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Health and Consumer Protection

Press releases

Brussels, 4 July 2001

Scientific Steering Committee publishes new opinions

The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) advising the European Commission published on 4 thJuly 2001 several opinions related to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) related opinions. The SSC revised its standing opinions on the safety of tallow and gelatine in view of new data. The scientists consider that tallow derived from tissues other than standard meat fat could present a BSE risk if used in cattle feed without adequate measures such as removal of Specified Risks Material (SRM) and filtration and, for certain tissues, heat treatment. They also updated the safety requirements for the different uses of gelatine. A further opinion concludes that certain parts of the discrete fatty tissues directly associated with the intestine tract should be considered a potential BSE risk material. The Committee also adopted opinions on the Geographical BSE Risk (GBR) in El Salvador, Panama (both category I) and Nigeria (category II), evaluating the risk that animals in these countries have incubated the disease. The SSC further adopted an opinion on the risk assessment to be undertaken if genetically modified cotton in medical and hygiene products might be used. Since 1997 two authorisations for GM-cotton are pending for marketing in the EU. The SCC finally proposed a framework for the assessment of the risk from different options for the safe disposal or use of meat and bone meal (MBM) and other products which might be contaminated with Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) prions and other materials.

The scientists reviewed their standing opinion of 1998 on the safety of tallow in the light of recently published data on BSE inactivation and of recent data on the amounts of tallow used in certain types of cattle feed such as milk replacers. They confirm that tallow derived from standard meat fat is safe. However, tallow produced from other cattle tissues, notably from ruminant slaughter by-products, needs to undergo adequate measures such as SRM-removal and filtration and, for certain by-products, heat treatment to eliminate a potential BSE risk, unless originating from countries without a BSE risk.

The SSC also adopted an opinion on the safety of discrete fat tissues associated with the digestive tract of cattle. They conclude that the parts of fats that are directly associated with the intestines should be considered as specified risk materials if a BSE risk cannot be excluded in the animal. The omentum of cattle, or the upper layer of the belly fat, is considered safe for use in feed, food and other applications provided contamination with SRMs can be excluded.

The Committee also updated its standing opinion of January 2000 on the safety of gelatine, including a finding that two newly validated processes for the production of gelatine are at least equally safe as those already authorised. The opinion lists for each different use of gelatine (food, feed, pharmaceutical and industrial) the safety requirements in terms of SRM removal, sourcing of materials, etc.

Geographical BSE Risk Assessment for Panama, El Salvador and Nigeria

The SSC adopted Geographical BSE Risk evaluations concluding that is highly unlikely that cattle infected with the BSE agent are present in domestic herds of Panama and El Salvador (GBR level I). They found that this is unlikely but not excluded in the herds of Nigeria (GBR level II).

The evaluation of the GBR in these third countries was made on the basis of the same method and assessment process as described by the SSC in its July 2000 opinion on the GBR( 1 ). In the July-opinion the scientists already assessed the GBR risk in all EU Member States except Greece( 2 ), and a first series of third countries( 3 ). Assessments for Uruguay, Botswana, Lithuania, Namibia, Nicaragua, Swaziland, Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic( 4 ), Estonia, Hungary, India, Mauritius, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Slovenia and Romania have been published earlier this year. (see http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/library/press/press138_en.html )

Risk assessment of the risk for the safe disposal or use of meat and bone meal

The opinion proposes a risk assessment framework for the assessment of the risk from different options for the safe disposal or use of meat and bone meal and provides details on the components that are recommend being included in such assessment. The document is intended to assist bodies preparing a dossier on the assessment of safety of specific processes and/or equipment relating to TSEs.

Risk assessment of GM-cotton

The SSC had been further asked by the Commission to advise on two issues related to the potential use of genetically modified cotton in feminine hygiene products, in baby or adult incontinence products and other garments.

The first issue concerned any potential differences in the characteristics between genetically modified cotton fibres and those derived from non-GM cotton plants which would influence the risk assessment of the GM fibres.

The SSC concluded that there is no reason or evidence to believe that the genetic modifications introduced in the two GM cotton lines for which authorisations are pending in Europe could result in the formation of GM cotton fibres which will be different than their non GM counterparts. In addition, the SSC considered that the available analytical evidence suggests that any protein, be it endogenous or introduced into cotton by genetic modification should be denatured or removed ruing processing of cotton fibres and their transformation into final products.

The second issue concerned any potential differences in the safety profiles between feminine hygiene, incontinence and other consumer products made of GM cotton as opposed to those same products made with non-GM cotton. In its opinion, the SSC sees no reasons for any additional risk of such products from GM cotton interacting in intimate contact with the skin, vaginal mucosa, endometrium, or other tissues as compared to products from non-genetically modified cotton.

Nevertheless, the Committee recommends that, if in future genetically modified plant products are considered for use in medical and hygiene cotton products, risk assessments should be carried out on a case-by-case basis to include: definition of the molecular inserts and their effect on metabolism and fibre structure, analysis of raw and processed fibres for protein content, evidence of the substantial equivalence of the physico-chemical characteristics of medical and hygiene products derived from either non-GM or GM plant material.

The full text of the opinions is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/ssc/outcome_en.html

Released on 04/07/2001

Updated Overview of third countries according to Geographical BSE risk classification

Category I: Highly unlikely to present a BSE risk

Argentina
Australia
Botswana
Brazil
Chile
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Namibia
Nicaragua
Norway
New Zealand
Panama
Paraguay
Singapore
Swaziland
Uruguay

Category II: Unlikely, but a BSE risk cannot be excluded

Canada
Colombia
India
Kenya
Mauritius
Nigeria
Pakistan
Slovenia
USA

Category III: likely to present a BSE risk, even if not confirmed, or presenting a low level of confirmed BSE risk

Albania
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Estonia
Hungary
Lithuania
Poland
Romania
SlovakRepublic
Switzerland

Category IV: BSE risk confirmed at a high level

None

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1 See IP of August 1, 2000 at : http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/library/press/press66_en.html

2 Greece notified its first domestic BSE-case in July 2001

3 Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay, Switzerland, USA

4 The Czech Republic notified its first domestic case in May 2001

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