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Summit considers BSE crackdown

Bonemeal production
A ban on all meat-based animal feed could be extended throughout the EU  

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ministers from across Europe are meeting to consider sweeping new measures to curb the spread of mad cow disease.

The European Union farm ministers are hoping the key meeting will also stop the beef crisis from hijacking this week's crucial EU summit.

EU food safety Commissioner David Byrne will present plans to ban all livestock feed containing animal remains and to keep older cattle out of the food chain unless tested for mad cow disease.

Officials fear the brain wasting cattle disorder bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) may be taking hold in Europe.

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The talks are expected to continue into the night.

The latest crisis began in October in France when potentially contaminated beef may have reached supermarket shelves. Mad cow cases have more than tripled there this year.

Many EU countries have since blocked French cattle and beef imports.

Consumer panic over beef spread to Germany last month when its first two cases were detected. Germany has its own ban on meat-based feed.

Beef sales in the country have dropped by up to 50 percent since the discoveries. Scientists suspect eating tainted meat can lead to the deadly human form, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), which has killed 85 people in Britain and two in France since 1996.

Germany starts widescale testing of cattle for BSE this week, with regional governments drafting in extra laboratories.

Germany's upper house parliament asked the government on Friday to push for a new EU-wide ban on British beef, saying the labelling of exports had been inadequate.

Amid an atmosphere of national embargoes, ministers will be under strong pressure to agree to EU-wide measures.

Failure to do so could mean Europe's leaders having to make time for the beef crisis in the French Mediterranean resort of Nice three days later in what are expected to be round-the-clock negotiations on reshaping the EU.

Byrne said on Friday he expected ministers to reach a consensus on the feed ban, although he could not rule out minor changes to his proposals.

At a meeting of chief veterinarians from member states on Thursday, several countries either abstained or voted against the plans.

However, EU diplomats said that despite the setback, ministers would swing behind the feed proposal because of the weight of public opinion for a ban.

Byrne's proposal to prevent all cattle aged over 30 months from entering the food chain also has its critics.

Many member states with no confirmed cases of mad cow disease argue they will be burdened with unfair costs.

Britain's Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said on Monday that it was vital that a Europe-wide solution was adopted to eradicate mad cow disease.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Germany targets cattle feed amid BSE crisis
December 1, 2000
Germany to make BSE testing mandatory
November 30, 2000
EU proposes tougher feed controls
November 29, 2000
EU warning over BSE
November 27, 2000

RELATED SITES:
European Union
World Health Organisation: Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE)
Germany Ministry of Agriculture

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