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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 October 2005, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
US rejects British Katrina beef
Devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina
The US said meals were overlooked due to the chaos after Katrina
The US has blocked the distribution of around 350,000 packaged meals donated by Britain for victims of Hurricane Katrina, because of mad cow disease.

US officials said the meals - routinely eaten by UK soldiers - were not considered unsafe but fell foul of its post-BSE ban on British beef products.

They said none of the hurricane victims had gone hungry as a result.

The US State Department is now trying to pass on the ration packs to countries in the developing world.

The US has a ban on beef from Britain dating from 1997. Several other European countries' products are also banned.

The ban was imposed after the outbreak of mad cow disease - bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - in Britain and fears that it was linked to the brain disorder variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans.

Confusion

However, the embargo was initially overlooked in the chaos that followed the hurricane that devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, officials said.

One US official, who wished to remain anonymous, told the AFP news agency: "In disasters people have to make quick decisions, commodities have to move quickly and... mistakes always happen."

WHAT'S IN A READY-TO-EAT PACK?
Meat dish - often beef-based such as stew, corned beef
Rice
Bacon and beans
Chocolate, biscuits, sweets
Dried fruit
Juice, chocolate, soup - all powdered
Crackers
Pudding
Chewing gum
Condiments, sauces, tissues
The US Agriculture Department eventually blocked distribution of the packages on 6 September, by which stage about 118,000 of the ready meals had already been sent out to victims.

The remaining 357,000 have been sitting in a warehouse in Arkansas, at a cost of $16,000 (9,000) a month in storage fees, as the government decides how to dispose of them.

Terri Teuber, a spokeswoman at the Agriculture Department, said the decision to stop the distribution of the meals would not leave victims hungry.

'No takers'

"By the time our inspectors were on the ground, we had confirmed that there was no longer the emergency need," she said.

"It's critical to the story that our inspectors confirmed that the people were being fed before they held back any MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)."

Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said Washington was looking at other countries to donate the food to, but had not yet found any takers.

"We are looking to use these MREs in the same spirit of charity and goodwill that they were provided to us.

"We would certainly hope that other countries in need, or other needy populations would be able to make use of them, and we certainly invite any countries that see a need to contact us," he said.



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