Food Law News - EU - 2000

Commission Press Release (IP/00/689 ), 30 June 2000

BSE: Commission adopts Decision to remove specified BSE risk materials from the feed and food chain

The Commission has adopted a Decision requiring all Member States to remove animal tissues which could present a BSE risk from the feed and food chain as of October 1st. The final adoption of this key consumer health protection measure was made possible after a major breakthrough in the 19 June Agriculture Council where a majority of the Member States supported the measures. From October onwards all slaughterhouses, meat cutting and animal waste processing plants throughout the EU will have to work according to the new harmonized rules. Meat imports from third countries will be subject to similar requirements as of 1 April 2001, unless scientific assessment indicates such measures are not necessary.

"This Decision and the new requirements on BSE monitoring and testing are delivering the highest possible health protection standards to European citizens. The benefits in terms of food safety and public health in the longer run far outweigh the short-term economic cost. The necessary adaptations in the working practices in slaughterhouses to remove basic specific risk materials are already in place in several Member States," said Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne. "My next aim is to see the essentials of this safeguard measure incorporated into the proposed Council and European Parliament Regulation for the prevention and control of certain transmissible encephalopathies this autumn. We also have to establish the situation for each individual third country wanting to import meat into the EU ensuring that the measures are based on solid scientific assessment, consistent and proportional to the BSE risk."

The Decision requires slaughterhouses and authorized meat cutting and animal waste processing plants in all Member States to discard the tissues most likely to present a BSE risk:

In the UK and Portugal slaughterhouses and authorized meat cutting and animal waste processing plants are, given their higher BSE risk, in addition required to remove: The Decision also prohibits the use of certain slaughtering techniques which entail a risk of contamination of animal blood by the release of BSE infected tissue into the bloodstream as of 31 December 2000.

Third Countries

Third countries are invited, insofar as they have not already done so, to submit a dossier in accordance with Recommendation 98/477/EC allowing the Commission to evaluate the geographical BSE risk in their territory. Unless convincing evidence of a negligible or absent BSE risk is provided, the same SRM removal rules will apply to imports from third countries as of 31 March 2001.

Scientific background

The measures reflect the key recommendations of the Commission's Scientific Steering Committee on the need to remove specified risk materials (SRM's) in all EU countries. The exclusion of SRM's and fallen stock from the feed chain would reduce the risks of propagating the BSE agent amongst cattle, and their exclusion from the human food chain would reduce possible BSE-risk for the consumer. The discovery of a first BSE case in Denmark in March this year further emphasised the need for all Member States to take appropriate measures to eliminate the risk of transmission of BSE.

Disposal of discarded tissue

After removal all risk materials are to be stained with a dye and completely destroyed. They can either be incinerated immediately, or first processed in a rendering plant and subsequently incinerated or buried in approved landfill sites. Given the potential shortage of incineration capacity shipment to other Member States for incineration is allowed.

Practical implications at slaughter

Technical practicalities of SRM removal at slaughter are according to experts easily surmountable. The main practical problems involve the removal of spinal cord from sheep over 12 months at slaughter. This can be more easily done in cutting plants. Spleens of sheep and goats can easily be identified, detached and discarded. Spinal cord is usually trimmed off and can with some extra effort be removed completely. SRM removal will however create additional work and require changes in the infrastructure and logistics of slaughterhouses. SRM need to be removed in a confined area and kept separate from other animal waste.

Legislative process

The current Decision will be subject to review in the light of new scientific evidence and in function of progress made in controlling and preventing BSE infectivity through risk management measures.

This Decision replaces a previous Commission Decision 97/534/EC on the use of risk BSE materials agreed by the Council in July 1997. The entry into force of the Decision stemming from 1997 at Community level has been delayed four times on various grounds.

The provisions of the Decision approved today will be repealed when the proposed Council and European Parliament Regulation for the prevention and control of certain transmissible encephalopathies enters into force. This proposal is scheduled to be discussed at the 17 July Agricultural Council. A Common Position could be adopted at the earliest in September.

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