Sweden detects BSE for the first time, along with bird flu

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

Sweden has been hit with a double blow, becoming the first in the
Scandinavian region to detect avian influenza in wild birds, and
also finding its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) in a cow.

The BSE finding could be especially harmful and costly to Sweden's beef industry, which had previously benefited from being the only EU country to be considered as low risk for the disease.

As a result of the incident, the European Commission said it will now reconsider the grounds for the special derogation for Sweden from the requirement to test all bovine animals intended for human consumption

Increased testing of all slaughtered animals over 30 months would mean additional testing of about 120,000 to 140,000 animals per year, a cost of about SEK100 million (€10.6 million), according to government estimates.

Sweden's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow" disease was confirmed by the EU's central laboratory last Friday. The infected animal was a 12-year old cow, which was culled for destruction due to a history of milking fever, the European Commission reported.

In line with EU legislation requiring all fallen stock to be checked for BSE, the cow was tested in the rendering plant. When the first test showed up positive for BSE, the Swedish authorities referred the case to the

The case was referred to the EU's central research lab in the UK for further examination, which confirmed the finding.

As the only member state considered to be at low risk of BSE, Sweden had special dispensation from the EU rule requiring every bovine animal slaughtered for the food chain to be tested. Instead, around 10 000 healthy slaughtered bovine animals have been randomly tested every year in Sweden up to this point.

For fallen stock and suspicious deaths, there was no derogation and Sweden has always applied the same testing rules as other member states.

All other EU countries are classified within the two higher risk categories.

An investigation into the possible source of contamination of the infected cow is ongoing, the Commission reported. All the offspring and cohort of the infected cow are being traced and culled, and no meat or products from animals linked to the cow will enter the food or feed chain.

Sweden applies all of the mandatory EU animal health measures against BSE, including the removal of specified risk material from all animals entering the food chain, which are designed to ensure maximum protection of public health.

The Swedish Board of Agriculture (BOA) reported that it was possible that the cow had been fed meat and bone meal by mistake since not all of the country's safety routines were in place during the first years of the infected cow's life, according to a report by the US department of agriculture (USDA) into the incident.

The animal was probably infected about ten years ago, according to the BOA. The affected farm is a beef cattle operation with 52 cows, two bulls, 25 young cattle and 22 calves.

"The fact that BSE has now reached Sweden will likely have very little effect on Swedish beef consumption,"​ the USDA predicts. "Swedish consumers have long been aware of mad cow disease and its connection to the human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Nevertheless, Swedish imports of beef have more than doubled during the past ten years. Ireland is the major source of imported beef."

In the EU, BSE incidents have been falling dramatically since control measures were put in place.

In the 12 month period to the end of October 2005, a total of 482 cases of BSE were detected in cattle throughout the bloc, according to the latest figures released by the Commission. The UK had the highest incident of BSE, reporting 193 cases of the disease in cattle, followed by Spain with 86 cases, Ireland with 64, Portugal with 43, Germany with 34, France with 28, and Poland with 16. All other countries reported cases in the single digits or no cases at all.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, Ireland found 126 cases of BSE in its cattle in 2004, compared with 137 found in Spain. The UK had the highest incidence of BSE cases in the world in 2004 with 343 cases confirmed, followed by Spain, Ireland. Portugal was fourth in the BSE league, reporting 92 cases in 2004, followed by Germany with 65 cases. France reported 54 cases of BSE in the same year.

The declines show that extensive testing and controls programmes put in place are helping to bring down incidences of the disease. The BSE epidemic was first recognised in the UK in 1986. At its peak in 1992, a total of 37,280 cases were discovered in UK cattle.

On 28 February Sweden reported its first cases of bird flu or avian influenza in wild ducks, the same day the country also reported the BSE incident. Since them more cases of avian influenza have been found in the wild bird population.

Related topics Regulation Cattle - beef Europe Safety

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