Cases of mad cow disease have halved each year worldwide over the past three years, showing farmers were beating the deadly malady, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said on Thursday.
“Amid the current international alarm over avian flu, it is good news that the battle against another worrying disease is being won,” the FAO said in a statement that gave the latest statistics on animal and human deaths from mad cow.
“In 2005, just 474 animals died of BSE around the world, compared with 878 in 2004 and 1,646 in 2003, and against a peak of several tens of thousands in 1992,” it said, quoting data gathered by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE).
Five humans died in 2005 from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, believed to be the human form of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), all of them in Britain. In 2004 nine deaths were reported, down from 18 in 2003.
The FAO is helping coordinate efforts to combat bird flu, which has killed 103 people and infected 184 since late 2003 and scientists fear a global pandemic if the virus mutates into a form that can pass from human to human.
But the Rome-based food agency said that while the world’s attention was on bird flu, governments should not think the battle against BSE was fully over.
“It is quite clear that BSE is declining and that the measures introduced to stop the disease are effective. But further success depends on our continuing to apply those measures worldwide,” said FAO animal production expert Andrew Speedy.
The FAO is pushing countries to adopt a tracking system that allows animals to be identified from birth to consumption, a system in place in the European Union but which has yet to be fully implemented elsewhere.