- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2000

BRUSSELS The European Union yesterday took its most drastic step yet to stem panic over "mad cow" disease by ordering a six-month ban on almost all animal products in fodder.

The ban is expected to cost $1.3 billion, but the ministers hope it will return confidence in the beef industry. Fodder containing animal products is a key suspect in spreading the disease from Britain four years ago into ever wider swaths of the continent.

The moves were approved by the 15 farm ministers in an emergency session, despite misgivings by some countries that the moves would be too costly. Fish meal and animal fats were excluded from the ban because they were not seen as threats to spread the brain-wasting disease and its equally lethal human form.

An EU farm official who asked not to be named said Germany and Finland voted against the ban, while Belgium abstained. Germany last week approved a similar ban that also included fats, and would not agree to a measure falling short of that.

EU Health Commissioner David Byrne conceded the proposals would be expensive.

"But it is the price which must be paid to restore public confidence in our commitment to protect public health," he said before the final vote.

The commission said the fodder industry could dispose of its current and future stocks of meat and bone meal by selling them to cement producers, who can use them as a source of fuel in blast furnaces.

French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany, who chaired the crisis meeting, argued the ban would "allow Europe to take a major step forward" in containing mad cow disease.

A call to temporarily ban all livestock feed containing meat and bone meal failed to find the necessary majority at the last EU farm meeting.

The ministers also were assessing proposals to keep untested animals that are more than 30 months old out of the food chain, measures that would further sap already stretched farm budgets and raise huge practical problems.

A purchase-for-destruction plan proposed by EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler for older animals would add another $1 billion to the bill.

The mad cow crisis reappeared two months ago after an increase in French cases and reports that tainted beef might have made it to supermarket shelves. It was exacerbated when the first cases in Germany and Spain were recorded.

The cattle disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is thought to spread to humans in the form of the brain-wasting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Two persons in France and 80 in Britain have died from the disease; 89 persons across the EU have been infected.

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