UN report shows dramatic fall in BSE incidents

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bse, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

A UN report on the dramatic drop in cases of Bovine Spongiform
Encepalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow disease" worldwide, could help food
companies win back former beef eaters.

European consumption of beef has slowly been rising as public fears have diminished. For the first time in 20 years consumption of beef and veal surpassed EU production in 2003 and is expected to grow further by 2012, according to a recent forecast report by the European Commission.

"Amid the current international alarm over avian flu, it is good news that the battle against another worrying disease is being won,"​ the Food and Agriculture Organisation stated yesterday in announcing a 50 per cent drop in the figures for cattle infection.

In 2005, just 474 animals died of BSE around the world, compared with 878 in 2004 and 1,646 in 2003, and against a peak of several tens of thousands in 1992, according to figures collected by the Paris-based World Animal Health Organisation (OIE), with which FAO works closely.

During the year there were five human deaths resulting from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), believed to be the human form of BSE. All of the cases were reported in the UK - the country most affected by the disease - where nine deaths were registered in 2004 and 18 in 2003.

"It is quite clear that BSE is declining and that the measures introduced to stop the disease are effective,"​ stated Andrew Speedy, an FAO animal production expert. "But further success depends on our continuing to apply those measures worldwide."

The figures close mirror those in the EU. European BSE cases further decreased by 40 per cent to about 500 cases in 2005.

The favorable development led the EC to adopt a roadmap in July of 2005, with the aim of softening restrictions and reducing testing costs. The number of BSE cases in the UK also decreased dramatically over the past years. The European Commission approved lifting the EU ban on British cattle and beef exports in March 2006.

Brain-wasting BSE, popularly known as mad cow disease, can spread to humans. About 150 people in the EU have fallen victim to the human form of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, after eating meat from infected cattle over the past decade.

In the EU, BSE incidents have been falling dramatically since control measures were put in place.

In the 12 month period to the end of October 2005, a total of 482 cases of BSE were detected in cattle throughout the bloc, according to the latest figures released by the Commission.

The UK had the highest incident of BSE, reporting 193 cases of the disease in cattle, followed by Spain with 86 cases, Ireland with 64, Portugal with 43, Germany with 34, France with 28, and Poland with 16. All other countries reported cases in the single digits or no cases at all.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, Ireland found 126 cases of BSE in its cattle in 2004, compared with 137 found in Spain. The UK had the highest incidence of BSE cases in the world in 2004 with 343 cases confirmed, followed by Spain, Ireland. Portugal was fourth in the BSE league, reporting 92 cases in 2004, followed by Germany with 65 cases. France reported 54 cases of BSE in the same year.

The declines show that extensive testing and controls programmes put in place are helping to bring down incidences of the disease. The BSE epidemic was first recognised in the UK in 1986. At its peak in 1992, a total of 37,280 cases were discovered in UK cattle

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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