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No Need For Slaughter Of Cattle In Britain, Scientists Advise

March 25, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ Confounding expectations that it would order millions of cattle slaughtered, the British government said today that no new action was required to contain the risks of the deadly mad cow disease.

Government officials met with scientific advisers today to agree on new guidelines on the risks to humans from the brain disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

But despite predictions in the media that the government would order the wholesale slaughter of suspect animals, Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell told parliament that scientific advisers said no new action was required.

He did not elaborate but said the experts’ findings will be published in scientific journals within four to six weeks.

The mad cow disease scare threw Britain into crisis Wednesday when the government acknowledged that it is the most likely source of a similar brain disease that has struck 10 young Britons.

At least eight people have died, but the government’s scientific advisers said today that children are not at higher risk from the disease.

Government statistics released today showed 161,663 confirmed cases of the disease in British cattle since 1986 _ more than 400 times more cases than the rest of the world combined. Switzerland, the next worst affected, had 205 cases.

The disease is attributed to British farmers feeding cattle with sheep entrails contaminated with a brain-wasting disease, scrapie. The use of sheep entrails as feed was banned in 1989.

The mad cow disease scare has battered Britain’s beef industry, valued at $6 billion in 1995.

Responding to growing fears of the disease, Ireland’s biggest supermarket chain and Britain’s Wimpy fast-food chain banned British beef today.

Ireland’s Quinnsworth-Crazy Prices supermarket chain said it has removed all British beef products from its shelves. The chain has 75 stores and one-quarter of the Irish market.

Wimpy said today it has stopped serving beef in its 270 British outlets and will resume on Thursday with imported supplies.

``We have no scientific reason at all to do it,″ Wimpy managing director Max Wolfenden said of his ban. ``I still think British beef is an excellent product, but I’m not enforcing my view on our customers.″

Fears of mad cow disease have driven beef off many menus in Britain and badly damaged the export market.

All Britain’s major supermarkets report a slump in sales, and McDonald’s said over the weekend that it is switching to foreign beef in its 660 British restaurants.

On London’s financial markets, the pound fell early today on worries about the economic implications of the scare. When markets opened, it was down 1 1/2 pfennigs against the German mark and down nearly a cent against the dollar.

The main opposition Labor Party accused the government of mishandling the crisis since BSE broke out a decade ago.

``All along the government have delayed and given false reassurances,″ Harriet Harman, the party’s health spokeswoman, said today. ``They took years before they made the disease notifiable in cattle.″

``They’ve been driven by a narrow protectionism of farmers and the dogma of deregulation,″ Harman said. ``That has put both the consumer and the producers at risk and caused a crisis of public confidence.″

In Brussels, a meeting of European Union veterinary officials may decide today to ban British beef. Thirteen of the 15 EU members, including the biggest customers, France and Italy, have already banned the meat.

The United States has banned British beef since 1989.

A herd of 150 cattle was slaughtered today near Guingamp in northwestern France after one steer was found to have mad cow disease, local veterinary officials said.

The corpses were to be incinerated Tuesday. Officials said a second herd belonging to another breeder in the same Brittany region may also have to be killed because of one contaminated animal.

New Zealand today suspended the import of genetic material from British cattle and sheep.

The country imports small quantities of bovine semen and embryos from Britain, but no live animals. It already has suspended imports of British cooked and canned meats, gelatin and meat pastes.

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