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Professor Jim Bridges, University of Surrey
"We do need to be very vigorous in our control measures"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 18:02 GMT
EU tackles BSE crisis
German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke at Hanover agricultural show
Meat safety is becoming a political issue across Europe
The European Commission has proposed tough new measures to curb the spread of BSE in Europe, calling for a temporary ban on meat and bone-meal in all animal feeds.

It has also said that all cattle over 30-months-old should be excluded from the food chain unless first tested for BSE.

The moves are an attempt to establish common rules to replace the piecemeal measures imposed by several EU countries in the past few weeks aimed at containing the spread of BSE, or mad cow disease.

German butcher selling non-beef products
German butchers are coming to terms with the crisis
Europe's food safety Commissioner David Byrne said he was proposing that the new restrictions on cattle should come into force on 4 December.

"The proposals are essential for the enhancement of consumer confidence." Mr Byrne told a news conference in Brussels.

"There has been concern in my mind as to the controls relating to meat and bone meal (MBM) in animal feed."

Commissioner Byrne was speaking after a meeting of EU scientists, who also said the national embargoes placed on French beef by other EU member states were unjustified.

French ban

In response to rising consumer panic over BSE, the French government has banned T-bone steaks and meat-based animal feed.

But it has also offered cash help for farmers affected by the crisis.

A $65m package was announced by Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany in response to a series of farmers' protests following the collapse in beef sales.

Many of France's EU partners have imposed greater restrictions.

Spain, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands were among those to impose curbs on imports of French cattle and beef.

Mr Byrne said he expected these national measures would be withdrawn after discussions with farm ministers on Monday.

BBC correspondent Colin Blane says that, with panic about BSE worsening by the day in many EU countries, the European Commission's aim is to regain its grip on the crisis by consulting its scientific experts about future action.

Assurances sought

Analysts say there is a strong chance that both of its proposals will be accepted by member states.

Until now it has been legal to feed meat and bone meal to pigs and poultry, but there has been a suspicion that it was also being fed to cattle in some places, thereby risking the spread of BSE.

Officials from the UK's Food Standards Agency are meanwhile asking French government ministers for assurances that beef contaminated with BSE is not entering the food chain.

If there are major doubts, it could lead to a ban on French beef imports into Britain.

Concern over the spread of BSE has continued to spread across Europe.

Concern rising across Europe

Five new cases of BSE have been confirmed in France bringing the total number of cases discovered this year to 121, compared to just 30 in 1999.

Almost 200 cases of BSE have been recorded in France since 1991.

The Agriculture Ministry said that a free government BSE hotline had received 22,500 calls since it opened 10 days ago.

In Germany, which discovered its first two cases of BSE last week, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has called for a re-think of farming policy.

He told parliament that the current practice of factory farming must stop, in favour of a more consumer-friendly policy.

Outside the European Union, the Polish government has appointed a team to assess the risk of BSE occurring in Poland, which is a major exporter of livestock to the EU.

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