France to use Swiss method to test for mad cow disease
France has launched a scheme to test 48,000 cattle for mad cow disease, or BSE, using a method developed by a Swiss company.
The French farm ministry said the tests would be performed nationwide, but primarily in Brittany, Normandy and in the Loire valley - the worst-affected regions.
France will use a test developed by the Zurich-based firm, Prionics. One of the company's founders, Markus Moser, expressed surprise that the "Prionics check" was chosen over two others, including one by a state-owned company in France. Moser said scientific considerations obviously outweighed political arguments in the French government's decision-making process.
Making the announcement, the farm minister, Jean Glavany, said use of the Swiss test would probably lead to an increase in the number of cases discovered. In Switzerland, the incidence rate of BSE doubled following the application of the Prionics method.
France has reported 18 cases of BSE so far this year. The 48,000 cattle to be tested are far more than required by European Commission recommendations. In April, the EC called on all European Union member states to introduce monitoring programmes to determine the extent the disease has affected herds.
However Moser told swissinfo the EC guidelines put the onus on farmers to alert the authorities if they believe an animal may have died due to BSE. He said countries should adapt Switzerland's method of what is known as "active" testing, where random checking of all dead cattle is carried out.
Using the "Prionics check", the brain tissue of slaughtered animals is removed, liquefied and examined to determine the presence of the disease-specific prion protein. The results of the test are available within a few hours of the specimen arriving in the laboratory.
Paris is currently locked in a legal battle with the EC over its refusal to lift a ban on imports of British beef, because of fears it is not entirely free from BSE. France may want to show that its testing methods are far more rigid than Britain's.
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