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Farmers win ruling in bid for BSE compensation

Farmers say the government was slow to react to the BSE crisis Keystone Archive

A federal commission has said that the government is liable for losses suffered by the country’s farmers during the mad cow disease crisis.

More than 2,200 farmers are demanding SFr300 million ($234 million) in damages.

The appeals commission found in favour of the farmers who – in a claim dating back to 1997 – accused the government of failing to implement a ban on meat and bone meal in cattle feed between 1988 and 1990.

The commission said the government at the time acted “illegally” in favour of feed producers rather than the public interest.

“The decision comes as a surprise but it’s good news,” Urs Schneider, spokesman for the Swiss Farmers’ Association, told swissinfo on Tuesday.

“The SFr300 million that the farmers are demanding is based on the losses they suffered because the government failed to act.”

The sum takes into account income lost when beef prices plummeted during the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare in Switzerland in 1996-97.

A spokesman for the finance ministry, which rejected the farmers’ claim in 2002, says it will now appeal to the Federal Court.

Laurent Trivelli, a lawyer for the farmers’ union, Uniterre, which is representing the plaintiffs, said the decision to refer the case to Switzerland’s highest court was “deplorable”.

Court appeal

BSE first appeared in cattle in Britain in 1986.

The first case of BSE in Switzerland was reported in 1990 – the first to be discovered on the European continent.

It was thought from the beginning that the source of the disease was cattle feed prepared from bovine tissues such as brain and spinal cord, contaminated by the BSE agent.

The Swiss government introduced various measures over the years to prevent the spread of the disease to humans and the infection of other animals, but a complete ban on animal products in feed was only introduced in 2001.

At that time, meat sales in Switzerland had again plummeted by about ten per cent, because of low demand for beef following a new outbreak of BSE in France.

According to the Federal Veterinary Office, BSE reached a peak in 1995 when nearly 70 cases were reported across the country.

They have declined steadily since then, and no cases have been reported so far this year.

swissinfo with agencies

The first case of BSE discovered in Britain in 1986.
Disease appears in Swiss cows for first time in 1990.
Federal Veterinary Office introduces fast BSE test in 1999 to monitor cattle.
In 2001, the office slaps complete ban on meat and bone meal in feed for livestock.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR