France prepares for more cases of vCJD

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 18 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1241
  1. Alexander Dorozynski
  1. Paris

    France can expect many cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the country's health minister, Dominique Gillot, has warned. Although only three confirmed cases of the disease have emerged in France, Ms Gillot admitted that many more could follow. “With the rising number of cases of mad cow disease, it is highly probable that we will have several dozen cases [of vCJD],” the minister told the Parisien-Aujourd'hui newspaper.

    President Jacques Chirac has urged his government to ban without delay the use of meat and bone meal in any animal feeds and to move towards systematic screening of cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This would mean administering between five million and six million tests a year. Breeders have announced that they will withdraw from market more than one million cows that were born before July 1996.

    Many schools have banned beef from their menus. The Paris mayor's office has recommended a “temporary ban on beef in schools for young children,” and a number of large cities—Caen, Dunkirk Dijon, Grenoble Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and others—have implemented a ban. In response to the president, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced a ban on T-bone steaks and on the use of animal products in all livestock feed on 14 November. Poland, Hungary, and Russia have already banned imports of French beef, and farmers fear catastrophic repercussions throughout their industry.

    The entrecîte and cîte de bœuf—steaks cut between the ribs and extending to the potentially dangerous backbone—are disappearing from restaurant menus; the French are worried that their “bifteck-frites,” the traditional thin slice of steak served with fried potatoes which is standard fare in most restaurants and cafés, will fall victim to BSE.

    In parliament the opposition has criticised the government for having waited so long to take decisive action. Opposition members of parliament are demanding to know why animal parts such as the brain and the spinal cord, which have been banned from the human food chain in the United Kingdom since 1988, were permitted to enter the human food chain in France until 1996. They are also asking why imports of animal based cattle feed from the United Kingdom were authorised by the French government until 1994.

    “All of these questions are unanswered,” said Jean-Franåois Mattéi, a deputy and professor of medicine in Marseilles who heads Démocratie Libérale, a right wing group. “The risk of massive propagation of the disease cannot be completely excluded, and BSE, a problem of animal health, could now well become a matter of public health,” he said.

    Philippe Douste-Blazy, a doctor and leading member of Mr Chirac's party, Union pour la Démocratie Franåaise, has called for the creation of a parliamentary investigative commission. Jean Glavany, minister for agriculture, has announced the creation of a national committee on BSE.

    Xavier Bosch in Barcelona adds: The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture has banned imports of cattle older than one year from France and Ireland. Minister Miguel Arias Cañete said that it was “advisable to extend the prohibition until the French problem is clarified.” There have been no cases of BSE or vCJD in Spain.

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    Abattoir workers in Caen protest after 250 were laid off


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