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Health and Consumer Protection

Speeches Commissioner Byrne

Speaking note on BSE of David Byrne, European Commissioner responsible for Health and Consumer Protection at the Agriculture Council in Luxembourg on 19 June 2001

I am pleased to update you on the most recent developments in relation to BSE. A set of tables has been circulated to you on the incidence of BSE throughout the Community broken down by category and by Member State. We are rapidly acquiring a very comprehensive picture of the true incidence of BSE in the Community and the Commission hopes to draw conclusions from these figures in the near future.

Certain treads are, however, already evident. Passive surveillance of animals with clinical symptoms of the disease continues to account for the greatest number of cases. This category accounted for 63% of the cases reported in the first four months of this year. Yet, there are important differences between Member States in the number of cases detected in this category. I would be concerned if this points to poor surveillance systems in some Member States.

Another point of concern is the low rate of testing of healthy animals aged over 30 months and of "at risk" and "fallen" animals in some Member States. This may be due to the purchase for destruction scheme. However, it does leave important gaps in epidemiological information which need to be addressed. The Commission services will be following up on these matters.

Turning to legislative matters, since we last met in May, the Commission has presented two new proposals to the SVC. The first of these decisions largely relates to testing provisions. It provides in particular for the following:

  • A reduction in the age of testing of at risk animals from 30 to 24 months to provide an early warning system of any unfavourable trend in incidence of BSE;
  • A facility to allow Member States to test healthy animals aged under 30 months to take account of the actuality of Germany and other MS who already, or propose, to test younger animals;
  • The introduction of requirement to test at least 50.000 bovines aged over 30 months in the UK in order to obtain a better epidemiological picture of the incidence of BSE (bovines aged over 30 months are currently destroyed rather than tested);
  • The introduction of testing for small ruminants (sheep) for BSE/scrapie on a targetted random basis with effect from 1 January 2002;
  • An end to requirement to carry out testing of all bovines aged over 30 months in Sweden, Austria and Finland owing to their category II status and the fact that all tests to date are negative. Instead, these Member States will test at least 10.000 cattle,.

I am pleased that this proposal received a favourable opinion from the SVC. The Commission will formally adopt the decision in the next several days and it will enter into force from 1 July 2001.

While on the subject of testing, I would like to bring to your attention a recent research article published in the magazine "Nature" on 13 June. This article points to very encouraging progress in the development of new tests which are reportedly far more sensitive than the existing tests approved for use in the Community. The report indicates that they have the potential to detect a single prion! While obviously much remains to be done before these tests are validated, there is now a clear potential that we may shortly be in a position to introduce much more sensitive tests able to detect BSE cases at a much earlier stage of infectivity.

If this is the case, we could in turn reduce the current age of testing of 30 months for healthy animals to a much lower age. Clearly, this would lead to an increase in the number of cases of BSE in Member States, as the current tests only detect the disease at the very late stages of infectivity. That is a very secondary consideration, however, to the need to take all necessary measures to detect and eradicate BSE. I will keep you informed of developments but I can assure you that I am giving this issue very top priority.

I would now like to turn to the second proposal put by the Commission to the SVC. This proposal provides for the following:

  • The suspension of entry into force of key provisions of Regulation 999/2001 on TSEs until the risk classification of MS and TC, required under Article 5, has not been carried out. This risk classification is necessary to determinate the scope of application of these provisions;
  • The prolongation of the current suspension on the use of MBM in animal feedingstuffs until 1 January 2002 at the earliest and thereafter until the Commission has taken a decision on the risk classification of the country or countries concerned in accordance with Article 5 of Regulation 999/2001 – I will return to this point;
  • The introduction of offspring and cohort slaughter as compulsory with whole herd slaughter on a voluntary basis in the event of the discovery of BSE cases;
  • The adaptation of the list of SRMs to be removed to take account of the decisions taken on vertebral column, MRM etc. since the common position on this regulation was formally adopted in January of this year;
  • Similarly, the adaptation of the list of products of animal origin imported into the Community to include restrictions on a range of new products, especially tallow, gelatine and petfood;
  • The introduction of a requirement in relation to imports of third countries of an effective MBM ban to ruminants and full tracing to the herd and dam of origin with an exemption for Category I countries in the GBR exercise.

Unfortunately, there was not a qualified majority for this proposal in the SVC. Similarly, however, there is not a qualified majority against the proposal. In these circumstances, unless there is a significant change in position in the Council today, it is clear that the proposal can be adopted by the Commission on its own authority. I would appreciate, Mme President, if you could confirm if there is any change in position by the Member States which abstained or voted against the proposal in the SVC.

Ministers need no reminding of the importance of this proposal. It is essential that it comes into force on or before 1 July 2001. The alternative is that the existing provisions of Regulation 999/2001 will enter into force even though the required risk classification has not been carried out. In addition, in the absence of a decision, the current suspension on the use of meat and bone meal would also come to an end. Clearly, that would be an unacceptable situation which we could not explain or justify to consumers.

Thank you for your attention.


Speeches Commissioner Byrne



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