- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

LONDON

The European Union yesterday agreed to lift the worldwide ban on British beef exports, bringing an end to Britain’s mad cow crisis one decade after the disease began to wreak havoc with the nation’s cattle farming industry.

The unanimous vote by the EU veterinarians’ committee allows Britain to resume exports as soon as the European Commission rubber-stamps their resolution, expected in about six weeks.

The Times of London’s online edition celebrated on behalf of British cattle farmers: “British beef is back on world menu.”

Mad cow disease — bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE — forced the destruction of millions of British farm animals during the 1990s. The global ban that was imposed in March 1996 to halt the spread of the disease has cost British farmers an estimated $1.2 billion in exports each year.

Markos Kyprianou, the EU health and consumer protection commissioner, told reporters yesterday that the European Union “has taken no chances when it has come to dealing with BSE.”

“However,” he said, “the UK has made great strides in tackling this disease and has met all the criteria that were set for the lifting of the beef export ban, in line with scientific and veterinary advice.”

“We must now acknowledge this and resume normal trade in this area,” Mr. Kyprianou said.

Since the widespread cattle slaughters of the 1990s, Britain has had to deal with more than 183,000 confirmed cases of BSE. Scores of people believed to have eaten contaminated meat have contracted the human variant of mad cow disease — Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease — and 148 had died by the start of 2005.

The vote by the veterinarians — officially the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health — “is the most positive news for the British beef industry in a decade,” said Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU).

“We can now look forward to recapturing the … market that was lost when the ban was put in place,” Mr. Kendall said.

The NFU plans to mount a major promotion of British beef abroad as part of a long-term plan to restore confidence among foreign consumers.

Lifting the ban means that live animals born in Britain after Aug. 1, 1996, and British beef and beef products manufactured from cattle slaughtered after June 15, 2005, can be sold anywhere around the world.

“This is excellent news for the British beef industry,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government said. “We know our beef is as safe as any produced elsewhere in the European Union.”

The BSE epidemic erupted in 1986 and reached its peak in the mid-1990s, when scores of bonfires of burning animal carcasses filled the skies with acrid smoke and horrified television viewers across the land. Some farmers were forced into bankruptcy, and a few committed suicide.

It was scientific linkage of BSE to Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease, which causes paralysis and death in humans, that added to the near-panic that surrounded the epidemic for months.

EU headquarters in Brussels began to ease the ban in September 2005, when medical experts said the number of BSE cases in Britain had fallen to below 200 per 1 million animals.

Now, the British government’s Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says the number of new clinical cases of mad cow disease is at its lowest level since it began keeping records.

At the same time, government scientists reported that a study of human mad cow cases and deaths from January 1994 to the end of December 2004 provides “statistically significant evidence that a peak in the incidence of [Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease] has been passed.”

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