Until now, Sweden has been unique among EU countries in that it has been exempt from compulsory testing for mad cow disease. On average, only one in fifteen slaughtered cows in Sweden are currently tested for BSE.
The European Commission is now considering withdrawing that exemption, but no timescale has been set for a decision.
“If there is an increased requirement for testing we will obviously need time to prepare,” said Robert ter Horst at the Swedish Board of Agriculture.
“At the same time, there is a review ongoing at the EU level where they are considering reducing the testing. We hope, of course, that they take into consideration our good status and this new review.”
For consumers’ health, said ter Horst, increased testing would make no difference.
“Safety is already good. But there could be a price aspect. If we need to test all livestock over the age of 30 months it would cost 100 million kronor per year.”
That calculation only takes into account the increased testing costs. Slaughterhouses would need to redevelop their cold rooms, so that no slaughtered animal could end up packaged for sale before the test results were confirmed.
Åke Rutegård, the managing director of the Swedish Meat Industry Association, said that the Sweden’s exemption status would probably be removed.
“All member states should be treated equally and that aspect could be decisive.”
However, he said that the Swedish authorities’ estimate of the cost was exaggerated.
“Every analysis costs 670 kronor today. Other countries have brought their costs down considerably. In Denmark it’s around 240-250 Swedish kronor,” he said.
Currently, the National Veterinary Institute carries out all BSE testing. But Rutegård said that if Sweden was forced to introduce more widespread testing, the market for analysis would have to be competitive.
“Many companies are interesting in competing with the Institute’s monopoly.”
Rutegård said he did not believe that new rules and higher prices would mean any major changes in the consumption of Swedish beef.
“The most important thing is that confidence in Swedish beef is maintained – if it costs a few öre extra for the consumer that’s less important.”
Meanwhile the Swedish authorities are continuing to investigate how a twelve year old cow on a farm between Enköping and Västerås could have been infected. Cattle of a similar age, as well as its calves, will be slaughtered and tested for BSE.
“I would be extremely surprised if we found any more cases,” said Lena Hult, veterinary inspector at the Swedish Board of Agriculture.
How the cow was infected was a mystery. There was already a ban on bonemeal feed at the time the cow was infected, probably at least ten years ago.
“I find it hard to believe that we’re going to find out exactly how it happened,” said Lena Hult.