Dutch Farmers Say Bayer Vaccine Caused Sick Cows

2001 Yahoo news........ Friday September 7 9:19 AM ET

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch farmers said on Friday they had new evidence to support a claim that the deaths of thousands of cows in 1999 may have been caused by a bovine flu vaccine made by Germany's Bayer AG.

The farmers filed suit against Bayer in The Hague (news - web sites) district court last December after Bayer rejected a claim that could run into several hundred millions of guilders in compensation. Farmers allege that the vaccine was contaminated with BVD (bovine virus diarrhea).

Dutch animal health institute ID-Lelystad found that even tiny levels of contamination in vaccines can cause problems, said Jan Cees Vogelaar, chairman of Dutch farmers foundation IBR/BVD. ``This is a big breakthrough because until now Bayer has claimed there was no evidence that a small amount of virus in a vaccine could cause illness in cattle. This research shows that even a small amount can cause problems in cattle,'' Vogelaar told Reuters.

The institute estimated that about 17 percent of cows treated with the vaccine in 1999 could have fallen ill and died. Some 660,000 units of the vaccine were used in the Netherlands, Vogelaar said. Both sides have been submitting their written arguments this year and the judge is due to make an initial pronouncement in December, Vogelaar said. The judge is not expected to issue a ruling, but to appoint an independent expert panel to advise him, he added.

A Bayer spokesman reiterated his company's position that the vaccine was not to blame. ``There are numerous independent studies that say there is no connection between the illness and the vaccine, and we stick to our opinion that there is no connection,'' he said, adding that there were no grounds to seek an out-of-court settlement. The IBR/BVD foundation, set up in 1999 to represent affected farmers, has not specified an amount in its claim, but Vogelaar said he expected damages to run into the hundreds of millions of guilders. Bayer already faces a spate of lawsuits following the recall of its Baycol anti-cholesterol drug on August 8, giving rise to speculation the company will have to meet hefty compensation claims, especially in the United States.