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Food Safety

BSE

Brussels, 2 April 2001

BSE: Situation in Third Countries - Questions and Answers

What is the current position in relation to the risk from BSE in beef and beef products imported from third countries?

No native cases of BSE have been detected in countries outside the EU except Switzerland. However, the Scientific Steering Committee has identified potential risks in the light of factors such as past imports of live bovines and meat and bone meal from the United Kingdom and other BSE affected countries, the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to ruminants, animal by-product rendering practices, BSE surveillance and education measures etc.. The Commission has accordingly decided that European consumers should be afforded a level of protection in relation to imports equivalent to the level demanded of EU sourced products.

Why is the EU applying restrictions to imports from third countries?

The restrictions are necessary in the light of the identification by the WHO/FAO which is supported by the Commission’s Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) of the possibility of the existence of BSE in certain third countries. This in turn calls for measures to ensure that there is an equivalent level of protection in relation to imports of meat and meat products as applies to EU-sourced product. At present, there is a requirement to remove and destroy SRMs in all Member States, included those where the existence of BSE is considered to be unlikely by the SSC.

What are the public health implications of this proposal?

The proposal provides a further layer of security in relation to BSE. Currently, there are no Community measures to prohibit imports of specified risk materials (SRMs) or meat products containing SRMs from third countries. From 1 April 2001 such imports will be banned with the exception of those countries where the existence of BSE is considered to be highly unlikelyby the Scientific Steering Committee.

Is the proposal protectionist?

No, it is proportionate and non-discriminatory. The risk status of third countries has been assessed in the same manner by the Scientific Steering Committee as for Member States of the EU. This risk status is the sole determining factor in deciding the level of protection required in relation to SRMs. The existence of BSE in ten third countries has been considered to be highly unlikely and they are therefore exempted from any restrictions. No Member State of the EU is similarly classified. The Commission Decision to remove SRMs was first notified to the WTO in July 1997 and several comments received, but the legislation never entered into force for various reasons. The Decision which was taken in June 2000 was also notified, and. no comments from third countries were received. However, in line with the EU´s commitment to keep evolving science under permanent review, any future new evidence will always be evaluated.

Are complaints expected from third countries?

Clearly, new regulatory requirements involve costs. However, in the light of the careful risk assessment carried out by the SSC in a very transparent manner and based on information provided by the competent authorities of the concerned countries, and in view of the proportionate and non-discriminatory nature of the measure, complaints, if any, are not sustainable. Moreover, the legislation does provide for an exemption for third countries that fall within category I (presence of BSE unlikely) of the SSC’s geographical risk assessment.

What are the trade implications?

. Trade in carcass beef will not be interrupted as there is provision for the removal of vertebral column (a SRM) in the EU rather than in the third country before export. Third countries will, however, have to ensure that the slaughter techniques of animals do not include techniques prohibited in the EU. However, most trade in beef is in deboned form and therefore is unaffected.

Are third countries aware of the implications of this decision?

Commission decision 418/2000, which provides for the ban on SRMs in imports from third countries, was agreed in June 2000. The decision was notified to the WTO in accordance with the normal practice but no comments were received from the EU’s trade partners. The Commission also invited third countries authorised to export the concerned products to the EU to submit dossiers on their epidemiological status concerning BSE in 1998. There have also been numerous contacts with third countries alerting them to the Community position on BSE, including the implications for imports.

How was this risk assessment arrived at by the Commission?

At the Commission’s initiative, the Scientific Steering Committee has carried out a geographical risk assessment of the situation with respect to BSE in Member States and third countries. The methodology for this assessment was developed over a period of more than 2 years and published the first time on the Internet in December 1998. This assessment was based on dossiers submitted by the countries concerned in response to a Commission recommendation in 1998 setting out the information required for such an assessment. The information concerned in particular imports of bovines and meat and bone meal from the United Kingdom and other BSE-affected countries, rendering standards for animal by-products, use of SRMs, feeding of MBM to ruminants etc.

What are the different risk categories?

The SSC has identified four categories, as follows:

Level I BSE highly unlikely

Level II BSE unlikely but not excluded

Level III BSE likely but not confirmed, or confirmed at a lower level

Level IV BSE confirmed at a higher level

What difference does it make for a third country to be in one or other categories?

The present Decision only differentiates between two groups – those in which the presence of BSE is unlikely (Category 1), and which therefore can have a derogation from the need to certify freedom from SRMs, and the other groups where BSE is either present or cannot be ruled out. The same criteria have been applied to EU Member States, all of which fall into categories 2 to 4 and all of which are obliged to remove SRMs.

Is the geographical risk status of a country an indicator of the safety of beef?

No. All beef on the market, irrespective of the geographical risk assessment of the country of production, must be safe. This requires a range of protective measures, notably the removal of SRMs and active surveillance measures to prevent any cases of BSE from entering into the food chain. These measures may, in certain instances, be more stringent depending on the risk status of the country concerned. Countries in category I, for example, are not required to remove SRMs whereas they must be removed in the case of all other risk categories.

Are there any comparable international risk classifications?

The International Office of Epizootics (OIE) has been working on BSE classification for some time and has identified five categories with very close parallels to the system devised by the SSC. However, the OIE is not expected to categorise individual countries for some considerable time. In the circumstances, the Commission has proceeded with its own identification based on scientific risk assessment principles developed by the SSC. The Commission intends to adapt its system to the OIE system when the current proposal for a regulation on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) is agreed by the Council and the European Parliament.

Should consumers in third countries have reason to fear for the safety of their beef?

It is not the Commission’s role to advise on the safety of beef in third countries. While native cases of BSE have not been found outside the EU except Switzerland, the risk assessment carried out by the SSC should be of considerable interest to the public health authorities in third countries in devising their own strategies in relation to BSE. Many third countries have already, for example, implemented measures applied in the EU such as bans on the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to ruminants, testing of bovines for BSE, improved surveillance and education measures on BSE etc. It has to be noted that beef as such has not been found to transmit the disease. The critical tissues are the so-called SRM and in particular the brain and the spinal cord of older animals.

Released on 02/04/2001

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FOOD SAFETY | PUBLIC HEALTH | CONSUMER PROTECTION | DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH & CONSUMER PROTECTION"

 
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