France set to end 'mad cow' probe with no charges

PARIS, April 14, 2014 (AFP) - A Paris prosecutor has recommended closing a 17-year-investigation into how "mad cow" disease killed at least 27 people in France with no charges being brought, judicial sources revealed Monday.

The recommendation, which was made back in November but was not made public, followed the conclusion of a probe launched in 1997 that aimed to establish whether anyone could be held responsible for one of the worst public health disasters of the 20th century.

The case is now with the examining magistrates in charge of the investigation, who have the final say on whether to shelve it.

The probe led to criminal charges being brought against four men who worked at two factories suspected of producing feed using the ground-up remains of sheep and cattle - the practice thought to have been behind the "mad cow" epidemic.

One of the four is now deceased and the prosecutor in the case has advised there is little chance of securing convictions against the others as it is unclear they breached the legislation that was in place at the time.

In Britain, the country worst affected by the outbreak of "mad cow" disease - officially called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - 166 people have died of the human form of the illness, which destroys the brain.

The BSE crisis devastated the beef industry across Europe, led to a decade-long ban on British beef exports and triggered an overhaul of legislation governing the sector with the aim of ensuring all products entering the food chain can be traced back to their origin.