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Food Safety

Health - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)

Commission submits second BSE follow-up report

The number of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) cases in the European Union (EU) has further declined. In 1998 (January to October), it came down to 1 567 reported cases. Last year, 4 454 new cases had been reported, compared to 37 301 new cases at the peak of the BSE disease in 1992. However, more than a doubling of the registered cases in Portugal from 30 in 1997 to 66 new cases in 1998 give strong reasons for concern. This is one of the statements of the European Commission´s second BSE follow-up report to the European Parliament on the implementation of its work programme on BSE, which the Commission adopted today. It also highlights the efforts that were taken between May 98 and October 98 in order to combat BSE, to protect public health and to regain consumer confidence in food safety.

To date, 175 772 BSE cases were reported in the EU since the disease broke out, of which 99,7 % occurred in the United Kingdom (UK). "Although the numbers of BSE cases are declining especially in Great Britain, we have to remain vigilant and alert in our fight to combat BSE and our objective to protect consumers´ health" said Emma Bonino, Commissioner in charge of Consumer Policy and Health Protection. Franz Fischler, Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development, stressed that complete and effective implementation of all BSE-related legislation by Member States is crucial to eradicate BSE.

Last November, the Commission had committed itself in front of the Parliament to a work programme on BSE and promised bi-anual follow-up reports on its implementation. Since then, progress has been made in implementing EU legislation, which was adopted to prevent the spreading of BSE, in particular the feed ban and the standards for treatment of meat-and-bone meal.

Concerns do, however, remain where Member States have been slow in implementing EU concerning the control of BSE.

Despite all the Commission´s efforts, the Council has not agreed to a common approach to removing specified risk material from the food and feed chain. As a consequence, recommendations issued by the scientific committees have not been properly taken into consideration. In this area, risk prevention on an EU base remains inadequate, states the second follow-up report.

Other important findings of the report are the following :

Scientific aspects : Since the reorganisation of the scientific committees one year ago, 18 BSE-related opinions were adopted. They often served as a basis for EU legislation. Concerning post-mortem BSE tests, a public call for expression of interest to participate in an evaluation exercice was launched in May. Ten test developers submitted full applications, four tests were invited to participate. The evaluation is carried out by the Joint Research Center in Geel (Belgium). It is scheduled to be completed in spring 1999.

The results will be passed to the scientific committees for opinion. A validated post-mortem BSE-test is seen as a potential alternative to the removal of specified risk material such as skulls and spinal cords.

Inspection, control and infringement procedures: Mission reports of the Commission´s inspection service are publicly available on the internet since summer 1998. An emergency mission to Portugal in autumn 1998, following the sharp increase in the BSE incidence in this country, concluded that there is a serious risk of recycling the BSE-agent in Portugal; therefore the Commission has decided to propose an embargo on live animals and a suspension for nine months of exports of meat and meat products. A mission to the UK regarding the supervision of meat plants in June 1998 revealed some weaknesses in the system of traceability of meat and hygiene problems in the plants visited. In the contrary, a mission to the UK assessing the feasibility of the date-based export scheme in July 1998 was quite satisfactory. For the moment, infringement procedures against 13 Member States are under way. Most of them still concern insufficient heat and pressure treatment of meat and bone meal which is necessary in order to inactivate the BSE agent. A third round of inspections in the Member States finally showed a certain improvement of the situation.

UK beef ban : On 1st June 1998, exports of beef from Northern Ireland started under the export certified herd scheme. One slaughterhouse and one meat plant are approved for export to the EU. As far as the lifting of the UK beef embargo under the date based export scheme is concerned, a modified draft proposal is intended to be voted in the Agricultural Council in November.

Fraud : With regard to the illegal traffic in British beef discovered in the Netherlands in 1997, the Dutch magistrate has transmitted the first part of the Dutch judicial file to the Belgian examining judge. The judicial authorities in Belgium dealing with the investigations against the Belgian companies arrested three people, but released two of them after interrogation. The enquiries in France are ongoing. Belgian and Dutch authorities are also investigating a consignment of 50 tons of beef discovered in a Belgian coldstore in July 1998. The German judicial authorities which carried out proceedings against three German exporters closed the case due to unsufficient proof.

Legislative consequences : The Commission presented a proposal concerning a long term surveillance system of TSE, based on article 100 A. Its main objective is to create the legal base for the control and prevention of all animal Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). It will represent a large range of measures addressing all human and animal health aspects of food and feed production relating to risks of exposure to all TSEs. In addition, the Commission intends to strengthen the legislation concerning routing controls of products of animals origin in the Member States. A draft Commission directive establishing guidelines for the microscopic identification and estimation of constituents of feedingstuffs is in progress.

New form of Creutzfeld-Jacob : 30 people died from the new variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (29 in the UK, 1 in France). ECU 30 000 were given to the Human BSE Foundation in the UK to help victims of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. The EU network for the surveillance and control of communicable diseases will enter in January 1999, . The Parliament´s and the Commission´s joint conference on food safety lessons to be learned from the BSE crisis, which is scheduled for 30 November/1 December 1998, will provide an opportunity to take stock of past progress and future challenges from a variety of angles. Furthermore, the Commission will push ahead the work on its response to the debate on the Green Paper on the General Principles of Food Law in theEU.

Released on 19/11/98

- Second bi-annual BSE follow-up report

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