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Health and Consumer Protection

Speeches Commissioner Byrne

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

I have some sympathy for the suggestion that testing requirements should be extended to third countries. However, it might be helpful if I outline some background information in this respect.

Jean Glavany’s request results from a very obvious observation: there is a discrepancy between the testing requirements for Member States and those required of third countries. This is indeed the case. In particular, there is no requirement that meat imported to the EU derived from bovines aged over 30 months must be tested.

However, I want to make absolutely clear that there are measures in place to ensure that our consumers are not at risk. Live bovines imported to the EU must of course be tested at slaughter if aged over 30 months. Meat and meat products from third countries must also be accompanied by certification to the effect that the SRMs have been removed and that they have been slaughtered in accordance with the required Community standards.

This is a hugely important safeguard. As I repeatedly point out, removal of SRM is far and away the most important protective measure for public health protection. Member States already have the means at their disposal, therefore, to ensure that imported bovines and meat and meat products are safe.

The absence of testing in third countries does however weaken the epidemiological information on their true situation with respect to BSE. In this respect, let me recall that the current classification, in both Member States and Third Countries, was a Commission initiative. It has been a very difficult and controversial exercise. The findings of the SSC have been strongly disputed, by both Member States and Third Countries.

I have literally a queue of Ambassadors and Ministers from Third Countries calling on me in relation to the geographical risk assessment. Invariably, it is to complain that the assessments are flawed or wrong. I have defended the work of the SSC in this respect and will continue to do so because it has already proved its worth. I have also encouraged the countries concerned to implement much more thorough surveillance systems, including the introduction of testing for BSE.

I believe that progress is being made in this respect. Let me remind you in this respect that our estimates suggest that about 85% of imports are from countries in category I of the geographical risk assessment exercise. There is no suggestion that these countries should be required to carry out testing, although I would encourage it as part of their surveillance efforts.

The remaining imports – 15% or so - come overwhelmingly from category III countries which are for the most part in Central and Eastern Countries. They are already taking measures to introduce testing. For example, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are already testing all bovines aged over 30 months at slaughter. Hungary and Poland are introducing testing on a more targetted basis on at risk animals.

If these tests lead to the detection of BSE, as has already happened in the Czech Republic, I consider it inevitable that testing of animals aged over 30 months will be introduced. The case for introducing such testing before a case of BSE has been found is more difficult to justify.

Member States might recall their own opposition to widespread testing when the Commission tabled its proposals early last year. In addition, the scientific justification for large scale testing and its corresponding legitimacy in terms of trade arrangements is not 100% watertight.

This is perhaps not as rapid progress as some of you might wish. But we should not forget either that these countries are in a much more difficult position than the Member States of the EU. They lack the resources and the manpower to carry out testing on the scale currently in place in the EU. As I already stated, I am encouraging them to do more.

A consistent demand is that the Community should provide financial assistance towards testing. These countries point out that if they do indeed have BSE, it has been imported from the EU. And that the likely causes, infected animals and meat and bone meal, were always certified as not presenting any risk of BSE. They have asked for a degree of solidarity from their prospective EU partners to allow them to set in place adequate surveillance systems.

In summary, therefore, the Commission will continue to press third countries to make further progress in the introduction of testing, especially of at risk categories. I will keep you updated on developments in this regard. In the meantime I would ask that the existing controls on imports be strictly implemented as they ensure through the removal of SRMs that our consumers are not at risk.

Thank you for your attention.


Speeches Commissioner Byrne



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