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Friday, 5 January, 2001, 11:33 GMT
Europe's growing concern
Ireland United Kingdom Netherlands Denmark France Portugal Spain Belgium Switzerland Germany Italy

Countries all over Europe are urgently stepping up testing as the spectre of BSE spreads. Click on the map above to find out what is being done to fight the disease.



Ireland has had 551 cases of the disease since 1989, more than 100 of them in 2000. Numbers of affected cattle have been steadily rising since 1996.

Despite the rising numbers, Ireland has strict controls of its beef industry. Meat and bone meal are banned from cattle feed, and factories are subjected to clinical tests.

From January, all cattle over 30 months old have been subjected to a mandatory test for the disease using a technique pioneered in Ireland.

As a result of the stringent measures, Ireland announced plans to market its beef as 'BSE-free'.

The EU, however, has rejected this. "I don't think any member state can give a guarantee that their beef is BSE-free," said Ireland's European Commissioner David Byrne.

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The first cases of BSE-infected cattle were recorded in the UK in 1986.

Feed containing sheep carcasses was banned in 1988, but BSE cases rocketed, reaching a peak of over 36,000 in 1992.

However, public concern over the disease came to a climax in 1996 when the government admitted it had covered up research which proved a link between BSE and CJD.

The EU reacted quickly, imposing a strict export ban on British beef and related products. Cattle over the age of 30 months have been banned for human consumption in the UK since 1996.

The beef industry in the UK suffered huge losses from which it has still not recovered.

Cases of BSE still dwarf that of any other country. But the cases are declining every year; while in several European countries the disease is on the increase.

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The first Dutch case occurred in 1997, but the Netherlands has seen relatively low levels of BSE infection in its herds.

The Dutch Agriculture Ministry has reported the country's seventh case had been discovered at a farm near Utrecht.

This was the first BSE case in 2000 in the Netherlands and compared with two cases in each of the past three years.

To head off any potential problems, however, the ministry intends to step up testing through 2001, conducting about 12,000 tests compared to several hundred in 2000.

The tests are expected to focus on sick or dead animals.

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Denmark banned animal-based cattle feeds in the early 1990s, and banned the sale of beef in February 2000 when the first case of BSE was found in Danish-bred cattle.

It was only the second case of BSE in Denmark in 10 years. The previous known case, in 1992, was in an imported Scottish highland cow.

The case alarmed Danish authorities and raised questions about how the animal was infected. Norway and Lithuania immediately banned imports of Danish beef as a result.

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France became the centre of BSE fears spreading across Europe when the crisis erupted there late in 2000.

The number of BSE cases found in the country has been steadily rising, and all cattle over 30 months old are now tested for BSE.

The French Government also announced a $426m (FF3.24bn) package of measures designed to help the meat and farming industries recover from the crisis.

The package also includes cash to help research to find alternatives to animal feeds spreading the disease.

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Since 1997 there have been 391 known cases of BSE in Portugal. Levels have increased each year.

The Portuguese Agriculture Ministry estimates BSE in Portugal currently stands at 200 per million, down from 240 recorded in the 12 months up to September 1999.

No cases have been reported for cows born since 1995, when the use of meat and bone meal in animal feed was banned.

Officials believe the disease has peaked and may be eradicated completely from the country by 2003.

Portugal has not yet recorded a case of variant CJD, but is still banned from exporting its beef to the European Union because of the relatively high levels of BSE in its herds.

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The first two cases of BSE in Spain were uncovered in November 2000, and another two were discovered in January 2001.

Health authorities in the north-western Spanish region of Galicia detected the disease during testing of 132 cattle.

The discovery followed Spain's banning of French cattle and beef exports.

However, Spain's Agriculture Minister, Miguel Arias Canete, said the country was not facing an epidemic.

According to Mr Canete, testing methods have ensured that infected animals have not entered the food chain.

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Belgium recorded its first cases of BSE in 1993.

An EU Commission report has warned that cattle in Belgium have been exposed to possibly contaminated animal feed imported since the 1980s.

Scientists believe that although there may be more cases, the probability of an epidemic is decreasing over time.

One of the main reasons for this is the introduction of a computerised monitoring system in 1997.

However, the EU has warned the Belgian government to stay vigilant and increase testing.

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Switzerland has recorded 364 cases of BSE to date, and along with Ireland and Portugal has seen one of the most rapid increases in the disease.

It is also the only country in the world to test for "hidden" BSE in the carcasses of cattle that did not show any signs of the disease prior to death.

These results have doubled Switzerland's previous total, and prompted fresh concerns that substantial numbers of cases are escaping detection elsewhere in Europe.

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For years, Germany considered itself an oasis of BSE-free beef in Europe. The government repeatedly assured the public that German beef was safe.

But the discovery of the country's first two cases last year shattered this illusion, triggering widespread public concern and anger.

Six cases were discovered in 2000, and another two cases were discovered in January 2001.

Allegations that government ministers knew for almost a year that German beef was not safe to eat has triggered widespread public anger and forced two cabinet ministers to resign.

Germany banned animal products from cattle feed seven years ago, but until December 2000 it was still legal to feed meat and bone meal to pigs and poultry.

Germany has also dropped its opposition to an EU-proposed ban on the human consumption of animal brains and spinal cords.

The meat industry in Germany has been sent reeling by the crisis, and there are fears over the future of thousands of jobs.

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The first case of BSE in Italian-born cattle was reported in January 2001.

Italy had already banned imports of adult cows and beef on the bone from France, following revelations that several tonnes of meat from a BSE-infected herd had gone on sale in French supermarkets.

Italy is France's biggest beef customer, but consumption has slumped by three-quarters in recent months.

Italian butchers have to display the country of origin of fresh meat they offer for sale, and many restaurants are following suit.

But Italians eat 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.

Nevertheless, the government is treating the possibility that the disease may have spread into Italy without being detected very seriously.

New regulations to improve veterinary monitoring in the slaughter houses and a ban on bonemeal being fed to cows and sheep have recently been introduced.

Italy could also start testing for BSE in cattle aged over 24 months, in January.

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