of Commissioner Byrne on BSE
Agriculture Council of 23 July,
I am pleased to update you once more on
developments in relation to BSE.
The issue has disappeared in recent
weeks from the news headlines. In the past, there has been
an unfortunate capacity to relax controls when this
happened. I am determined that this will not happen again.
The Commissions approach will not be guided by the
headlines but by the evidence of risk and of the necessary
controls to avert such risk. We must build on the measures
taken to eliminate BSE from the EU. This is the
There are a number of issues which I
would like to raise with you today.
The Food and Veterinary Office of the
Commission has carried out a large number of inspections in
the Member States in recent months. The first phase of
these inspections, carried out late last year, focused on
the then existing controls. Since then of course there have
been several important new measures introduced. These are
the focus of the second phase of inspections.
These reports have already hit the table
in the Member States or will do so shortly. To date, the
reports suggest that there is room for improvement in
virtually all Member States. I would urge Ministers to
drive home once more the need for a zero tolerance policy
towards weaknesses in controls. The risks are simply far
I intend to present a synthesis document
to the Council in the Autumn summarising the findings of
the FVO and in particular the identified weaknesses.
However, clearly Member States should not delay in adopting
the necessary corrective measures to ensure that the
recommendations in these reports are acted upon.
You will recall that the original
Commission proposal to ban meat and bone meal also included
fishmeal within its scope. However, at the Councils
insistence, fishmeal was finally excluded. This decision
was conditional on strict controls which are set out in
Commission Decision 2001/9/EC.
Member States were to report to the
Commission by the end of May 2001 on the operation of these
controls and on tests carried out to ensure compliance. I
might add that this decision received a favourable opinion
in the Standing Veterinary Committee so your services are
perfectly aware of this requirement.
It disappoints me that with one
exception Finland these reports have not been received.
In effect, therefore, the Commission has no official
confirmation from Member States that the requirements under
Community law in respect of fishmeal are being fulfilled.
This is even more worrying given the reports of the Food
and Veterinary Office which point to weaknesses in controls
on fishmeal in the Member States recently visited.
I know that there is now a consensus
around this table that BSE related controls have to be
rigorously implemented. I expect, therefore, that the
reports to this effect will now be forwarded to the
Commission and to other Member States as required in the
The Commission will have to re-consider
the decision to authorise fishmeal unless we can be
confident that the controls are being implemented. I hope
than when we meet next that I will be in a position to
report 100% compliance with the control requirements in
question thus avoiding any need to re-consider the current
BSE Test Results
The number of tests results continues to
grow exponentially. There have now been more than 3.2
million rapid tests carried out between 1 January and 30
June 2001. Over 90% of these tests have been carried out on
healthy animals aged over 30 months. It is reassuring that
the youngest case of BSE in these healthy animals remains
at 42 months.
I must once again caution, however,
against any complacency that tests are the primary
protective measure against BSE. This is not the case. As I
have repeatedly said, the removal of SRMs is the primary
measure for the protection of consumers.
In previous Councils, I called on Member
States to carefully study the trends between Member States
which point to significant differences. Two trends in
particular concern me. One is the continued low rate of
detection of BSE cases through passive surveillance in some
Member States. By passive surveillance, I mean animals
reported as BSE clinical suspects.
Passive surveillance was, of course, the
only means to detect BSE until rapid tests became
available. It is clear, however, from both the reports of
the FVO and from the long delay in confirming the presence
of BSE that passive surveillance systems were totally
inadequate in several Member States. The Commission will be
writing to the Member States in question with a view to
ensuring that the appropriate lessons have been learned
from these past failures.
In the meantime, it is important that
passive surveillance systems are
now operating satisfactorily. The figures continue
to suggest that this is not the case. I am again calling on
Member States, therefore, to ensure that passive
surveillance by both farmers and veterinary practitioners
in brought up to an acceptable standard. It remains the
first line of defence in relation to BSE and has to be
taken very seriously.
Another issue of concern is the number
of "at risk" animals which varies enormously from one
Member States to another. These variations are out of all
proportion to the herd sizes in the Member States. Clearly,
the definition of "at risk" varies considerably. If we are
to ensure consistency in testing and the targeting of the
right animals for testing, this will have to be
You are all aware of the new testing
requirements in relation to animals which die on farm.
