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Swiss halt imports of breeding cattle over BSE

The authorities say stricter measures are needed to eradicate mad cow disease (file picture: Keystone) Keystone

The federal authorities have imposed an indefinite ban on imports of breeding cattle while awaiting measures to safeguard against mad cow disease, or BSE.

The federal office for agriculture said on Thursday it had postponed an initial auction of customs quotas, scheduled for this month, amounting to 70 per cent of total planned 2001 imports of 1,200 breeding cattle.

Spokesman Rudolf Michlig said imports would be allowed once it was clear what was being done in Europe and Switzerland about the incidence of BSE. He said that Switzerland, as a rule, imports most of its breeding cattle from France, Germany, Italy and Denmark.

European Union farm ministers recently agreed to test far more animals for BSE than is now the case. The aim is to then have scientists advise by the end of November whether recent national bans on beef from France – which is facing an oubreak of the disease – were valid.

In a separate development, secondary school pupils in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino are to have beef served to them once again as part of their school meals.

The cantonal authorities lifted a weeklong precautionary ban on Thursday, saying they were confident that all beef sold in Switzerland was safe to eat.

The ban followed a similar move by the city of Geneva, amid growing fears that beef might be infected with mad cow disease, or BSE.

France and Italy took similar measures earlier in the month.

The ban did not apply to Ticino’s kindergartens and primary schools, because they come under the jurisdiction of the community – not cantonal – authorities.

Concerns over the safety of beef products has risen in the wake of the discovery in Britain of a number of new cases of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), the human form of BSE.

Nearly 80 people in have died of the disease in Britain.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR