The Azores islands are an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Denominated the “Autonomous Region of the Azores”, they are Portuguese Territory and have been until now the main beef and dairy-producing region of the country. Due to the climate, the pasture is lush and the quality of the meat and dairy produce excellent. Now, however, the islands see themselves caught up in the BSE wave which has swept across Europe, with one case having been notified in November, 2000, the result being that beef from the Azores can no longer find a buyer. Thousands of cows are to be slaughtered this year under new European Union directives, applying to all 15 Member-States :  from 2nd January, 2001, it is forbidden to sell beef from animals more than 2 years old ;  from 19th January, animals older than two and a half years old will have to be slaughtered ;  from July, tests will have to be made on all animals over 30 months old. With strict limits placed on dairy production, the Azores farmers have few options. Last year they were fined by Brussels for producing too much milk, a fine which was later pardoned but this means they cannot increase their milk quota to compensate for the loss of the beef market. The Portuguese Communist Party is active trying to find a solution, but finding a solution is difficult if none exists. While the British Health Authorities have admitted that the danger to public health from BSE (in the form of New Variant Creuzfeld Jacob Disease), has not yet been fully assessed, independent research in the UK has indicated that by 2003, there could be one death per day from this disease. The prion which causes the deterioration of the brain cells, passing to humans from eating infected beef, can take up to 30 years to cause damaging effects, so this is very much a case of “delayed reaction”. In France, there were 153 new cases of BSE in cattle in 2000 and there are now 20,000 tests being carried out every week, at a phenomenal cost. The cost to the EU of prohibiting the use of pulverised feed in bovines is set at 4.5 thousand million Euro, according to European Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, who stated “the global costs of the fight against BSE are not calculated”. The problem is not confined to the frontiers of the EU, though. Switzerland has had 365 cases of BSE confirmed in the last decade, 50 of which in 1999 and 33 in 2000. The practice of feeding herbivores with proteins made from pulverised bones and brains of dead animals led to the propagation of a condition which would never have taken place if cows had been allowed to eat grass, which seems obvious. In the words of Wilhelm Molterer, the Austrian Agriculture Minister, “It is an opportunity and a necessity for a production closer to nature against the industrial forms of production”. Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, Pravda.Ru, Lisbon

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