Mad cow disease in focus in Lithuania, Latvia

  • 2001-02-15
  • BNS
RIGA & VILNIUS - Only Estonia was largely indifferent last week to mad cow disease, while Lithuania and Latvia focused heavily on the thorny European subject.

The Lithuanian Veterinary and Food Service banned the import of beef and beef products from many European countries as a precaution against the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

The service also banned the import of yogurts containing bovine gelatin, ground meat for human consumption, several by-products, meat and bone flour used for animal fodder, blood flour and certain fodder additives.

The import ban does not apply to Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Also, the service allowed the import of certain products from Argentina, Brazil, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

The European Union has assigned Lithuania to the increased-risk group, because centers of BSE are likely to be found there, though no cases of this disease have been registered so far, the daily Lietuvos Rytas reported.

Experts say that this move might pose a serious obstacle for Lithuanian meat processors to export production to EU countries. Lithuania, being in the same group as Germany, Italy and France, is viewed as a country where the spread of the disease is possible.

Some 390,000 cattle are slaughtered annually in Lithuania. According to the standards of mad cow disease observations, 2,500 cattle should be examined. New equipment costing an estimated 250,000 litas ($62,500) is needed for the checks. No government money has been directed for the checks.

Lithuanian meat processing plants Vilke, Mazeikiu Mesine and Skinija hope to receive certificates this year, which will allow them to export meat production to the EU. Currently not a single meat processing company is allowed to export meat to EU countries, due to low quality of fodder and other factors.

Latvia this year is planning to test 500 cows for BSE, the State Veterinary Medicine Diagnostics Center director, Rafaels Joffe, said.

He said that last year 300 cows were tested for the disease, adding that the Agriculture Ministry was set to buy BSE diagnostic equipment. The total costs of the equipment was estimated at 63,000 lats ($103.000) a year.

Joffe predicted that testing could be introduced in Latvia some three months after the money was allocated for the purpose.

The new equipment would allow testing on all livestock older than 30 months at the moment of slaughtering, said Joffe.

Although no cattle so far have not been detected with BSE, Latvia too is included among the countries at risk. Before cattle import bans were imposed, Latvia was importing cattle and forage additives.

Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris has issued an order to set up a working group for forecasting a crisis situation and taking appropriate measures.

Latvia has banned livestock, their carcasses as well as bone dust from 14 European countries where BSE has been detected.

EstoniaÕs veterinary and food board is planning to sign an agreement with Finnish labs concerning quick diagnoses of suspected cases of BSE.

Deputy General Director of the Board Mati Loit said that there were plans to make rapid diagnoses of all offspring of imported animals before their slaughter, as well as random tests of cattle in all counties, the daily Eesti Paevaleht reported.

ÒNo express tests can be made in Estonia at present,Ó Loit said. ÒExpress diagnosis can only be carried out by investigation of the slaughtered animalÕs brain.Ó

Peeter Kibe, board chairman of OU Estonia, owner of one of the biggest cattle herds in Estonia, said that herds into which cattle from mad cow disease countries have been imported should be more thoroughly checked.

According to the breed inspectorate, a total of 153 heads of cattle have been imported to Estonia from the Netherlands and Denmark after the first case of mad cow disease in those countries.

The veterinary and food board said there was no reason to worry because all the 153 were imported from countries where the disease affected not animals born in those countries but cattle imported from Great Britain.