russia, Poland, Hungary and Austria have announced their own restrictions on French beef, but the European Union has not so far placed restrictions on exports.

Italy's move came as relatives of two French victims of the human form of the brain-wasting disease, or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), began legal action on Friday against the French and UK governments and the European Commission.

Cow with BSE
The number of French BSE cases has risen sharply this year
According to officials in Rome, no case of BSE has been detected in Italian cattle, nor were there any cases of vCJD in humans.

Nevertheless, Italy now plans to test cattle aged over 24 months for BSE, said Farm Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio.

The French beef scare has already led more than 30 Italian cities to take beef off their school menus.

Sales slump

Beef sales have dropped 10%, according to Italy's butchers' association.

Hundreds of French schools have already dropped beef from their menu, while sales of beef have slumped by 40%.

court
Familes of Arnaud Eboli and Laurence Duhame leave court
Germany said it had not yet made a decision on whether to join Italy, but said "all options were open".

In the UK, where an outbreak of BSE led to a foreign embargo on British beef in 1996, the government was under pressure from the Conservative opposition to bring in restrictions.

In Paris, a lawyer acting jointly for 19-year-old Arnaud Eboli, who is suffering from vCJD, and Laurence Duhamel, who died from the disease last February aged 36, filed a suit in a civil court.

It accuses Britain of exporting possibly contaminated material, and France and the European Commission of failing to take the threat of disease seriously enough.

So far only two people are confirmed to have died of the human variant of BSE in France, compared with more than 80 deaths in Britain over the past decade.

But the number of BSE cases recorded this year in France has more than tripled since last year to 101.

The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, on a visit to Athens, has tried to play down fears over the disease.

"Mad cow disease exists and it's serious. One must take precautions but not panic," Mr Prodi said.

He said the commission had asked European Union member-states to conduct tests for BSE and would keep insisting on this, but it could not impose testing on national authorities.

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See also:

17 Nov 00 | Europe
Ban is no beef for Italians
27 Oct 00 | Europe
More suspect beef sold in France
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