________________________________________________________________________ 'Mad cow' disease spreads across Europe ____________________________________________________________________________ Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 Agence France-Presse LUXEMBOURG (December 2, 1997 6:41 p.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - Luxembourg on Tuesday said it had become the ninth European country to fall victim to "mad cow" disease, which is linked to a fatal and incurable brain-wasting malady in humans. The news came the same day Dutch officials said searches had been made of several companies suspected of illegally transporting potentially contaminated beef to eastern Europe. Britain, where the current crisis began and which is under an international embargo on its beef, admitted "there is a strong case for an inquiry of sorts" to probe the origins and its handling of the disease's spread. Luxembourg's announcement that it had detected its first cow infected with mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), means that more than half of the European Union's 15 member countries have recorded at least one case. The country's agriculture minister, Fernand Boden, said the stricken cow had been nourished on feed made up of recycled animal matter bought in Belgium. With Switzerland, which is outside the European Union, this brings the total number of countries reporting BSE on their soil to nine. Britain has a virtual monopoly on BSE with 170,000 recorded cases, followed by Switzerland with 262, Ireland 210, Portugal 70, France 29, Germany five, the Netherlands two, and Belgium and now Luxembourg one each. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the deaths of at least 21 people in Britain from a form of Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) which has been linked to eating BSE-contaminated meat suggested a public inquiry should take place. Only one other BSE-linked CJD death has been reported elsewhere, in France. But, he said, "the question is working out what form that inquiry should take." Blair's government inherited the mad cow disease scandal from its Conservative predecessor which was voted out in May this year. British press reports have suggested that the current government wants the inquiry to concentrate on how the previous government -- which initially rejected any link between BSE and CJD -- managed the affair. A current cabinet member was quoted anonymously in The Independent newspaper as saying: "We have public inquiries for rail crashes where seven people are killed ... With BSE we have had more than 20 die from CJD and billions lost in compensation and we have had nothing." The high incidence of mad cow disease in Britain was blamed on the formerly widespread practice -- now banned -- of feeding cattle ground-up remains from contaminated animals such as sheep, cows, pigs, poultry or fish. Britain was slapped with an international ban on its beef after the link between the animal and human forms of the disease was made last year. But several reports of British beef being exported with bogus identification have since surfaced involving Ireland, Germany and France. Poland has reported two CJD deaths, but without proof they were linked to BSE. In the latest development, agriculture ministry officials in the Netherlands said four companies had been searched Tuesday on suspicions they were taking British beef to eastern Europe. Rita Kusters, a spokeswoman for the agricultural inspection division of the ministry, said documents from three Dutch companies and a Belgian firm had been seized in raids in both countries. Although no arrests were made during the operation, they were not ruled out for the future, the officials said, adding that investigations would be going on for "quite a long time." The searches were sparked by the discovery in Germany and Belgium several months ago of containers of beef labeled from Britain, or with labels missing entirely. The amount of meat involved was believed to be more than 1,000 tons. In a related report, the Iraqi trade magazine Al-Ittihad said Tuesday that Iraqi officials had uncovered a shipment of British meat falsely labeled as coming from Ireland and Jordan. Mohammad Abdeljabbar, director of Iraq's sanitary control department, told the magazine that the cans would be destroyed and the importers would be punished.
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