Prize-fighting bull breeders have expressed concern over the outbreak of BSE in Spain. No cases have as yet been uncovered in the bulls, but the possibility of contagion is, for the breeders, a terrifying one and many have now agreed to incinerate their dead prizewinners rather than face the checks at the slaughterhouse.

At premiere bull-fighting events, specialist breeders get up to US$11,000 for placing their bulls in the ring, but this figure is increased when the bull is slaughtered. Routinely butchered for human consumption, the best bulls are sought for luxury cuisine when their last fight is over.

If BSE enters the bull-fighting arena, breeders’ profits will surely lose out. Having spent many years and millions of pesetas in the process of naturally breeding aggressive bulls, the chance of reaping the rewards through human consumption would be slashed if mad cow disease were uncovered.

The chances of contracting BSE are admittedly slim, if the scientists are right about how the disease is transmitted. “Iberian bulls graze on extensive natural pastures,” revealed one speciality breeder: “No dead cow has ever been fed to an Iberian bull, which is why it is unthinkable that BSE could have infected our herds.”

Nevertheless, many breeders are taking no chances that their reputations will be harmed by BSE and are incinerating their dead bulls, thereby avoiding slaughterhouse checks for the disease.

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Furthermore, the Association of Iberian Fighting Bull Breeders has applied to the government for compensation now the second income has been lost. Their estimates of Ptal5bn have been compounded by a request that the government also finance the cost of incinerating the bulls.

The present bull-fighting season is expected to incur the deaths of 11,000 fighting bulls.