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Health and Consumer Protection

Press releases

Brussels, 29 November 2000

SSC adopts opinion on scientific justification of national BSE measures

The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC), advising the European Commission on BSE related issues, has today adopted an opinion on the scientific justifications submitted by Italy, Spain, Austria and France for national measures to reduce the BSE risk. The Committee, in special session, examined the submissions at the request of the Commission, following the conclusions of the Agriculture Council of 20/21 November. The scientists had previously predicted the recent increase in the reported incidence of BSE in France and Ireland, in its Geographical BSE Risk analysis in July 2000. This view has been confirmed by increased testing and improved surveillance. Import bans are not justified in the SSC view by the evidence submitted so far by the countries concerned. Effective implementation of the ban on meat-an-bone meal cattle feed, of sound rendering practices and removal of specified risk materials in importing and exporting countries would probably exclude the need for trade restrictions. Until this is achieved, some temporary trade restrictions might be justified. They should be based on assessments of the implementation of BSE risk management measures and of BSE risk in the Member States concerned. The SSC recommends a temporary ban on feeding MBM to all farmed animals and pets where a significant risk of cross-contamination of cattle feed with MBM possibly contaminated with the BSE agent is found. It recommends that Member States assess this risk nationally. The new French risk reduction measures, i.e. removal of vertebrae, bovine intestines and casings, are found to be scientifically justified in the French context.

The Committee adopted its opinion under strict time constraint imposed by the agreement reached between the Commission and Member States at the last Agriculture Council. Austria, Italy, and Spain had to submit within 24 hours scientific justification for their measures against imports from France, and, in the case of Spain, also against imports from Ireland. France submitted the scientific grounds for its planned or current national measures to reduce the BSE risk.

The SSC considered that an increase in the number of BSE cases in France and Ireland does not provide new scientific elements in favour of import bans. An increase in reported incidence was predicted in its geographical BSE risk analysis of July this year, and the newly detected cases resulting from increased testing and growing awareness only confirm these predictions. Therefore the significance of the additional external challenge from French or Irish imports is not proven. Arguments that imports of life cattle from France and Ireland could increase the geographical BSE risk in the importing country were also considered as not substantially justified so far. Temporary trade restrictions might be justified in so far as resulting from national differences in the effective implementation and control of the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, sound rendering and SRM removal rules, and different levels of BSE risk between the importing and exporting Member State. Also alternative options to import restrictions should be considered. Restrictions on the import of semen, embryo's and ova have no scientific basis.

The Committee recognises that cross contamination of cattle feed with feed destined for other animals and which contains meat-and-bone meal possibly contaminated by the BSE agent is a serious problem for animal and consumer health. Member States should therefore assess the risk of cross contamination nationally. Where such a risk is identified, the SSC recommends a temporary ban on MBM in the feed of all farmed animals and pets as the most effective approach to stop BSE from spreading.

Removal of bovine vertebral column from the feed and food chain, and from the production of tallow and gelatine can, according to the scientists, reduce the BSE risk in France, as well as in other countries. They also recommend removal of the entire bovine intestine and casings from the food and feed chain in all cases of non-negligible BSE risk.

The full text of the opinion can be consulted at :

http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/ssc/outcome_en.html

Background:

Extract of the Geographical Risk Assessment of the SSC (published in July 2000)

Member States

GBR - LEVEL

GBR-Trend*

ñ increasing GBR

ê decreasing GBR

ð constant GBR

AT

II

ê

BE

III

ð

DE

III

ð

DK

III

ê

FIN

II

ê

FR

III

ê

IRE

III

ê

IT

III

ð

LUX

III

ð

NL

III

ê

PT

IV

ê

SP

III

ê

SW

II

ê

UK

IV

ê

GBR-Trend: The GBR will start to decrease or to decrease faster in all EU-Member States once the decisions on rendering (according to 99/534/EC foreseen for 01/07/2000) and SRM (according to 2000/418/EC foreseen for 01/10/2000) are appropriately implemented.

Annex

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The SSC was requested to express its opinion on the following:

1. The validity of the scientific bases for intra-community trade restrictions adopted by Austria, Italy and Spain

a. Live animals

The recent increase in the reported incidence of BSE in France and Ireland is ascribed by the SSC to three factors:

* Real increase in incidence as predicted in its opinion on geographical BSE risk.

* Recently introduced tests are identifying cases that would not have been detected previously.

* The improved passive surveillance as a result of heightened awareness.

The SSC underlines that the current incidence figures do not require modification of the GBR-level of France and Ireland (III), as assessed in its GBR-opinion of July 2000. However, this position will be reviewed regularly in the light of the results of the intensified surveillance.

The effective implementation of the recommendations repeatedly made by the SSC on completely banning ruminant MBM from cattle feed, sound rendering and SRM removal would eventually lead to conditions of optimal stability and minimal propagation risk. All these measures need to be simultaneously in place. Careful control is essential.

Under these ideal conditions of optimal level of stability in the different countries, no additional measures would probably be needed with regard to international trade. However, as long as different stability levels exist amongst different countries, some trade restrictions might be justified temporarily. The decision on such temporary measures should be based not only on their immediate and longer-term risk for consumers and bovines but should also include an assessment of the level of implementation of the different BSE risk measures recommended by the SSC that determine the stability and BSE risk of the involved individual countries.

The SSC at this stage does not consider the justifications provided so far by the 3 Member States as substantial enough to support the trade restrictions. The significance of the possible additional external challenge in each case is not proven (see above). A decision on such restrictions should be placed in the context of the overall national BSE risk management systems in place in both the importing and exporting countries (which was not done). In addition, possible alternative options as indicated in this opinion of the SSC have not been considered.

b. Embryos, ova and semen

The SSC reiterates its position that there is no scientific justification to assume a risk from imports of bovine semen, embryos and ova, provided the recommendations made in the SSC opinion of March 1999 are respected.

2. The scientific validity of measures envisaged by France:

a. The removal of the bovine vertebral column

The SSC considers that some risk reduction can be achieved in France by means of the removal of bovine vertebrae both from the meat-on-the-bone and as a raw material for the production of derived products such as tallow and gelatine. The SSC would encourage other countries with a non-negligible BSE risk to consider adoption of such a measure.

b. The removal of the entire bovine intestine and casings

The SSC recommends that the entire intestine should be considered as a specific risk material, regardless of the age of the animal in all cases where the exposure of the animal to the BSE agent is not negligible.

3. The possible scientific reasons for a general feed ban

The SSC recognises that in principle the measures recommended in its various opinions will result in cattle feed with a negligible risk. However, it is aware that in practice cross-contamination of MBM-free cattle feed with other feeds which contain MBM is a serious problem which may prolong a BSE epidemic and therefore the risk to the consumer. The SSC recommends that member States conduct a risk assessment of the likelihood of such cross-contamination under their own national / local conditions. If a non-negligible risk is identified, the Committee recommends that a temporary total feed ban applicable to all farmed animals including cattle, pigs, poultry, farmed fish and to pets, as proposed by several Member States, would be the most effective approach to prevent the propagation of the disease.

Released on 29/11/2000

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