Global madness

The whole world is at risk of the mad cow disease, says WHO

By Pamela Wentick
Published: Wednesday 31 January 2001

A crane operator moves a dead< the World Health Organisation (who) has raised concerns about the large-scale spread of the mad cow disease. "Our concern is that there was sufficient international trade in infected meat, bone meal and live cattle and consequently there has already been a worldwide exposure," said Maura Ricketts of who 's animal and food-related public-health-risks division. "We are concerned that some countries which received infected material do not have surveillance systems to detect the disease in animals or human population," she added.

According to estimates, around 1.8 lakh cases of spongiform encephalopathy (bse) have been reported in the uk , 568 in Ireland, 484 in Portugal, 364 in Switzerland, 205 in France, 19 in Belgium and eight in Germany. A European Union (eu) report published recently states that even hogs are suspected to be carrying a new infection that is similar to the mad cow disease.

Meanwhile, the European Union has proposed tough measures to tackle the spread of the disease. The measures will last six months and will involve the testing of two million cattle. The measures include the exclusion of older cattle, cattle older than 30 months found to be effected with bse will be destroyed and farmers compensated for their loss. Frank Fischler, the agriculture commissioner of eu, has said that the expense would be enormous but worthwhile if it saves the beef industry. The measures would cost at least us $2.7 billion. But some countries are not taking any chances: Australia and New Zealand have banned all beef imports from Europe.

The German government has blamed the crisis on poor coordination between the eu and the member countries. It has demanded legal action against manufacturers who are found guilty of using banned animal feed. Switzerland has reported a fall in numbers of diseased animals. The fall has been attributed to the ban on animal feed and import restrictions. Spain continues to be in the grip of the problem with two cases of mad cow diseases being reported on January 2.

The stakes are high, as bse -free countries such as Argentina, India and China are threatened with infection. More tests are being evaluated at the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (irmm). Says Philippe Busquin of irmm: "Only reliable testing will lay the scientific foundation on which we can base serious and efficient political measures," believes Busquin.

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