Search for ‘mad’ goats as one slaughtered in France found with BSE

Scientific research recently has concluded that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – the notorious «mad cow» disease – has affected goat populations. Questions have arisen as to how the disease jumped the species barrier and what effect it will have on humans, through goat’s milk and cheese, and, above all, whether present inspections are adequate. At the end of January, it was confirmed that a goat slaughtered in France in 2002 was found to have been infected with BSE, detected after extensive tests (including the mouse bioassay which takes two years to complete). Until this particular discovery, it was believed that goats suffered from scrapie, a form of TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathy), a group of diseases that also includes the bovine form. Scrapie is not transmissible to humans, but the new tests show that this particular goat was in fact suffering from BSE. According to scientists and the European Union, the disease is transmitted via food, so either the goats in the EU found themselves in the same vicinity as infected cattle, which would be unlikely, or else they consumed infected fodder, which is illegal and abhorrent, as it means the goats were consuming bone meal made from infected cattle. In 2001, when the second BSE crisis broke out, bone meal as animal fodder was banned precisely because it had been the source of the infection. In an announcement, the European Commission pointed out that goats in the EU do not have long lives, meaning that those now living had been born after the ban on bone meal fodder. The Commission believes that this fact limits the likelihood that a large number of animals have been infected. The first infected animal, found in France, was born in March 2000 and therefore had eaten the bone meal before the ban. This is not to say that the ban is not being violated. As for the risk to humans, there is no documented, scientific answer, since there is no certainty about how the disease passes to humans. Frequency of consumption could be a factor, or genetic predisposition, or even something completely different. As for the safety of goat’s milk and cheese, the European Food and Feed Safety authority emphasizes that they are unlikely to be at risk since the products are from healthy animals. However, by July 2005, the European Union’s relevant scientific authorities will have completed an evaluation of the danger in order to decide whether more measures are needed. According to one researcher, it is clear that products from infected animals have been released into the market. After all, only spot checks are made of these products. Right after the discovery of the infected goat, the EU decided to increase the number of inspections, but for scrapie and not BSE, as the latter is not immediately detectable in goats but takes more than two years to test. The EU has already inspected 140,000 goats since the measures went into effect on April 1, 2002. Of that number, 134 were found to be positive for scrapie. According to the new measures, another 200,000 goats are to be checked. All found to be suffering from scrapie will be referred for further tests to determine if they are also suffering from BSE. This is very important for Greece, which has the largest goat population in the EU, followed by France (with its famous goat’s milk cheeses) and Italy. According to the new data, Greece is obliged to carry out extra inspections of a total 30,000 goats and 15,000 sheep this year. Previous inspections have not been very thorough – they should have begun in 2003, but began just last year with only 3,000 animals. These inspections are spot checks at the abattoir on animals aged over 18 months, that is, not the younger animals which are the ones usually destined for domestic consumption. Animals found to test positive are removed from the food chain, but nothing more is done about the flock from which they came, even though, according to the experts, when one animal is infected, clearly there are more where it came from. Inspections go no further than that. Even if an animal is found to be infected, nothing is done. It is supposed to be incinerated, but there are no furnaces in Greece. The veterinary surgeons keep alive even animals that have shown symptoms of disease, since they have not been told what else to do with them. According to sources, approval is soon to be given to a system of compensation, at least for infected animals found in abattoirs. As for the remainder, things are to stay as they are for the time being. Giving lip service to the public and the EU regarding inspections puts not only consumer health at risk but the country’s own credibility with regard to important products, such as feta cheese.

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