Brussels, 2 April 2001
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
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
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
Are third countries aware of the implications of this
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
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
What are the different risk categories?
The SSC has identified four categories,
Level I BSE highly unlikely
Level II BSE unlikely but not
Level III BSE likely but not confirmed,
or confirmed at a lower level
Level IV BSE confirmed at a higher
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
Are there any comparable international risk
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
Released on 02/04/2001
FOOD SAFETY |
PUBLIC HEALTH |
GENERAL "HEALTH & CONSUMER PROTECTION"