The evaluation of the economic, social and environmental consequences of the BSE crisis within the United Kingdom is still a work in progress…
The basic factors that contributed to the long-term decline in UK beef consumption also apply to other EU countries and the United States…
- BSE has caused a harrowing fatal disease for humans. The number of people dead and thought to be dying stands at 150, most of them young. They and their families have suffered terribly;
- a vital industry has been dealt a body blow, inflicting misery on tens of thousands for whom livestock farming is their way of life. They have seen over 180,000 of their animals dying or having to be destroyed, and the precautionary slaughter and destruction within the United Kingdom of very many more;
- BSE developed into an epidemic as a consequence of an intensive farming practice - the recycling of animal protein in ruminant feed. This practice, unchallenged over decades, proved a recipe for disaster;
- the economic impact of BSE was not insignificant. The taxpayer, through additional public expenditure costs of £6 billion – about €8,85 billion - (in cash terms), faced perhaps the most significant economic cost of BSE;
- the complete collapse of the beef and cattle export market, at one point worth £720 million (about €1.07 billion) a year, came in the aftermath of the European Commission Decision of 27 March 1996, which banned the export of UK beef and cattle, leading to severe economic difficulties for those dependent on it; (1)
- for farmers, the illness and death of individual animals was the most direct and immediate economic loss attributable to BSE. Figures for the number of farmers who suffered such a loss before the introduction of a compensation scheme (8 August 1988) are not available. However, these losses would have been spread among 621 different herds. That translates into a loss per farm of only about £710. (about €1,000); (1)
- total expenditure on compensation payments for 1986-96 tracked the curve of the epidemic, growing significantly from 1988 and reaching peak levels in 1993/94 at around £36m (about €53 million) in the financial year (a year after the peak of the epidemic in England and Wales). Between 1994 and 1996 payments fell substantially. Total expenditure on compensation and ex gratia payments over the entire period from 1988 to 1996 was £135 million (about €198 million);
- the long-term costs of BSE in Europe are estimated at 92 billion € (US$ 107 billion), according to the European Association for Animal Production: about 10% of the annual output value of the European beef sector;
- in Canada, the confirmation of a single case in May 2003 is costing 9.24 million € a day in lost exports.
In the event of a large-scale animal health emergency, the slaughter and disposal of infected and exposed animals is an instrumental part of controlling and eradicating the disease. However…
- over the period 1986-95, the share of beef and veal within total meat consumption declined from approximately 31% in 1986 to 24% in 1995, being mostly replaced by poultry which increased its share from 27 to 34%;
- per capita beef consumption also declined by about 35%, or 6.7 kg per person per year;
- the decline in beef consumption in the UK market was mirrored, but to a lesser degree, by a decline in the EU markets. Beef consumption in the 12 Member States of the EU fell by 2.2 kg per person during the same period;
- consumption also declined in the United States, and by 1995 had fallen by approximately 25% from the peak levels of 1976-77. As with the UK, the main loss in market share was to poultry and, to a limited extent, pig meat;
- the coverage of BSE in the media, and developing consumer awareness, may have affected consumer demand on several occasions. In November and December 1995 there were a number of television programmes in UK, which exposed gaps in the integrity of the control of the bans on specified bovine material entering the animal feed chain. Studies by Michael Burton and Trevor Young, at the University of Manchester, suggested that publicity surrounding BSE was responsible for a 4.8% decline in the demand for beef over the period 1990-93.
- provisionally as at 20 February 2004 7,082,603 cattle have been slaughtered. Of these 1,227,426 have been sent for direct incineration, with the remainder being sent for rendering;
- there are three common forms of incineration: open burning (e.g., pyre burning), air-curtain incineration, and fixed-facility incineration;
- the negative impacts of burning include pollution of the environment and release of noxious gases and compounds, including dioxins, which affect the health and well being of the population. Public perceptions of pyres are additional negative externalities. Mass slaughter of animals and the large ‘funeral’ pyresv in the UK horrified the public, and these televised images contributed to greater economic damage, specifically tourist activity;
- while incineration is biologically safe, produces little waste, and does not create water pollution concerns, the primary concern is emission of particulates generated during burning. Indirect environmental costs include the impact of emit particles and other products of combustion on air, liquid leakage on soil and water, and the remaining ash that needs disposed. Smoke and odor are both a concern to neighbours and the general public.
(1) “BSE Inquiry Report”, 2000 [ www.bseinquiry.gov.uk/report/volume1/execsum2.htm]