Effectively, from 1 July, all such bovines aged over 24
month have to be tested. This is a necessary measure as is
clear from the relatively high incidence of BSE in this
The Commission is already hearing of
reports of problems in the introduction of this measure. It
is especially clear that a particular problem is the
provision of services for the notification, collection,
transport and disposal of these animals.
If this is not done in a satisfactory
manner, there is a clear risk that such animals will not be
reported, or not reported in time to carry out the
necessary tests. Or, worse still, that they are
fraudulently disposed of with unacceptable risks for health
and the environment.
But, I am sure that you need no
reminding that this is a very serious issue. The optimum
situation, which already exists in some Member States, is a
publicly supervised scheme for the early notification of
animal deaths on farm and for their subsequent collection
and disposal. The Commission will again be writing to
Member States in this regard.
Meat and Bone Meal
An inevitable consequence of the current
ban on meat and bone meal is the question of what to do
with both existing and new stocks. We already know of the
huge logistical problems in the UK in this regard. Even
after several years and the building of massive new
incineration capacity, I note that the UK still has
approximately 400.000 tonnes of MBM and 200.000 tonnes of
tallow in storage awaiting destruction.
Clearly, we need to closely monitor what
is happening in all Member States in relation to the
storage and destruction of risk materials, including meat
and bone meal. In particular, the Commission wishes to
avoid future problems arising from poor storage, fraud or
illegal exports of MBM.
The Council decision to ban meat and
bone meal requires Member States to ensure that it is
collected, transported, processed, stored or disposed of in
accordance with the relevant Community provisions. The
Commission will be looking for clarification from Member
States in the coming weeks in this respect.
There has been important progress in
relation to third countries. The Commission held a major
seminar recently in Brussels with the representatives of
third countries to explain the BSE measures in place. The
opportunity was taken to reassure these countries that
these measures, which apply also to exports, are sufficient
to ensure that European beef and beef products are
I also took the opportunity of the
recent OIE conference in Paris to make the same point.
Gradually, the message is getting through and third country
restrictions are being relaxed.
Third countries are also adopting a far
more responsible approach towards BSE surveillance. The
candidate countries in particular are systematically
introducing much improved measures, including the use of
random tests. Several, including Slovenia, the Czech
Republic, Poland and Hungary now also test all healthy
cattle aged over 30 months or plan to do so.
The Food and Veterinary Office will also
commence an intensive series of inspections in the
candidate countries on their measures in relation to BSE in
recent months. I am asking for a particular focus on their
surveillance measures and on procedures for removal of
It is important that Member States show
solidarity with the candidate countries in the task of
improving their surveillance systems. The Commission, for
its part, is looking to the various support measures open
to candidate countries to be of assistance.
New scientific opinion
The Scientific Steering Committee
continues to give top priority to BSE related issues. A
number of important opinions have been issued in recent
weeks. In particular, the SSC considers that certain
adipose tissues should be considered as an SRM. A
distinction is made nonetheless where contamination can be
In practice, the Commission services are
of the view that the controls necessary for such a
distinction would be near impossible to implement
effectively. In the circumstances, it may be opportune to
come forward with a proposal to include all such tissues as
SRMs. The Commission is considering its options in this
respect but I would hope to come forward with a proposal
The SSC opinion on the safety of tallow
also provides valuable clarification on existing practices.
In essence, the committee is of the opinion that tallow
food and calf feed should always be sourced from
discrete adipose tissues from animals fit for human
consumption and the SRMs should be removed. For feed, the
committee recommends higher standards, including pressure
cooking if the raw materials are not sourced from discrete
The Commission will come forward with a
proposal to act on this opinion shortly.
Finally, the SSC is working on a number
of other important issues including stunning techniques
before slaughter and their relative risks; an evaluation of
new detection techniques for the presence of prions in
urine and epidemiology. I will of course keep you informed
Work is also continuing on the
evaluation of new and more sensitive tests for BSE. I spoke
at length on this subject at the Council in June and would
just like to recall that there are very exiting prospects
and developments in this area.
I need hardly remind you that it is all
our interests to have a coherent Community framework of
measures in place in relation to BSE. Huge progress has
been made in this respect and it is paying off in a
recovery in confidence in the safety of beef.
Nonetheless, some Member States continue
to apply national measures which in the Commissions view
are not compatible with the Community framework. I am
asking, once again, for the Member States concerned to lift
these measures and to comply with the Community
Thank you for your attention.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"