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Italians drop beef as first cow tests positive

Naturevolume 409page441 (2001) | Download Citation



Italy's demand for beef has collapsed dramatically following last week's discovery of the country's first BSE case. The finding came two weeks after the government introduced tests for all cattle over 30 months old.

Butchers reported a much sharper fall in demand than the estimated 30% decrease that followed the BSE crisis in France last October (see Nature 408, 392; 2000). One association of butchers said that consumption fell by 70–90% in the days after the discovery.

The infected animal was a six-year-old cow from a farm near Brescia in northern Italy. It had shown no symptoms of BSE but was found to be positive in a prionics test performed on brain tissue. The initial result was confirmed by researchers at Italy's national BSE reference centre in Turin.

To ease the pressure on laboratories that are now running as many as 1,500 tests a day, the government is encouraging farmers to slaughter older animals without testing. Only ten veterinary centres in the country are equipped for rapid testing, but Umberto Veronesi, the health minister, said that 13 more will be established in the next few weeks.

The government is also working to computerize a national bovine register, which currently covers about four-fifths of the cattle herd, to track each animal's origin and history. The testing age is also to be lowered to 24 months, in accordance with a European Union directive.

According to Veronesi, only one of 6,000 tests performed by the end of last week was found positive, indicating that the rate of infection is low. But he said 50,000 tests were needed to get a reliable estimate of the rate.


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