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Swiss supermarket giants tighten security on beef products

This kind of test where a probe is taken from the cow's brain could soon be used by Swiss supermarkets.


Switzerland's biggest supermarket chains, Migros and Coop, have agreed to carry out tests for BSE on all cows older than 20 months which earmarked for food processing.

The decision was taken in conjunction with the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office.

A spokesman for Coop said the tests for Mad Cow Disease (BSE) could come into force as early as February 1, 2001.

He would, however, not say which company would provide the tests. The Zurich company, Prionics, which has developed a set of internationally recognised tests, could be a possible partner for the two supermarket giants.

The Coop spokesman said the cost of tests would push up the price for a kilogramme of beef by about SFr0.30. The chief executive officer of Prionics, Bruno Oesch, however, said he expected price hikes of up to SFr1.

The Swiss Association of Butchers was also involved in Friday's discussions which reportedly led to Migros and Coop's new food security measures. According to a senior member of the Association, many butchers may soon follow the example set by the supermarkets.

The move by Migros and Coop follows a decision by all European Union member states to introduce compulsory testing for cattle above the age of 30 months, which are at risk of carrying BSE.

The Veterinary Office will play a key role in the tests. The head of the Office, Ulrich Kihm, told the "SonntagsZeitung" that veterinary officials would supervise the tests and would have to grant permission to remove the brains of the cows for testing.

The involvement of the Veterinary Office comes as a surprise. Last week veterinary officials blocked attempts by Migros to introduce obligatory BSE tests across the board.

In an interview with Swiss television, Kihm said that his office was not convinced about the value of tests since the only organs carrying traces of BSE, the brain and bone marrow, were never consumed anyway.

It has, however, not yet been conclusively proved that the rest of the anatomy does not contain BSE.

swissinfo with agencies

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