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Mad Cow Cases Spread Through Europe

November 25, 2000

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ Germany and Portugal’s Azores Islands recorded new cases of mad cow disease Friday, highlighting the brain-wasting disease’s rapid spread across European borders amid growing consumer alarm and fears of health risks for humans.

The infected cow in Germany, born in 1996, was tested Wednesday, after its slaughter in the town of Itzehoe, authorities in Schleswig-Holstein state said. Previously, German testing had detected mad cow disease only in animals imported from Britain and Switzerland.

The infected cow in the Azores marked the first time the disease has popped up there. The cow was a five-year-old animal imported from Germany’s Hanover region in 1998, according to the regional agriculture authority.

``The European Union’s open borders ... and the lack of proper controls ... are worsening this crisis,″ said Joao Dinis of Portugal’s National Agricultural Federation, a group of private farmers.

Sales of beef have dropped throughout Europe as fear spreads about mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Scientists believe eating infected meat could cause a similar ailment in humans, the usually fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

In Spain, which recorded its first case of mad cow disease earlier this week, the cabinet approved a decree Friday creating a committee to monitor the disease. In Switzerland, the Federal Veterinary Office on Friday proposed a national control body to speed up the eradication of the disease. Swiss authorities decided Thursday to halt the import of all breeding cattle at least temporarily.

Scientists believe mad cow disease originated in Britain, when cattle were given feed containing the ground remains of sheep infected with a brain ailment. That practice is now banned throughout the European Union.

This week, agriculture ministers from the 15-nation EU agreed in principle to a massive upgrade in testing for the disease.

Mainland Portugal has been one of the worst-affected countries: 467 cases of mad cow disease have been reported there since 1990. The EU banned Portuguese beef exports in 1998. But before Friday, no cases of mad cow disease had been reported on the Azores, and the islands were excluded from the Portuguese ban because cows can graze there all year long and do not require special feed supplements.

After Friday’s discovery, the Azores regional agriculture authority announced a plan to slaughter more than 2,600 cows imported in recent years, about half of them from Germany, to assuage consumer fears.

German officials have said they don’t have any plans to ban the importation of beef from other countries, but they have demanded clearer labeling on beef from Britain, where more than 80 people have died of the human form of the disease. Germany also has proposed a ban on the use of meat and bone meal in all animal feed.

French President Jacques Chirac Friday urged European Union leaders to impose common measures against mad cow disease and renewed calls for a tighter ban on animal products in livestock feed.

``There is a pressing need to impose safety measures in a harmonized way, at least within the European Union,″ said Chirac during a visit to Athens. ``We must move toward the general ban of animal (based) feed ... This must happen as quickly as possible.″

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