"We've got to be prepared," junior health minister Dominique Gillot warned the French public yesterday (8 November). "With the number of cases of mad cow disease increasing in France, it is very probable we are going to see several dozen cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob [disease]." Such blatant words are unusual from a health minister, and with the news that dozens were almost certain to die from the brain wasting disease the panic spread immediately. Education boards throughout the country instigated a beef boycott on school menus, and a total ban has been announced in all Parisian nursery schools. Gillot justified her words by further explaining that more recorded cases would simply be the result of doctors having more awareness of the disease and its symptoms. Illnesses previously attributed to other neurological problems associated with old age may now be correctly classified. In a nutshell, the reassurance amounted to the fact that because dozens have always been dying from CJD, there's no need to panic now in particular.Too late. Other ministers rushed to allay what agriculture minister Jean Glavany called a "sort of collective psychosis" at work in the French public. He stressed that "if we had the slightest doubt, scientifically, concerning beef consumption in France ... the government would have banned beef a long time ago." Even the president, Jacques Chirac, joined the fray by ordering the ban of bone meal, thought to be a major cause in the spread of BSE, in animal feed. Since the news that meat from an infected herd reached the supermarket shelves two weeks ago, sales at the country's abattoirs have dropped by 30-50% and Poland and Hungary have banned French imports of beef and cattle. With all the signs pointing only to the escalation of the panic, many farmers are appealing to the government for aid packages before the industry suffers any more.