BRUSSELS, Belgium — – European Union farm ministers on Monday approved a six-month ban on animal products in fodder, part of an extraordinary plan to stem growing panic over mad cow disease.
The ban is expected to cost $1.3 billion, but the ministers hope it will return confidence in the beef industry. Fodder containing animal products is a key suspect in spreading the disease from Britain four years ago into ever wider swathes of the continent.
The moves were approved by the 15 farm ministers in an emergency session, despite misgivings by some countries that the moves would be too costly.
An EU farm official who asked not to be named said Germany and Finland voted against the ban, while Belgium abstained.
EU Health Commissioner David Byrne conceded the proposals would be expensive. "But it is the price which must be paid to restore public confidence in our commitment to protect public health," he said before the final vote.
French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany, who chaired the crisis meeting, argued the ban would "allow Europe to take a major step forward" in containing mad cow.
A call to temporarily ban all livestock feed containing meat and bonemeal failed to find the necessary majority at the last EU farm meeting.
The ministers were also assessing proposals to keep untested animals that are more than 30 months old out of the food chain, measures which would further sap already stretched farm budgets and raise huge practical problems.
A purchase for destruction scheme proposed by EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fishler for older animals would add another $1 billion to the bill for European taxpayers.
"Unusual situations justify specific and, if need be, unusual answers," said Fischler.
Glavany said France wanted for its farmers "compensations matching the traumas the sector is going through."
Germany, where a first mad cow case was discovered two weeks ago, had other thoughts.
"We want to examine where help is needed," Finance Minister Hans Eichel said over the weekend. "But you also have to see that agriculture is the sector of the economy with the highest subsidies."
The mad cow crisis reappeared two months ago when an increase in French cases and a scandal that tainted beef might have made it to supermarket shelves heightened consumer anxiety. It was exacerbated when the first cases in Germany and Spain were recorded, further indications that current measures to contain the disease were inadequate.
At the heart of the scandal is the fear that the cattle disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can spread to humans through the brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Two people in France and 80 in Britain have died from the human form of the disease; 89 people across the EU have been infected.