BSE: EUROPEAN COMMISSION ALARMED

“We must assume that the crisis is much more dramatic than we thought before Christmas and that great numbers of animals which were supposed to have been killed in November and December were not”. These are the words of the European Agriculture Commissioner, Herr Franz Fischer. This crisis has already cost the European Union over one billion USD as funds are made available to pay indemnities to farmers who have lost their cattle. The problem now is how to find the extra money for the present situation, which is much more pessimistic than at first imagined. “The latest indications from the market are alarming”, said Fischer. These indications are that consumer loyalty to beef has practically disappeared in half of the countries in the EU, except in the United Kingdom (where roast beef is the traditional national dish, eaten by many families on Sundays), Sweden and Finland. In these three countries, the consumers buy their national products, which they trust; consumption has risen by 3% in the UK and Sweden and 1% in Finland. Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland do not show an increase or decrease. In the rest of the EU, consumption of beef has plummeted in the last three months. In Germany, the purchase of beef has fallen by 50% in the last 90 days, whereas in Greece, Spain and Italy, it has fallen by 40%. Following at 30% are Luxembourg, Austria and Portugal, then France at 25% and Belgium at a 20% decrease. Interesting in these figures is the fact that one can almost clinically divide Europe into sections with a ruler, drawing a line from Ireland to Denmark and separating all of the northern members of the EU from the mainland on the continent. A factor which the EU seems not to have taken into account is the natural tendency for populations to eat beef or not. For example, in Portugal, pork and chicken are the main meat factors in the national diet and beef is indeed traditionally unpopular in countryside areas, being eaten mainly in the larger cities. Neither does beef figure heavily in Spanish, French, Italian or Belgian cuisine. Germany is another country more associated with pork (the national dish is Eisbein), like Austria (whose national dish is Vienner Schnitzel). If in the northern half of the EU beef is the main factor of the meat component to the national diets, it is natural that consumption will remain. This reading of the latest figures may appear somewhat eccentric but it is a factor to be taken into account. Meanwhile, and national cuisine apart, 50,000 cows are to be slaughtered in Portugal by March, proving that the situation is as alarming as Herr Fischer has said.

TIMOTHY BANCROFTY-HINCHEY PRAVDA.RU LISBON