The first case of mad cow disease in France in over a decade is making it more likely that some importers will ban beef from Europe’s largest producer.
The risk assessment of bovine spongiform encephalopathy for France was raised from the lowest level, the World Organization for Animal Health said this week. It’s only a matter of time before some importers stop buying beef from the country, which will weigh on prices and hurt farmer revenues, according to Antoine Gautier, a meat and dairy analyst at Offre & Demande Agricole.
BSE, also known as mad cow disease, is a transmissible brain illness that is fatal for cattle. Eating meat from infected animals has been tied to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, an incurable human illness that destroys brain tissue. More than 185,000 BSE cases in cattle were confirmed in the European Union during an epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.
“In the export market, certain countries won’t take the risk,” Gautier said. “There’ll certainly be countries that will embargo France. This won’t help the prices.”
France exported 915 million euros ($1.04 billion) of beef last year, according to trade data from the agriculture ministry. The country is rated as “controlled risk” for mad cow disease, compared with “negligible risk” previously, the World Organization for Animal Health said.
The disease was detected in a five-year cow in the northern Ardennes region earlier this month. The finding shows that the surveillance systems put in place by France and the European Union are effective, said Catherine Bertrand-Ferrandis, a spokeswoman for the World Organization for Animal Health. The measures that helped France obtain negligible-risk status remain in place, she said.
The change in risk status means some parts of slaughtered cows previously processed for non-food use, such as bone meal, will now be incinerated, according to the agriculture ministry. Farmers will be able to sell fewer parts of the animal, which will reduce their income, said Albert Vernooij, a red-meat analyst at Rabobank.
French carcass prices for young bulls have been steady over the past year, fetching an average of 372.24 euros per 100 kilograms in February, EU data show.