Russia has stepped up its attention to mad cow disease over the last week; including a ban on cattle imports from certain areas of Germany and the seizure of imported beef carrying signs of potential BSE contamination.

On Tuesday, the Russian agriculture ministry reported that imports of beef plummeted by 53% during 2000, to 429,200 tonnes worth a total of US$495.3m. For poultry, meanwhile, imports rose by 180% to 588,200 tonnes, worth US$316.2m, giving some suggestion of increasing consumer fears of mad cow disease, and its possible link to vCJD, the deadly human illness.

Authorities have responded to those fears this week by tightening measures designed to control the meat trade and prevent to the spread of the disease. It has now been agreed that Germany will report every case of BSE it detects to Russia immediately, so preventative action can be taken. In the meantime, imports from the three regions where mad cow has been identified have been banned. This affects Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony.

Spot checks have also been increased after two tonnes of beef showing signs of BSE contamination were uncovered in Magadan. Tests have not yet been carried out on the meat but the suspicious documents, country of origin and the attempted removal of a label that prohibited its export to the US all aroused officials’ attention. The company responsible for the imports has not been named.

Officials have also suggested that they may be considering importing foreign equipment and strategies used to monitor and identify the illness.