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The pain in Spain: Vultures are hungry, need meat

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[March 17, 2009]  MADRID (AP) -- Spanish vultures are hungry, even starving -- and the regional government in Madrid plans to do something about it. EU laws aimed at halting the spread of mad cow disease require the countryside to be kept clear of dead livestock even if they died of natural causes.

But Juan Carlos Atienza of the Spanish Ornithological Organization says the lack of animal corpses since the law was introduced in Spain in 2002 has hit certain vultures very hard.

Esperanza Aguirre, president of Madrid's regional government, said Monday the capital aims to ease the vultures' hunger by allowing some dead animals to remain.

Atienza said the EU is studying a change that would allow some regions to leave carrion out.

"When a sheep or cow dies in the countryside ... we have to allow it to stay there to act as nourishment for these birds," Aguirre said.

Aguirre said laws which force the landscape to be cleared may be hygienic but run contrary to nature.

Atienza said vultures -- most unusually -- have been seen feeding in city garbage dumps, swooping down when fresh truckloads arrive.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In people, eating meat contaminated with BSE is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and deadly nerve disease. A massive outbreak of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom that peaked in 1993 was blamed for the deaths of 180,000 cattle and more than 150 people.

Five people have died in Spain from the disease -- the first confirmed death was in 2005, the most recent in January.

[Associated Press; By HAROLD HECKLE]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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