Reacting to a wave of consumer concern following the latest BSE crisis in France, the European Commission is to propose a significant extension of cattle-testing throughout the European Union.

Details will be worked out at a meeting of the EU Standing Veterinary
Committee tomorrow (Wednesday) and then considered by farm ministers in the Agriculture Council on November 20th.

A BSE test programme for the EU was agreed on earlier this year and is due to enter into force from 1 January 2001. This is targeted on animals at risk – i.e. those which show neurological symptoms – and is expected to cover around 170 000 tests.

But Commission officials are now talking about the testing of all animals aged 20 months, two years or 30 months. About 40 million animals, or nearly half the total EU cattle population of 82 million, are two or more years old.

Commission officials said the costs of extending tests to all animals of a certain age would be “substantial” but ministers would have to accept that restoring public faith in beef came first. The Commission has urged all EU Member States to start, and if possible extend, their own testing programmes without waiting for the new EU beef tests.

By Alan Osborn