What is deep red, tasty, and twice as popular in France as it was
six months ago?
As one catastrophic illness after another breaks out among
European livestock herds, the crisis is forcing fundamental changes
in how farmers raise the continent's food. Sales of organic and
free-range products are up sharply. "Locally grown" are the new
buzzwords. Green politicians find their views suddenly in the
mainstream. And consumers are radically reshaping their eating
"I eat less meat than I used to, and I'm more vigilant about what
I do eat," says Dominique Grandin, buying himself a piece of horse
steak in Paris. Free-range horseflesh, he adds, is not only more
likely to be free of disease. "It has taste, finesse, and it's
Not everyone here has turned to the boucheries chevalines (horse
butchers), identified by illuminated horses' heads over their
doorways. But with fears that an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease
will spread beyond Britain and France adding to concerns about a
"mad-cow epidemic," Europeans are turning away from beef in droves.
And on a continent that has turned itself into an agro-
industrial powerhouse over the past half-century, relying on food
and drink for exports of nearly $70 billion a year, widespread
animal illnesses are a disaster.
Britain's beef industry almost collapsed in the wake of the mad-
cow, or BSE, scare, and European officials are furious that the
United States, Australia, and a host of other countries have banned
the import of any European meat since foot-and-mouth was found in
France. The bans are "excessive and unnecessary," European Union
food-safety commissioner David Byrne complained in a speech last
But it's the tumbling consumption at home that hurts most. In
Germany, beef sales are down by 70 percent since BSE was first
discovered there in November. Across the continent, beef sales have
dropped by 27 percent.
Over the past year, Europeans have been shocked to find dioxin in
Belgian chicken feed and alarmed by the prospect of genetically
modified grain in US imports, but it is BSE that has panicked them.
Nor is there any sign that the illness, which recently spread to
Spain, Germany, and France, will disappear soon, agricultural
The most dramatic plague to strike farmers, though, is the foot-
and-mouth that is currently ravaging cattle, pig, and sheep farms
in Britain, where more than 300 outbreaks have been reported in the
month since it was first discovered.
Palls of smoke from the giant funeral pyres used to destroy
suspect animals hang over the British countryside. About 278,000
animals have been destroyed, or are about to be destroyed, in a bid
to prevent the further spread of the disease.
TV reports of tearful farmers watching years of careful breeding
go up in smoke, or French voters walking through troughs of
disinfectant to polling stations, have focused on the tragedy and
the inconveniences of foot-and-mouth. But the harsh economic costs
are becoming clear: In Britain alone, the current outbreak will
cost $12.9 billion, the London-based Centre for Economics and
Business Research reported. And the tourism industry has been hard
Experts say foot-and-mouth is highly infectious among cloven-
hoofed animals, but poses little risk to humans. …