"Mad Cow Disease" May Cause Deadly Human Illness

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LONDON: France and Belgium banned the import of British beef today, following an announcement by the British Health Secretary that the deaths of 10 people from Creuztfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), an incurable brain condition, may be linked to "mad cow disease", a bovine brain sickness that has been infecting British herds for the past decade. France buys 40 percent of all British beef exports; the ban will result in a severe blow to British beef and dairy farmers. France has called for a meeting of the European Union's veterinary committee to determine how to respond to what is potentially a Europe-wide threat. Three German states have already banned British beef, and a private German consumer group is now calling for a nationwide ban. "This finding by the British government will definitely affect the beef trade," says TIME's Barry Hillenbrand. "The continental European countries are now trying to figure out a way of curtailing the import of UK beef and the whole process will have to be reviewed to comply with European Union trade regulation." Hillenbrand reports that the slight change in the British stance has other European countries infuriated. The British government had always contended that there was no link between beef consumption and CJD. British scientists now maintain that while humans cannot contract the bovine disease, the consumption of beef from cattle bearing the disease may be a factor in developing the human brain sickness. The spread of mad cow disease is thought to have stemmed from a traditional British farming practice of including portions of dead sheep in cattle feed; a brain disease in sheep may thus have spread to the cattle herds, and is now triggering the human brain condition. As a precautionary measure, many British school systems have dropped beef from their school menus. "From a scientific point of view the whole issue is unsettled and will have to be studied further," adds Hillenbrand. "What remains to be seen is whether European countries will be able to uphold the ban."