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PARIS, FRANCE, November 30, 2000: It is not only the French who are in a frenzy about mad cow disease. A panic that began here in France several weeks ago has now spread throughout Europe.In Germany, a hot line set up to answer questions from the public about the disease collapsed because of too many calls. In Italy, celebrities have gone on television to offer their favorite vegetarian recipes. Governments are promising action. Many countries are banning one another's beef to reassure consumers that the meat they are buying is free of contamination. Europeans are not letting beef pass their lips and even inspecting their cosmetics and candy to check for a base of beef gelatin. Wholesalers report a drop of about 50 percent in beef sales. Butchers have seen their businesses devastated. "It's as if we were suddenly facing bubonic plague," said Pietro Stecchiotti, a quality butcher in Rome whose clients include the Italian presidential palace. "Is it the cows, or have we who have gone mad?" France's number of cases of mad cow disease remains minuscule compared with the epidemic that hit Britain in the mid-1980's. More than 100 cases have been reported this year against 31 last year, though expanded testing could have contributed to the higher numbers. Fears were heightened after Germany and Spain had discovered their first cases of mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Portugal and Switzerland have had hundreds of cases. Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have also had a few. "Mad cow disease knows no borders but is moving from one member state to another," Franz Fischler, the European Union's agricultural minister, said at a recent news conference.