David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and
Consumer Protection - Latest developments in relation to
BSE - BSE-Debate - European Parliament, Brussels, 1st
I am pleased of the opportunity to
update Parliament on the most recent events in relation
to BSE. Many of you were present when I spoke to the
Agriculture Committee last week. Nonetheless, let me very
briefly summarise the main events of recent weeks:
- Important new measures came into
effect from 1 January. These included the ban on meat and
bone meal and the testing of all animals aged over 30
months destined for the food chain.
- The Commission wrote to all
Ministers for Agriculture on 4 January and asked for
replies to an extensive questionnaire on the
implementation of BSE related measures. A working
document, summarising the responses, was circulated to
the Agriculture Council on Monday;
- The opinion of the Scientific
Steering Committee on a number of BSE-related questions
from the Commission was published on 17 January.
This set the agenda for the
Agriculture Council on Monday. Following the usual very
lengthy discussions, Member States agreed on the
following main orientations:
- A ban on mechanically recovered
- The heat treatment of ruminant fats
for inclusion in animal feed;
- The removal of the vertebral column,
the backbone, from cattle.
All three of these orientations follow
directly from the previous discussions in the Council on
the measures necessary to restore consumer confidence.
They are also based on the opinion of the Scientific
I intend to present proposals within
the next several days on all of these issues to the
Standing Veterinary Committee. They will of course result
in further controls and potentially very significant
It is surely a matter of very great
regret that this determination to tackle BSE has taken so
long to emerge. Only seven months ago, the Commission
failed to obtain a qualified majority to ban brain and
spinal cord from food for human consumption and animal
feed. Equally, not all Member States implemented the ban
on the feeding of meat and bone meal to ruminants in a
I would like to return to the
proposals which the Commission will put to the Standing
Mechanically Recovered Meat
The Commission will shortly consider a
proposal to ban the use of mechanically recovered meat
from all bones of ruminants of all ages. There is a case
that material from bones other than the skull and
vertebral column, or from bones of young animals, is
safe. However, this involves important control problems.
In the circumstances, a total ban is necessary.
I might add that the use of
mechanically recovered meat is increasingly repugnant to
consumers. The processed meat industry has also called
for a ban. The proposed measure should, therefore, be
very welcome to both industry and consumers.
The Commission will propose that
ruminant fats to be included in animal feed should be
pressure cooked, in addition to the current requirement
that they be ultra-filtrated. The Commission will equally
act on the opinion that such ruminant fats should only be
sourced from discrete adipose tissues when fed as milk
replacers to calves.
We also need to reflect, however, if
these changes can be properly enforced. For example,
might there be control problems in distinguishing between
different fats? If so, is there a need for an outright
ban on the use of ruminant fats in ruminant feed? If so,
how do we ensure that the replacement fats are
One final point on the issue of
ruminant fats. It is surely incredulous to the public
that there should be higher standards relating to the use
of ruminant fats in animal feed than applies to their use
in food for human consumption. However, that is the
current situation. I intend to put this right.
The Commission intention is to require
removal of the vertebral column where there are doubts
over the effectiveness of the ban on meat and bone meal
or whenever it cannot be demonstrated that animals are
highly unlikely to be incubating BSE. This is in keeping
with the opinion of the Scientific Steering
Again, however, there are important
issues which need to be addressed. Where should the
vertebral column be removed? If it is done at the
abattoir, the most easily controlled location, there are
implications for the storage and transport of beef
carcasses. There are also risks of microbiological
handling due to the increased handling involved.
If, instead, removal is required at
the butcher or retail outlet, there will be control
problems in the recovery and destruction of the
Similarly, we need to be aware of the
impact on consumers. A strict implementation of the
scientific committee would require removal of vertebral
column in animals aged over 12 months, as is currently
the case in France. This will entail a ban on certain
cuts of meat which are very popular - T-bones and
bistecca fiorentina, for example.
Finally, which Member States should be
exempt from the requirement? Should, for example, Member
States like Austria, Sweden and Finland which continue to
be BSE-free be exempt? These are all issues which the
Commission is urgently considering and will address in
I hope that these observations serve
to highlight the very complex issues which arise from
what might appear, at first sight, to be a relatively
I am aware that the issue of controls
is of concern. In this respect, the replies of Ministers
to my letter of 4 January is re-assuring: all Member
States now insist that they are giving top priority to
the secure implementation of BSE related measures. The
Food and Veterinary Office will continue its programme of
inspections in this regard.
As a further incentive to improve
compliance, I am considering a proposal in the very near
future to require Member States to present monthly
reports on their implementation of BSE control measures.
The UK and Portugal are already required to provide such
a report under the restriction measures on their exports
of beef. I believe it has been invaluable in ensuring
that controls are actively implemented. It should,
therefore, be replicated at the Community level.
Thank you for your attention.
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"