Brussels, 6 April 2001
asked questions about BSE
What is the current state of play on
BSE in the EU?
The overall incidence of BSE in the
European Union is falling, led by the improvement in the
situation in the UK where over 99% of all cases to date
have been registered. However, the incidence is rising in
some Member States, notably due to the introduction of more
systematic testing on a compulsory basis as of 1 January
There is an extensive range of Community
measures in place to protect the public against the risks
from BSE. Member States must ensure full implementation of
all Community measures relating to BSE. They must also
improve their communication efforts to the public on BSE
and on the protective measures in place. If these measures
are strictly implemented, consumers can have confidence in
the safety of beef.
Key European Commission food safety
proposals currently before the Council and European
Parliament aim to further strengthen food safety
legislation in general for example the proposal for a
general food law and establishing a European Food
Authority, as well as legislation to manage the risk of
BSE, such as the proposal for a Regulation on Animal
by-Products, and the proposal for a Regulation on
Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies.
BSE and vCJD
What is the origin of BSE and what is its incidence in
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
is a disease of the brain in cattle. It was first diagnosed
in the UK in 1986. It reached epidemic proportions due to
the inclusion in cattle feed of meat and bone meal produced
from animal carcasses. Up to 28 February 2001, there have
been 180,903 cases in the UK and 1,924 cases elsewhere in
the European Union. While the incidence of BSE has been
decreasing in the UK, it is actually rising in a number of
other Member States as a result of the introduction of more
systematic testing for BSE. Nonetheless the total number of
BSE cases remains extremely low in other Member States in
comparison with the UK.
What about its human equivalent - vCJD?
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD)
was first diagnosed in 1996. It is now generally assumed to
be caused by the transmission of BSE to humans. There are
99 confirmed or suspected cases in the EU to date, mostly
in young people. All cases have occurred in the UK with the
exception of France (3) and Ireland (1)).
Estimates of the future number of vCJD
cases vary widely as too little is known about the
incubation period between exposure to the infective agent
and the emergence of symptoms. However, it is clear that
future cases will be overwhelmingly due to past exposure to
infective material before the strengthening of controls in
What is the incidence of BSE by Member State?
Currently, the overall BSE incidence in
the Community is falling, mainly as a result of the decline
in BSE cases as observed in the UK. In Great Britain the
incidence has fallen sharply from over 36.000 cases in 1992
at the peak of the epidemic to 1348 in 2000. The BSE
incidence trend is stable in Portugal, where 159 cases were
recorded in 1999 compared to 150 cases in 2000.
The number of detected BSE cases has on
the other hand shown an increase in other Member States,
such as France (31 cases in 1999, 162 in 2000) and in
Ireland (95 cases in 1999, 149 in 2000) as a result of
reinforced surveillance programmes. The introduction of
active surveillance in Germany, Spain and Italy in December
2000 also led to the discovery of the first ever 'native'
BSE cases in those Member States.
What are the results of the new testing programmes
since 1 January 2001?
In addition to the compulsory
examination of all animals showing signs suggestive of BSE,
rapid post mortem testing for BSE must, as of 1 January
2001, be carried out on:
- all cattle over 30 months of age
slaughtered as emergencies or showing signs of any kind of
illness at the ante mortem inspection in the
- a random sample of cattle that have
died on the farm;
- healthy animals over 30 months
destined for human consumption (with the exception of
Austria, Sweden and Finland, where a scientific assessment
shows that the risk of BSE is lower).
As expected, this more systematic
testing has resulted in an increase in the number of
detected BSE cases in most Member States but it is notable
that most cases - 85% - are still detected through
surveillance of suspect or at risk animals. A table showing
the results is enclosed. These results are still
preliminary, but they confirm the Commission's initial
hypothesis that systematic testing would reveal more BSE
cases than passive surveillance alone, and that the
likelihood to find positive cases is greater when examining
specific target populations, such as dead-on-farm animals
and casualty slaughters. A more in-depth analysis can be
made when more results become available.
When will the testing of all bovine animals over 30
months become obligatory throughout the EU ?
At present, all bovines aged over 30
months destined for human consumption are tested. By 1 June
2001, the Commission is due to submit a proposal to the
Standing Veterinary Committee with a view, if appropriate,
to modify the present BSE testing program. This proposal
will take into account the results of the testing obtained
from compulsory testing.
What is the expected future evolution of the
Up until the middle of 2000, the
majority of BSE cases detected were found by means of
traditional passive surveillance, i.e. through the
examination and mandatory reporting of animals suspected of
showing signs or clinical symptoms of BSE. Since rapid post
mortem testing started, it has become evident that
additional cases can be picked up by testing. Thus animals
with non-typical signs, such as kicking, lameness, loss of
weight and reduced milk yield will not escape detection.
Such conditions are so common that it would not be
practicable to treat all those animals as BSE suspects. BSE
cases have also been found in slaughtered animals without
any previous signs of illness.
