Britain rethinks 'mad cow' slaughter
September 19, 1996
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- Opposition to the slaughter of cows may force
two governments to rethink their plans to cull cows suspected
of carrying the deadly "mad cow" disease.
In Switzerland Thursday, about 1,000 angry farmers drove
their tractors down a major highway to protest plans to kill
230,000 head of cattle there. Switzerland is second only to
Britain in the number of cases of Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy, also known as "mad cow" disease.
The British government is contemplating reducing its intended
slaughter of 147,000 cows based on research that suggests the
kill may not be necessary. Data from an Oxford University
study indicates the disease could die out naturally within
However, among Britons who make their living from livestock,
there is little support these days for the British
government's proposal to reduce the cull. And, the European
Union wants Britain to follow through with the original plan.
"The cull to start with is silly, but all right, they have
given their word that they were going to cull, and so they
have to get on with it and not muck about," British farmer
David Prosser said.
Jim Watson of Midland Livestock Marts agreed. "Having gone
so far now with this cull, we have got to complete it. We
can't stop halfway," he said.
On this issue, British farmers and the EU find themselves in
rare accord, although for different reasons.
The British government promised to slaughter up to 147,000
cattle most at risk for BSE to get the EU to lift its
worldwide ban on British beef sales. The ban was imposed in
March after Britain unveiled evidence that people could get a
similar illness, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, by eating
The government is now using the new Oxford study to argue
that the cull could be cut by one-third, and still be just as
effective. The European Commission, in response, said it
would study the report, but the cull must continue.
"If it shows a more efficient way of taking out infected
animals, fine, but it is not an excuse for delaying the
selective cull," said the European Commission's agricultural
spokesman, Gerard Kiely.
Farmers say if the slaughter proceeds, they want a firm
timetable for ending the ban.
"We want to know where we are as far as the cull is
concerned, which animals are likely to be identified for the
cull and, at the same time, we want the assurance that if
British agriculture goes through the pain of a cull, we get
the reward of the lifting of the ban," Tony Pexton of the
National Farmers Union said.
While politicians thrash out policy, consumer confidence
seems to be creeping back. In Banbury, England, beef sales
are practically normal. "The trade dropped down, but it's
picking back up now," butcher Vincent Spittle said.
Some officials think Britain should forget Europe and rely on
its domestic appetite to sustain an "island beef economy."
But farmers say they won't be happy until British beef is
back on dinner plates around the world.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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