FACTBOX - Food Scares in the EU Since the Mad Cow Crisis

EU - The European Union, struggling to contain and eradicate bird flu, has coped with several epidemics that have ravaged livestock in many of its member countries.

Here is a brief chronology of EU food and animal health scares, beginning with the BSE crisis of the mid-1980s:


First surfaced in Britain in 1985 when a black-and-white dairy cow was seen staggering and head-butting other cattle. It was diagnosed as BSE in 1986.

Known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the disease swept through Britain in the 1980s and early 1990s, causing millions of animals to be slaughtered and burned. During this time, Britain culled 3.7 million cattle and spent more than $6 billion, excluding job losses, in sorting out the crisis.

Scientists blamed waste produced in slaughterhouses used to make animal feed for its spread. Cattle feed usually contained wastes obtained from the slaughter of other cows.

By 1988 Britain realised that BSE was a serious problem. EU authorities banned high-risk materials such as spinal cord from use feed and tighter labelling was also introduced.

In early 1997, the European Commission - rocked by accusations of incompetence over its handling of the BSE crisis - agreed an internal shake-up. Hiving off its veterinary services from the powerful agriculture department, seen by some as defending farmers' interests, it created a food safety unit.


As Britain began to emerge from its BSE crisis, the country became the focus of a major scare over foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). It began in 2001 in an abattoir in southern England and spread to several other EU countries before it was eradicated.

It turned into one of the world's largest and most expensive animal disease outbreaks, with overall costs estimated at up to 12 billion euros. France, Ireland and the Netherlands were also hit and all four countries managed to win some EU compensation.

The outbreak ravaged Britain, where authorities slaughtered 6.5 million animals and burned them on giant funeral pyres to stem the spread of the highly infectious disease - turning much of the countryside into a no-go zone, rather than use vaccines.


Next came cancer-causing dioxins, a broad family of chemicals formed by both man-made and natural events, which have featured regularly in EU health scares.

Dioxins are accidental by-products generated mainly through incineration by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and can be absorbed through the skin or eaten in food.

They remain in the atmosphere for a long time and can become trapped in fatty tissues once absorbed by animals. Scientists have linked dioxins to birth defects and brain damage.

In 1999, dioxins were found to have entered the food chain in Belgium via animal feed made with contaminated fats.

Source: Planet Ark
calendar icon 9 March 2006
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