Slovakia's first case of BSE, the cattle disease thought to be linked to a human brain wasting condition, was confirmed October 4 when a test carried out by a lab in Germany returned a positive result on a cow in the village of Dolná Ždaňa in central Slovakia.
Farmers' leaders and government ministers said, after initial tests for the disease in Slovakia proved positive on September 28, that consumers should not be concerned over beef they have already purchased. They also confirmed that 15 kilos (33lbs) had been recovered out of the 22 kilos released for public consumption from the Vtáčnik cooperative farm where the cow had been slaughtered.
Other meat from the slaughterhouse at which the infected cow had been killed had also been confiscated, they said.
"Consumers have no reason to panic," said Ivan Oravec, chairman of the Slovak Agriculture and Food Chamber. Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncoš added he did not expect the positive German test to have a significant effect on beef exports from Slovakia.
He also suggested that the infection had probably come from bone meal imported from Germany, although officials at Vtáčnik said that feed for its cows came from local sources.
Slovak health officials have said that human error rather than poor control measures allowed the infected meat to reach store shelves, and said the meat had been released for public consumption before final tests for the disease had been completed. The district hygienist who had approved the meat for supermarket shelves was sacked immediately. Koncoš accused the hygienist of "gross irresponsibility"; criminal charges have also been laid against the state worker.
The Slovak outbreak comes only months after cows in the neighbouring Czech Republic were identified as having the disease. That discovery confirmed EU fears that BSE had spread to central and eastern Europe.
The disease has devastated some cattle farmers in EU states. Following its identification in Britain and other EU countries, and the subsequent discovery of a possible link between BSE and variant CJD - a brain wasting condition in humans - in the early 1990s, beef exports from the union dropped between 30% and 70%.
However, Slovakia has implemented a number of measures since 1996 in an effort to prevent outbreaks on its own soil, including a Sk700 million ($1.4 million) programme of extra precautions after the Czech cows tested positive. More than 12,000 head of cattle in Slovakia have been tested for BSE so far.
Farmers had complained that after the new measures some would be facing severe financial hardship. But the confirmation of the BSE case could prove even more damaging to the agriculture sector. Slovak Agriculture Ministry officials have previously said that if a case were to be confirmed here it could devastate the domestic meat industry.
Public confidence in beef has been on the wane over the last year as connections between the disease in cattle and humans has become more prominent in domestic media. Some Slovak farmers reported drops in sales of beef of 30% over the last year.
The Agriculture Chamber's Oravec confirmed that a flood of calls from anxious cattle breeders concerned with a threat to beef prices had been recorded just after news of the BSE case broke. He added though: "The wide range of protection measures [we have implemented] might prevent a dramatic fall in beef consumption."
8. Oct 2001 at 0:00 | Ed Holt