The Portuguese Minister for Agriculture, Capoulas Santos, is furious that the European Union has postponed lifting the embargo against Portuguese beef, without officially informing the minister. The reason for not lifting the embargo was that Portugal had not implemented testing procedures for BSE in cattle. For this reason, the process to slaughter 50,000 cows has started. Capoulas Santos, however, does not agree with Brussels: “The European Commission did not present any reason which justifies the postponement of the lifting of the embargo against Portuguese beef”. He threatens to decree a unilateral embargo against countries whose beef is on the market but which have officially registered cases of BSE. As the numbers of animals infected are made public, we see the real situation regarding BSE more clearly. In Portugal, for example, there were 188 cases of BSE per million head of cattle last year. Ireland has 599 cases in 500,000 head, France has 248 cases in 20 million. Belgium has 19 cases in 3,280 animals, while Spain registers five cases of BSE in six million cattle. When we speak about the incidence of BSE, we are speaking about fractions of 1 per cent. However, the tragedy is that however low the incidence rate may seem, we are dealing with a silent and deadly killer. A hundred cows provide a lot of meat which can be consumed by a great number of consumers. A great number of infected consumers means a public health calamity. We see that although the incidence rate of BSE is so small, the potential dangers to public health are enormous. What the real situation is, remains to be seen.


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