Health authorities on the Azores islands have confirmed a case of ‘mad cow’ disease in a calf born to an animal imported from Germany. The Lusa news agency reported that the disease was discovered last month during a routine test of cattle on São Miguel, the largest island in the nine-island archipelago. The case has now been officially confirmed and the infected cow and all animals that came into contact with it were slaughtered. Carlos Pinheiro, the director of Azores veterinary services, said the animal’s mother, a Holstein-Frisian, was born 12 years ago, before a ban on the use of bones and other cattle parts to make animal feed came into effect in 1998.
‘Mad cow’ disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is believed to spread through feed contaminated with cattle body parts. In 2001, European Union legislation was changed to ensure that all cows aged over 30 months, that are imported into the country, are checked for the disease. A link has now been made between BSE in cows and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans who eat contaminated meat. The illness, which attacks the victim’s brain, is believed to be responsible for at least 139 deaths, mostly in Britain.
Pinheiro said the detection of the new case of ‘mad cow’ disease in the Azores was “merely routine” and no cause for alarm. “There are countries that have many more cases and there were no embargoes or any economic consequences,” he told a press conference. This latest case brings the total number of confirmed ‘mad cow’ incidents detected in the Azores over the past four years to five. More than 200,000 cows are kept on the islands and the dairy industry plays an important role in the economy of the region. However, EU sources claim there is no need to panic. “We are not worried. This is an area with a low incidence of the disease and what is important is that eradication measures be executed,” European Commission spokeswoman, Beate Gminder, told Lusa. Portugal suffered an export ban on its beef back in 1998, although the Azores Islands were exempt from the embargo. The ban was lifted in 2001 after the number of cows infected with ‘mad cow’ disease in mainland Portugal dropped.