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Health and Consumer Protection

Speeches Commissioner Byrne

Speaking note by Commissioner David Byrne to the European Parliament Plenary Meeting, 2-3 May 2001 - Recommendation for second reading on the common position adopted by the Council with a view to adopting a European Parliament and Council Regulation laying down the rules for the prevention and control of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies

[Madam] President, Ladies and Gentleman, members of the European Parliament, tonight could signal the end to two years of hard negotiations between the Parliament, Council and Commission on the legal framework to combat transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

This is the first major piece of legislation to be adopted following the introduction of co-decision in relation to veterinary matters impacting on public health in the Maastricht Treaty. It is both ironic and appropriate that it relates to BSE as it was the BSE crisis which led to the introduction of co-decision in this area of Community activity.

I would like to pay particular thanks to Mme Roth-Behrendt, the Rapporteur, for her tireless work over the years in pursuing a coherent Community approach to the control of TSEs. A great many of the key provisions of the regulation under discussion result, directly and indirectly, from her personal commitment to putting in place a very strong framework to protect our citizens from the threat from TSEs. This is an objective I fully share.

When we started our work on this proposal in late 1998, the majority of Member States considered themselves free of BSE. This was still the case in May 2000, when the initial opinion of Parliament, largely endorsed by the Commission, was adopted. The ensuing negotiations with Council remained blocked as Council could not agree on the proposed central role of a scientific assessment for the BSE classification of countries.

However, after the adoption of new emergency measures for the Community-wide removal of specified risk material and the introduction of rapid tests for BSE, a compromise on the legal framework came within reach. The provision for such a large-scale screening allowed Council to agree to classification by the Commission on the basis of the Scientific Steering Committee opinion provided it was verified by that screening.

In the first reading, Parliament proposed verification of the scientific risk assessment by statistically valid large-scale screening. In its amended proposal, the Commission proposed large-scale screening as a transitional measure for the change-over from the current uniform SRM rules to the classification-based rules of the Regulation. These two elements allowed the Council to come to a political agreement on its Common Position in December 2000.

Apart from leading to the Council Common position, the start of large-scale screening at the end of 2000 had yet another effect. Within days Germany detected BSE cases amongst "healthy slaughter animals". Around the same time Spain and Italy detected their first cases, and the number of BSE cases detected in France also rose steadily. Consumer confidence dropped to a record low. Faced with this crisis, the positions of Council, Parliament and Commission drew closer.

Aware of the urgency of the matter and the need for a proper legal framework, in particular in relation to BSE eradication and import from third countries, an informal trilogue took place prior to the Council adopting its Common position. During this trilogue a very solid basis for agreement between the three institutions emerged. These were hard, but very constructive negotiations, proving that the three institutions can work together very constructively on key issues of public health.

The Council agreed to additional demands from Parliament increasing the number of tested animals. The Commission committed itself to introduce all new measures adopted under safeguard procedures after the Common Position into the Regulation. The Commission also committed itself to take without delay all necessary initiatives under Comitology after entry into force of the Regulation.

Consequently, the Common Position of Council was adopted by unanimity and endorsed by the Commission. This compares with the very sharp differences in approach in the past on BSE related issues.

I would finally like to remind Parliament of its Resolution of 16 November 2000 on BSE and the ban on animal proteins in animal feed. In this Resolution, Parliament asked for several protection measures. These included a temporary suspension of the use meat and bone meal, increased testing in all Member States, and rules for the control of scrapie. The TSE Regulation in its current form provides the framework, and in many cases the detailed rules, for these measures.

Further amendments at second reading would however delay formal action upon this Resolution.

I trust that this House agrees with me on the need for the proper legal base to be operational without delay. The debates we have had in the Parliament on this subject since last November make this only too evident. It is vital, therefore, that this regulation enters into force as soon as possible. The Commission is, therefore, prepared to consider only amendments which would substantially improve the text or correct important weaknesses. Neither of two proposed amendments fall into these categories.

I cannot accept amendment 1, for reasons of substance also. This amendment, which had already been rejected in Committee during first reading, proposes the right for BSE free Member States to take unilateral action, at their own discretion, against the import of any live animal. This is against the principles of laying down Community rules. It is also superfluous as one of the main objectives of the Regulation is harmonised rules for the marketing of animals in view of BSE status.

Nor can I accept amendment 2 as it makes the establishment of an epidemiological picture of all Member States more difficult. This does not, however, prejudge future initiatives from the Commission on the basis of this Regulation, in the light of the experience gained particularly on the age structure of the cases detected by the current screening.

Over 1.3 million tests were carried out on healthy animals aged over 30 months in the first three months of this year. These are in addition to the tests on fallen animals and at risk animals etc. We are rapidly acquiring a hugely improved picture of the true incidence of BSE in the Community. If I see any reason, in the light of this evidence, to reduce the current age of testing, I will not hesitate to make the necessary proposals. I might also add, in this respect, that research continues on more sensitive tests than are currently available.

In conclusion. We are now very close to putting in place the proper legislative framework for the control of TSEs. It has taken much time, and effort, but the text of the Common Position, following considerable input from all three institutions, provides a coherent set of rules and procedures for the future.

Thank you for your attention.


Speeches Commissioner Byrne



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