French agency urges end to systematic herd slaughters

Thursday, January 10, 2002

PARIS -- In a sign that fears over mad cow disease may be waning, France's food safety agency on Wednesday recommended scaling back the slaughter of potentially infected cattle.

The government agency called for an end to the systematic killing of herds in which the brain-wasting disease is found -- a policy in effect since 1994.

French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said earlier this week he would set policy based on the agency's recommendations. A formal government decision is expected by the end of the month.

The agency, known by its French acronym AFSSA, recommended sparing animals born this year, except those born from infected mothers. It said the risk of humans getting mad cow is lower now because of strict measures aimed at preventing transmission.

"The proposed change in the strategy of slaughter maintains an equivalent level of protection for the consumer," the agency said in a statement.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to spread through cattle feed that uses recycled meat and bones from infected animals. The disease first surfaced in Britain in the 1980s.

Mad cow disease has been linked to a human disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has killed about 100 people in Europe and is believed to spread through eating infected meat.

Fears about the spread of mad cow disease surged in France in October 2000 after the government said potentially infected meat had made it to supermarket shelves before being withdrawn. After that announcement, many school districts banned beef and restaurants removed it from their menus.

The mad cow crisis has devastated cattle farms in France, and one leading farmers group said it was happy with the agency recommendation.

"We are very satisfied," said Pierre Chevalier, president of France's National Bovine Federation. "We see the light at the end of the tunnel in the mad cow crisis."

Glavany on Monday said the government would provide an additional $135 million in aid for farmers affected by the mad cow crisis.

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