Study reveals France's BSE past

A study by French scientists has revealed that French cattle proved positive for BSE in 1986 - the same year the disease was detected in Britain.

During a case investigating the death of nine French citizens from variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease between 1996 and 2006, a Parisian judge ordered a report into how widespread the epidemic was in France. The study revealed some startling results, which showed that when BSE was first detected in Britain in 1986, the government took steps to combat it, while French authorities took until 1990 to legally force farmers to declare any diseased cattle.

Scientist Jean-Louis Thillier said: "There was enough scientific information for the government to have taken measures to protect the public from BSE in 1991. In fact, it was not until 10 years later that adequate steps were taken.

"Why was there an embargo on British beef, but nothing being done here? Perhaps because the French government forgot its role in guaranteeing the safety of food products, and this neglect cost the lives of nine people."

An EU export ban on British beef was lifted in 2006 after 10 years of restrictions, which are believed to have cost the British beef industry £675m. The ban was eased in 1999 to allow de-boned beef and beef products to be exported under strictly controlled conditions. However, by 2000, less than 1% of the beef export trade had been reported to have been won back since the ban was lifted.

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