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Page last update: 25/12/2008

EU investigates easing BSE-related feed ban

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as 'mad cow disease', has been the target of European research for many years, especially as the disease has succeeded in wreaking havoc on the lives of farmers and consumers alike. Seeking to get a strong handle on the situation, the EU banned the use of animal proteins in farm feed in 2000 because of heightened public concern over BSE. Seven years have since passed and the EU is now mulling over plans to ease this ban. A EUR 1.7 million research study will determine whether using pig and chicken meal which would still be safe for humans, could be used.

According to the EU's advisory European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), new tests set up to confirm protein varieties contained in feed should effectively allow pig meal to be included in feed for chickens and vice versa. Members of the committee are now calling on the EU to step up the ongoing studies indicating that meal from non-ruminants can be used safely, and thus ensure the well-being of humans. The EESC is made up of representatives of employers' groups, trade unions and consumer organisations.

Philip Tod, spokesman for the EC, told a recent news conference that despite the research into easing the ban, the 'ban on cannibalism' will still be maintained. This means that pigs, for example, will be allowed to eat chicken meal, but not pig meal. Tod noted that the top priority is to maintain public health and food safety. 'We will not compromise on that,' he said. 'Our research is based upon risk-based scientific evaluation.'

A Belgium-based laboratory specialising in animal proteins is heading the EU-funded project and is working with other European labs.

Meanwhile, the EESC was quoted as saying, 'The way in which proteins are identified, and the methods used to trace the meat meal in which they are found, must give consumers a cast-iron guarantee that pigs are fed on meat meal obtained exclusively from the by-products of poultry, and that poultry is fed on meat meal obtained exclusively from the by-products of pigs.'

Easing the ban would bring about changes in the costs of alternate feed and of the disposal of animal carcasses, as the ban has burned bigger holes in the pockets of consumers, said the EESC in a report.

Many consumers, however, are adamant that the ban not be lifted, particularly because they clearly remember the devastating effects that BSE wrought on peoples' lives. In the UK, for instance, BSE spread when cattle were fed infected cattle remains. With respect to the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), people are dealt a hard blow as it is a degenerative neurological disease that can be neither treated nor cured.

For further information:
EESC
EU food biosafety

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top