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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakh Newspaper Sparks Mad Cow Scare

A mad cow scare hit Kazakhstan when a local weekly reported that a large quantity of illegally imported British beef had surfaced the markets in the capital, Almaty.

Panorama, a Kazakh weekly newspaper, reported that the meat was all infected with the BSE virus, which causes mad cow disease, but a spokesperson for the state health authorities denied that this was true.

Faizula Bismildin, the head of the Sanitary-Epidemiological Department of the Kazakh Health Ministry, said not only had it not been established that the British beef was really infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, but there were no technical or scientific methods available in Kazakhstan to perform such tests.

An unknown quantity of the beef, estimated at 200 tons, was spotted being sold at the half the usual price in the Almaty about two weeks ago, the newspaper. It was mostly sold in city markets as well as to schools, kindergartens and hospitals.

The neat, vacuum-packed merchandise sold out immediately. By the time the local media attracted public attention to the issue almost none of it could be found.

According to Bismildin, urgent steps were taken by the Kazakh authorities. Special legislation has been issued prohibiting selling British beef as well as using it in any food products. The National Security Services are now working to locate the beef that has been sold, as well as tracing its origins.

To date, according to Bismildin, only 2.5 tons of allegedly infected beef has been recovered, most of which was burned in the crematorium 27 kilometers away from Almaty.

According to Bismildin, the beef came from neighboring Kyrgyzstan. According to bilateral agreements there is no customs control between the two ex-Soviet republics.

The local press has dramatized the situation, stirring fears that the population could be at risk for Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, which is thought to be the human equivalent of mad cow disease, contracted by ingesting infected beef.

Solette Saunders, a spokeswoman for the British Agriculture Ministry, downplayed these fears in a telephone interview Thursday. "There is nothing for people in Kazakhstan to worry about," she said.

Saunders suggested that the beef was most probably exported from the United Kingdom before the ban went into effect March 27.

According to Saunders, there is no need for British farmers to cheat and try to sell infected meet, as they receive full compensation if their animals get infected.

She also explained that, even though the link between the human and cow versions of the virus has not been properly established, the control over the industry is so strict there is no way infected meet can pass tests. Tissue samples from every slaughtered animal are tested for the presence of the BSE virus.