Although government officials claim there is currently no risk of "mad cow disease" in Chile, legislators introduced stringent regulations on 13 December to prevent possible outbreaks.

There are no recorded cases of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) in Chile, but the human variant, Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease, occurs at a higher rate in Chile than in other Latin American nations. According to Guido Girardi, of the Party for Democracy (PPD), the incidence of CJD is two in every million people. Girardi would like the authorities to investigate the relationship between CJD and Chilean consumption of raw sheep blood (niachi).

Members of the centre-left PPD in conjunction with Chile's Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA) said "radical measures" are needed to ensure that the disease remains rare. They believe that imported meat is a potential threat to consumers and have proposed the creation of a scientific committee to review a possible prohibition of animal product imports from high-risk areas.

The Department of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG), however, rejected these proposals on the grounds that Chile already imposes stringent standards on imported meat. A representative said that the probability of a BSE epidemic like that in the EU is "zero" because conditions are different. 

The EU rates Chile at the lowest BSE risk rating (level 1 of 4). Meat can be consumed with this security in only five other countries in the world: Argentina, Australia, Norway, New Zealand and Paraguay.

Fearing that cows fed with fishmeal-based products could also become diseased, however, EU legislators are proposing a total ban on the use of animal and fish-based cattle feed, which could have a significant impact on fishmeal exports, one of Chile's primary products.

By Steve Anderson, just-food.com correspondent