Blood-bank managers on both sides of the Atlantic are growing alarmed at the impact of proposed US restrictions on the importation of European blood.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Red Cross are planning the restrictions as a precaution against the possible transmission through the blood supply of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease.

But the public organizations and charities that run the blood banks hope that researchers will quickly establish reliable diagnostic tests for vCJD in blood, so that the restrictions can be lifted.

One victim of the restrictions will be an agreement called Euroblood, under which blood products are exchanged between the United States and some European countries, currently the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

Officials in New York city, which relies on blood imported from Europe for up to a quarter of its total supply, face an acute shortage as the restrictions come into effect. Robert Jones, president of the New York Blood Center, warns that the ban on European blood would cause a medical crisis in the city. “We need to look at the relative risks here and balance these with the known risks of reduced blood supply,” he says.

European officials say the restrictions are unnecessary and will undermine public confidence in the blood supply.

But reports that the restrictions will damage the European pharmaceutical industry by reducing supplies of blood plasma obtained from the United States under Euroblood are untrue, industry officials say, as the industry now imports plasma privately.

The FDA plans to implement the ban next year as part of broader guidelines to protect the US blood supply from vCJD that were proposed by an advisory committee last month (see Nature 412, 7; 2001).

The American Red Cross, which collects half of the US blood supply, is planning to exclude donors who have spent over six months in Europe since 1980, or three months in Britain. “We believe this will be an interim action, hopefully soon eclipsed by scientific information,” says Bernadine Healy, president of the organization. “When we have a blood test it may be appropriate to modify this geographic deferral.”