Third test confirms Czech BSE case


The Czech Agriculture Ministry reported on Thursday morning that a third round of tests on a suspected case of BSE, or mad cow disease, in the Czech Republic have proven positive. The ministry has announced measures that it hopes will restore consumer confidence in Czech beef. But within minutes of the announcement Russia imposed a ban on Czech beef imports, bringing the total of countries that have halted imports to five. Nick Carey has this report.

After news broke of the first positive test for BSE last week, which indicated the indicated the presence of BSE in a six-year-old cow at a farm in Southern Moravia, there was still hope that a second test could turn out negative. But when the second test confirmed the results on Friday, most Czechs and the media took it for granted that mad cow disease had hit the Czech Republic. Agriculture Ministry officials remained upbeat, saying that a third and final test could still prove negative. But on Thursday morning, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Hugo Roldan confirmed to Radio Prague that the results of the third test had also proven positive:

"Today, Thursday, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic received confirmation of the previous positive tests for BSE carried out on a cow here in the Czech Republic. We received this confirmation from a specialised laboratory in Tubingen in Germany. This means that this is the first case of mad cow disease in the country. This circumstance means that we will have to take some measures in order to prevent the spread of the disease in this country."

Scientists believe BSE is transmitted through infected meat-and-bone meal fed to cattle and may cause new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. Immediately after the Agriculture Ministry confirmed the results of the third test, Russia introduced an immediate ban on all Czech beef imports. After the second test had proven positive on Friday, Slovakia, Poland and Austria declared complete bans, while Hungary decided to restrict imports to beef tested for BSE.

The Agriculture Ministry also announced on Thursday that the 139 cows in the infected herd where the case of BSE was discovered are to be destroyed. Those cows that test negative for the disease will be buried, while those that test positive will be incinerated. Following the second positive test result on Friday, however, ministry spokesman Hugo Roldan says that the Czech Veterinary Authority had already decided to take action to try to boost consumer confidence:

"One of the measures that the minister decided to take as of this Monday was to widen the testing of cattle, and that means that we are going to test all cattle aged over 30 months for BSE, which is the same as the measure that is applied in EU member countries."

Precisely what effect this will have on consumer confidence, remains to be seen.