The United States on Friday banned imports of all cattle and sheep from Europe until the risk of spreading mad cow disease in this country is fully examined.
“We made this decision to protect human and animal health, to protect the security of our export markets and to protect the safety and integrity of our food supply,” said Michael V. Dunn, assistant agriculture secretary for marketing and regulatory programs.
No case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy - the proper name of the neurological disorder fatal in cattle - has ever been reported in the United States. Eating meat from cattle tainted by the disease is believed to cause the brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, which has killed at least 20 people, mostly in Britain.
Previously, the Agriculture Department had restricted imports of cattle, sheep and many products such as fresh meat and bone meal, from nine European countries where the disease was known to exist.
The action announced late Friday expands that ban to most other European countries.
Dunn said the decision to expand the import restrictions came after two animals diagnosed with mad cow disease in Belgium and Luxembourg went into the animal food processing system. In addition, British scientists earlier this month discovered that the disease can infect additional parts of the animals, including bone marrow.
“This import policy is science-based and consistent” with international guidelines, Dunn said.
The Agriculture Department will lift the import restrictions for any country that shows it has a mad cow surveillance program that conforms to international standards and contains adequate controls for imports, Dunn added.
In 1996, the United States imported about 381,000 metric tons of beef and veal from Europe and about 114,000 metric tons of lamb and mutton, according to the American Meat Institute.