Second test confirms BSE case in the Czech Republic

BSE testing

Last Wednesday, the Czech Agriculture Ministry announced a suspected case of BSE, or mad cow disease, in the Czech Republic - the first outside Western Europe. A second round of tests were ordered, and on Friday the results confirmed the presence of BSE. A third test is underway in Germany, but as the likelihood of a Czech case increases, several neighbouring countries have halted Czech beef imports, and supermarkets across the country have already recorded a drop in sales. Nick Carey has this report.

The Czech farming community waited with baited breath last week, as the results of the first test, which indicated the indicated the presence of BSE in a six-year-old cow at a farm in Southern Moravia, were sent to a specialised laboratory for further testing. But despite the upbeat statements of various ministry officials that this was merely a suspected case, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Hugo Roldan confirmed to Radio Prague on Friday that the second test had also proven positive.

"Unfortunately this test has proved positive. We still do not consider this to be a definitive result and we are sending the sample to a specialise laboratory in Tubingen in Germany. We will wait a few days in order to get a definitive confirmation of our results."

Tests for BSE will be now introduced for all Czech cattle aged over 30 months, and officials stressed that until the result of the third test is known on Thursday, this remains a suspected case. But within hours of the ministry's announcement, Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania declared a complete ban on Czech beef imports, followed by Austria over the weekend. Hungary has restricted imports to beef that has been tested for BSE.

Here in the Czech Republic, the news has been greeted with dismay. Supermarket chains up and down the country have already recorded a fall in sales of beef. But butcher Otakar Moravec says that as beef consumption dropped by 40 percent with the discovery of BSE in Germany, he doesn't feel that it can fall much further:

"I think that the consumption of beef is already so low that I think consumption will be a little bit lower, but not by much."

Mr Moravec believes that the only way to increase Czech consumer confidence now is to prove that Czech beef has been tested for BSE and is safe to eat:

"It depends on all stages of production of the meat, how the animals are reared, what kind of meal they are given, and on the producer of the meat, which means that all the meat must be tested for BSE. And it depends on us, the sellers. We have to have confirmation from the producer that the meat is good."

But despite Mr Moravec's assurances, this Czech consumer, like many others, is now staying away from beef:

"Well, I'm afraid. I don't eat beef now, I prefer pork."

Do you think there's any way the government will be able to persuade you to eat beef?

"No, I don't think so."

Do you think you'll eat beef again?

"Well, it will take time, probably. But I believe things will get better."