For the above reasons it was expected
that systematic rapid test monitoring would increase the
number of detected BSE cases and the early results confirm
this assumption. To date, such testing has accounted for
15% of BSE cases.
On the other hand, the age structure of
the positive BSE cases is shifting towards older animals in
those Member States, where BSE has been reported in
previous years. This is a positive signal as it shows that
the measures taken from 1996 onwards are having some
Since the average incubation period of
BSE is 4-5 years, the effect of the newly introduced
measures over the past months will only be seen in
Community measures to tackle BSE
What has the EU done to protect the public?
The European Commission has put in place
a comprehensive set of Community measures in relation to
- a ban on the feeding of mammalian meat
and bone meal (MBM) to cattle, sheep and goats, as of July
- higher processing standards for the
treatment of animal waste (133 degrees, 3 bars of pressure
for twenty minutes) to reduce infectivity to a minimum, as
of 1 April 1997;
- surveillance measures for the
detection, control and eradication of BSE, as of 1 May
- the requirement to remove specified
risk materials (SRMs like spinal cord, brain, eyes,
tonsils, parts of the intestines) from cattle, sheep and
goats throughout the EU from 1 October 2000 from the human
and animal food chains. The obligation is also mandatory
for imports of meat and meat products from third countries
into the EU except Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Brazil,
Chile, Namibia, Nicaragua, Norway, New Zealand, Paraguay,
Singapore, Swaziland and Uruguay since 1 April 2001;
- the introduction of targeted testing
for BSE, with a focus on high risk animal categories, from
1 January 2001;
- the prohibition to use dead animals
not fit for human consumption in feed production from 1
March 2001 onwards.
In response to the crisis in consumer
confidence that followed the introduction of the rapid BSE
tests, and the confirmation of the first native cases in
countries that had not yet detected BSE cases until then,
and following more recent scientific advice, the Commission
has taken a series of additional measures:
- a ban on the use of ruminant meat and
bone meal and certain other animal proteins in feedstuffs
for all farm animals, to avoid risks of
cross-contamination, at least until end of June
- the testing of all cattle aged over 30
months destined for human consumption;
- the extension of the list of specified
risk materials to include the entire intestine of bovines
and the vertebral column;
- a ban on the use of mechanically
recovered meat derived from bones of cattle, sheep and
goats in feed and food.
A proposal to tighten-up treatment
standards for ruminant fats is expected after the relevant
scientific advice will have been updated.
All Community measures are based on the
opinions of the independent scientific committees advising
the European Commission. New scientific evidence is
regularly reviewed by the EU Scientific Steering Committee
and other specialised scientific committees.
What does the Commission do to check the
implementation of BSE measures by the Member States?
The Commission's Food and Veterinary
Office carries out inspections to verify the correct
implementation, enforcement and controls of Community
legislation by the competent national authorities Its
inspection reports are published on the Commission's
website at :
The FVO inspections have been stepped up
and particular attention is given to a correct
implementation of the feed ban and the recently adopted
measures on SRMs and testing.
What other measures are proposed to protect the public
In addition to the measures outlined
above, a number of other important Commission proposals are
currently under examination for adoption by the Council of
Ministers and the European Parliament:
- A proposal for a Regulation on the
prevention, eradication and control of Transmissible
Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs).
- A proposal for a Regulation on Animal
By-products which will ensure that only material from
animals fit for human consumption can be used in animal
- A proposal for a general food law and
establishing a European Food Safety Authority.
The European Commission has in the White
Paper on Food Safety (see IP/00/20) set out a comprehensive
range of proposals aimed at ensuring that food is safe from
the farm to the table.
What is being done to tackle the risk
of BSE cases entering the food chain?
- All bovine animals over 30 months of
age entering the food chain must be tested for BSE and the
carcass may not be released before a negative test results
has been obtained. Austria, Finland and Sweden may derogate
from the requirement to test healthy cattle pursuant to a
scientific assessment showing that the BSE risk in those
Member States is lower.
- Specified risk materials (SRMs) are
removed at slaughter from all cattle aged over 12 months
and destroyed. This reduces the level of potential exposure
from animals which might be in the early stages of the
disease to an extremely low level.
BSE testing - Cumulative table from January - February
Suspects: Cattle which are identified as
suspect case through passive surveillance.
Risk Animals : Cattle which die on a
farm, are slaughtered in an emergency or are sent for
normal slaughter but are found sick in the pre-slaughter
Healthy Animals : Cattle sent for normal
BSE Eradication : Cattle which are
killed because they are epidemiologically linked to a BSE
case (birth cohorts, rearing cohorts, feed cohorts,
offspring and animals from herds with BSE) in their
Released on 09/04/2001
FOOD SAFETY |
PUBLIC HEALTH |
GENERAL "HEALTH & CONSUMER PROTECTION"