European Commissioner for Health and
developments in relation to BSE
Agricultural Committee of the European
Brussels, 23 January 2001
Mr Chairman, Members of
I am very pleased of the opportunity to
discuss latest developments in relation to BSE with
Parliament. This is the fourth occasion in a matter of only
two months on which I have had such an opportunity. The
Commissions approach towards the crisis continues to be
strongly determined by your views and I will ensure that
this remains the case.
Clearly, recent events are cause for
great concern. The recent resignation in Germany of the
Ministers for Health and for Agriculture is the latest
example of the gravity of the situation. The situation on
the markets, on which Franz Fischler has just spoken, is
also extremely serious.
You will recall from my last meeting
before this Committee before Christmas that a number of
important new measures were to come into effect on 1
January at the Commissions initiative. I am speaking in
particular of the ban on meat and bone meal and the testing
of all cattle aged over 30 months.
These are very far reaching decisions
which place huge cost and administrative burdens on the
Member States. However, they are the very minimum necessary
to begin the process of re-building consumer confidence in
the safety of beef. There is a consensus in this respect in
all three Community institutions.
I took the precaution of writing to all
Member States on 4 January requesting confirmation of their
strict implementation of the full range of Community
measures on BSE, including these new measures. Normally,
the Commission would allow Member States some time to get
on with the implementation of such measures. However, we do
not have this luxury in the present circumstances.
A comprehensive questionnaire was also
issued to Member States on their implementation of
Community measures. The replies to this questionnaire are
being discussed, as we speak, in the Standing Veterinary
Committee. They will also be discussed at the meeting of
the Chief Veterinary Officers which is taking place in
Sweden this week.
My intention is to identify any
weaknesses in the implementation of these measures so that
they can be immediately addressed. A clear lesson from the
past is that there must be no complacency. Community
measures, of their own, are not sufficient to eradicate
BSE. They must be strictly implemented.
A number of other developments will also
influence events. The introduction of testing for BSE from
1 January of all animals aged over 30 months will provide a
fuller picture of the true extent and distribution of the
These tests have already confirmed in a
matter of weeks that several Member States were dangerously
complacent in their past insistence that they were
BSE-free. It is especially disturbing that BSE is being
detected in animals aged under 30 months.
Clearly it points to the exposure of the
animals concerned to BSE, almost certainly through
contaminated meat and bone meal. Given that there is a
Community measure in place, since 1994, which bans the
feeding of mammalian meat and bone meat to ruminants this
should not have happened. Serious questions need to be
answered in this respect.
The discovery of BSE in such young
animals also raises the question of whether the age limit
for testing for BSE should be reduced from the current
requirement of 30 months. While it remains the case that
cases of BSE are overwhelmingly in older animals (over 99%
of cases are over 30 months) we must aim to ensure that as
few infected animals as possible enter the food chain. It
is certainly necessary in Member States where there are
weaknesses in the past implementation of the ban on meat
and bone meal.
Clearly, the results of tests over the
next few weeks will be crucial in revealing the extent of
BSE. You will have noted, for example, that the German
authorities now predict that there could be up to 500 cases
this year. I hope that this will prove to be a
In addition, the Scientific Steering
Committee has continued its evaluation of the range of
national measures introduced to tackle the disease. At its
meeting on 12 January, it adopted an opinion on a range of
BSE issues which have important implications. In
particular, its opinion will require a review of the
current measures relating to mechanically recovered meat,
specified risk materials and the use in animalfeeds of
The Commission, in its risk management
role, will have to respond to this opinion in a manner
which is both responsible and proportionate. In the present
circumstances, this is not an easy task. I am urgently
reviewing our options in this respect.
My preliminary view is that the case for
further measures in relation to mechanically recovered meat
is very strong. I recall from my most recent appearance
before the Environment Committee that this is a view also
held by some Members of Parliament. Similarly, the views of
the SSC that further safeguards are appropriate in relation
to the use of animal fats in animalfeed must be taken very
The opinion in relation to the use of
vertebral column is more problematic. There is a clear
orientation from the SSC, for example, that vertebral
column should be considered as a risk material where there
are question marks over the effectiveness of the ban on
meat and bone meal.
The performance of Member States in
applying this ban varies very considerably. Where there is
evidence that the ban was not effective, clearly the case
for a ban on vertebral column is compelling. I am
determined to come forward with a proposal within the next
week which will aim for a very high level of protection
from the associated risk.
The views of Parliament today and of the
Agriculture Council next Monday will clearly be decisive in
deciding the appropriate response. I look forward to your
views, therefore, in this respect.
This is just a very brief outline of the
situation as it concerns my direct responsibilities.
However, we are all affected, directly or indirectly by the
crisis. Franz, in particular, will be aware of the renewed
calls for reform of the CAP.
At the Commissions initiative, there
will be a discussion in the Agriculture Council on 29
January on the current situation focusing on the issues I
have outlined above. The Commission, for its part, will
continue to insist that there should full compliance with
the Community measures in place. I remain of the view that
the current crisis has its origins not in a lack of
measures but in their poor implementation.
Clearly, it will be a slow and difficult
process to re-establish consumer confidence in the safety
of beef and beef products. The reality is that confidence
has been so badly damaged that we have no option but to
pursue a highly precautionary approach. It is, of course,
highly regrettable that we have arrived at such a
But, consumers feel left down. They were
told again and again that beef was safe, that all the
necessary measures to prevent the transmission of BSE were
being taken and that they had nothing to fear. Too often,
these re-assurances were wrong and are now revealed as
The Commission, for its part, has always
insisted that Community measures, of their own, are not
sufficient to eradicate BSE. They must be strictly
implemented. I will not claim any special credit for such
an elementary conclusion. Instead, it was a hard lesson
that the Commission learned from its own past mistakes in
the handling of BSE and from Parliaments hard-hitting
report on these mistakes.
Needless to say, I will keep you all
fully informed of developments.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"