Brazil announces 'audit' to curb mad cow fears

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazil's agriculture ministry announced on Sunday a top-to-bottom "audit" of its cattle industry as the world's top beef exporters tries to stave off a growing crisis over a case of mad cow disease.

"We will review all procedures to be sure we are doing everything necessary," Mr Celio Porto, international relations secretary for the agriculture minister, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

"It's like an audit by the ministry of agriculture on state services," Mr Porto said, adding that it would follow guidelines set by the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health.

Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and China have suspended all beef imports from Brazil in connection with an atypical case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) that was confirmed last month in an animal that died in 2010 in the southern state of Parana.

Five other countries have imposed some restrictions on beef over the same case.

Brazilian officials insist the case poses no risk whatsoever to public health or to animal hygiene and have not ruled out complaining to the World Trade Organisation over the restrictions.

Between January and October, Brazil, with nearly 200 million head of cattle, exported one million tonnes of beef, the agriculture ministry said.

Major customers were Russia, China and Hong Kong.

More than 190,000 cases of mad cow disease have been detected in the European Union since it was first diagnosed in Britain in 1986, forcing the destruction of millions of cows.

More than 200 people around the world are believed to have died, most of them in Britain, from the human variant of the disease.

Scientists believe the disease was caused by using infected cow parts as a component in feed for other cattle.

Authorities believe eating meat from infected animals can trigger the human variant of the fatal brain-wasting disease.

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