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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 17:24 GMT
Ban is no beef for Italians
rome
A cow awaits slaughter in Rome
The BBC's David Willey reports from Rome

Italy has, along with several other European countries, ordered a partial ban on beef imports from France as the fear of mad cow disease spreads.

Beef consumption in Italy, France's biggest beef customer, has already slumped by three quarters in recent months.

beef
Beef remains unsold in a Milan supermarket
Italian butchers are already bound to display the country of origin of fresh meat they offer for sale, and many restaurants are following suit.

But Italians consume more veal than any other kind of meat and usually prefer veal to beef on the bone, so no great change is forecast in Italian eating habits as a result of the mad cow disease scare.

The government is nevertheless taking very seriously the possibility that the disease may have spread into Italy without being detected, and is issuing new regulations to improve veterinary monitoring in the slaughter houses.

Health Minister Umberto Veronese - who says he is a vegetarian for ethical reasons - has also banned bonemeal from being fed to cows and sheep.

Farmers protest

Mr Veronese said the health of the population could not be subject to the corporate interests of farmers.

scanio
Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio: BSE testing could start next year
Italian Farm Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said it was probable that testing for BSE of cattle aged over 24 months would begin from January 2001.

Animals from France already in Italy which have not yet reached 18 months are to be slaughtered and will be tested for possible BSE infection before they can be sold to consumers.

He said the testing would be carried out by examining the brain tissue of slaughtered animals.

The minister estimated the cost of the testing at about 100 billion lire ($44m) a year and added the government was still deciding how to distribute the costs.

Italian farmers have already begun protesting about the high costs to them of the measures brought in to prevent the spread of BSE in Italy, and they are demanding extra compensation.

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