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European beef ban spreads

mad cow

SYDNEY, Australia -- Australia and New Zealand have extended a ban on British beef products to cover 30 European countries.

The announcement on Friday was the latest action against European beef products and comes as Germany drew up an action plan to restore confidence after ministers admitted errors in handling the scare.

Australian authorities have advised retailers in Australia and New Zealand to remove all European beef products from their shelves.

Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said the decision was made to protect the country's status as being free of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

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Australia barred British beef and by-products in 1996 as concerns mounted that mad cow disease could be linked to the fatal human condition, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

The extension of the ban, which takes effect on January 8, includes Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Eastern European and Scandinavian nations are also affected.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Richard Smallwood announced the ban and said the risk to the health of Australians was "extremely small."

"However, we need to keep one step ahead of the BSE/vCJD situation that is causing great concern in the UK and the rest of Europe."

The grocery industry will be asked to introduce a voluntary withdrawal of European beef products. Consumers have been advised to dispose of any cans of food they may have in their cupboards that contain beef from a specified European country of origin.

"There are small but significant amounts of these foods on the Australian market -- around 1000 tonnes per annum, which accounts for only 0.2 per cent of beef consumed annually in Australia," Smallwood said.

"This food is imported almost entirely as canned or prepared food products. While there will be a cost to retailers who will be asked to withdraw the products from shelves and discard them, no retailer should be too badly affected."

The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) will examine amendments to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to ensure that imported beef and beef products were free from BSE.

The amendment would require exporting countries to certify that their beef products were free from BSE.

ANZFA recommended that consumers check labels on any imported food they had and discard corned beef, luncheon meat, frankfurters and other products which contained beef with a European country of origin.

It added, however, that there was only a very small likelihood that European beef products now in Australian supermarkets and kitchens were contaminated with BSE.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Global action over mad cow fears
December 22, 2000
Summit considers BSE crackdown
December 4, 2000
EU proposes tougher feed controls
November 29, 2000
Mad cow disease unlikely in U.S., experts say
December 21, 2000
Europe draws up BSE battle plan
December 6, 2000

RELATED SITES:
UK BSE Inquiry
World Health Organisation: BSE and vCJD fact sheets
Human BSE Foundation
Australian Government Information
Australia New Zealand Food Authority
Australian Department of Health and Aged Care

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