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Health and Consumer Protection

Press releases

Brussels, 15 November 2000

European Commission discussion on the current situation on BSE in the EU

An increased incidence of BSE in France has triggered consumer fears in the safety of beef. The European Commission recalled this morning that the wide range of measures it has put in place, if fully implemented, are sufficient to ensure a high level of public health and safety. The Commission however agreed that additionally action was needed to restore consumer confidence. To complement the legislative measures in place, the introduction of a comprehensive programme for Community-wide testing for BSE would provide the necessary assurances to consumers. Mr Fischler and Mr Byrne were habilitated by the College to explore the options for such a programme with the Member States in the Agriculture Council on 20/21 November. In the light of the discussions in the Council, a proposal will be put to the Member States in the Standing Veterinary Committee on 22 November. Mr Byrne has already called upon Member States to start even earlier the already approved EU-wide testing programme on sick animals. Mr Fischler was also habilitated this morning to propose a private storage scheme in order to support the beef market. This proposal will be submitted for opinion of the Beef Management Committee on 17 November. The Commission will keep all measures under review to further enhance the efficacy of all measures in place to protect public health, such as the ban of mammalian meat-and bone meal to be fed to ruminants.

The incidence of BSE in France has risen significantly this year. Ninety nine cases have been recorded to date in 2000, compared to thirty one cases in 1999. A lower rate of increase has also been recorded in other Member States, notably Ireland and Belgium. The increased incidence in France is partly due to the introduction of targeted testing of cattle for BSE using a post-mortem test as required by a Commission decision in the matter. France has introduced such testing before the required deadline of 1 January 2001 and is also carrying out a greater number of tests than required.

The increased incidence in France has led to a crisis in public confidence in the safety of beef and consumption has fallen by up to 40%. The Government announced a series of new protective measures on 14 November, notably a suspension of the feeding of meat-and-bone meal (MBM) to all animals. Contaminated MBM is widely acknowledged to be the principal source of BSE infectivity. While there are strict legislative measures in place which reduce the risk of such infectivity, question marks have been raised over the effectiveness of these measures through controls in some Member States.

The increased incidence in France has to be viewed in perspective. It currently amounts to 7 cases per million cattle aged over 2 years, well below the international standard for high risk countries of 100 per million. France has taken the initiative to actively look for BSE in its herd and deserves credit for this responsible approach: "if you look, you will find". Nonetheless, there can be no complacency as long as the incidence of the disease is rising in any Member State.

There is also a risk that Member States which have not yet introduced targeted testing will register an increase once such tests are starting. The consequences for consumer confidence are likely to be especially damaging in Member States which have not registered any native cases of BSE to date.


Community measures in place to combat BSE

The Commission can point to a very comprehensive series of measures which have been introduced at its initiative in relation to BSE:

- Active surveillance measures for the detection, control and eradication of BSE;

- The ban on the feeding of mammalian MBM to ruminants;

- The higher processing standards for the rendering of animal waste (133 degrees, 3 bars of pressure for twenty minutes) designed to reduce potential infectivity to a minimum;

- The requirement to remove and destroy SRMs from cattle, sheep and goats from 1 October 2000 - the single most important protective measure against the transmission of BSE;

- The introduction of random testing for BSE, with a focus on high risk animal categories, from 1 January 2001.

- The Commission also has a number of additional proposals currently before the Council and European Parliament which will further enhance public safety against the risk of transmission of BSE. These include a proposal for a comprehensive framework of rules on the prevention and control of TSEs. A common position on this proposal is feasible at the December Agriculture Council. The Commission also adopted a major proposal for a Council and Parliament regulation on animal waste in October 2000. This proposal provides an opportunity to put in place a comprehensive framework that will ensure that MBM does not pose any threat to public or animal health. The Commission has also just adopted its proposal for a European Food Safety Authority which will provide for improvement risk assessment and communication on food safety issues.

The Commission services are confident that the existing control measures, outlined above, are adequate to reduce the risk of transmission of BSE to a minimal level. This is subject to the important qualification that Member States rigorously implement these controls, an area where weaknesses have been identified.

Released on 15/11/2000


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