Health officials in the US have placed a ban on imports of sperm from European men to protect Americans from the human form of mad cow disease. Stores of European sperm are now running out, causing problems for women wishing to use them.
Before the ban, the use of sperm from Nordic donors in particular had grown in popularity. Companies such as California Cryobank in Los Angeles and Cryos International in New York City imported sperm from Denmark for which there was a huge demand, largely due to the donors' blue eyes, blond hair, and their tendency to be tall and well educated.
Since the ban, put in place in May 2005 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sperm banks are no longer allowed to import sperm from Europe for fear it might spread the fatal and incurable human form of mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The ban was one of a number of restrictions the US government put in place after the spread of mad cow disease in Europe in the late 1990s. Other measures included banning people who lived in the UK for more than three months between 1980 and 1996 from giving blood. The disease, in rare cases, is spread from cow to human by eating meat from infected animals, and has also been known to spread from using contaminated surgical equipment and transplanted tissue, such as corneas. There are, however, no known cases of infection from sperm and scientists say that, although it is theoretically possible, the risk is insignificant.
Soon, the last few vials of European sperm imported before the embargo will be gone. Many women, who used this sperm before and now wish to have another baby using the same donor, are having to pay thousands of pounds to travel to Europe for insemination. Other women are travelling to Canada or Mexico, or even haggling with other women who have leftover vials. In response to the uproar, Nordic Cryobank has filed a petition asking the FDA to lift the restrictions.