Second case of BSE hits Czech Republic


Just two months ago, the Czech Republic became the first country outside Western Europe to record a case of BSE, or mad cow disease. The news was followed by bans on Czech beef imports throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and a drop in beef consumption on the domestic market. But hopes that this might be an isolated case were dashed on Wednesday, as the Czech Agriculture Ministry announced the discovery of a second infected cow. Nick Carey has the details.

Agriculture Minister Jan Fencl announced at a press conference on Wednesday that the second Czech case of BSE, or mad cow disease, was discovered during tests on a six-year-old cow from a privately-owned herd near the town of Zdar nad Sazavou, just forty kilometres from the farm where the country's first case was recorded in early June. As with the first case, Agriculture Ministry officials remain upbeat, saying that a second round of tests is underway, the results of which will be known on Saturday. According to ministry spokesman Hugo Roldan, there is still some hope that these tests could prove negative:

"The probability of confirmation is half-and-half. There is the same likelihood that the test will prove positive or negative. But in the event that the test will prove positive, a few measures will be taken. This means that the offspring, plus a few relatives, of the infected cow will be slaughtered and burned. In this case, we expect that no more than four more cows will be slaughtered."

The Czech Republic's second case of mad cow disease was discovered during routine testing, whereby every single head of cattle more than thirty months old is checked for BSE after it is slaughtered. So far, almost 40,000 animals this year have been tested, with two positive results. The Agriculture Ministry stands firm behind the measures it has introduced to protect against BSE, and continues to insist that all of the beef that reaches consumers is safe to eat:

"We have found that these measures are effective enough, so we will continue testing every slaughtered animal older than thirty months. But the most important thing is that the slaughter houses are separating all of the risky materials, which means the heads, the spinal cords and the brains. This risky material is separately processed and destroyed. In this way we can guarantee to Czech consumers that all of the beef that they can find in the shops here can be eaten safely."

Within hours of the announcement, the Czech Agrarian Chamber and beef farmers warned that this latest finding could further harm beef sales, which dropped 40 percent after the first case of BSE was discovered in Germany last year, and have so far failed to recover. But Hugo Roldan feels that it is still too early to say what effect this latest case will have:

"It's really hard to say right now, because we expected a drop in demand after the first case, but we found that the impact was not as drastic as we expected. So, the reaction of consumers can be different to our expectations. We will see, but I would say it's too soon to say what the reaction will be."