"With today's proposals we add an additional layer of protection for consumers", said David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. "What is vitally important now in our efforts to combat BSE is that Member States are being vigilant in ensuring that all existing safety laws are being fully applied. If the ban on feeding mammalian meat- and bonemeal (MMBM) to ruminants is fully effective, if specific risk materials are being completely removed from carcasses and destroyed, if surveillance through testing is carried out effectively, than BSE can be brought under control as has been demonstrated."
1. Removal of the vertebral column of bovines
There are small residual risks associated with the vertebral column of cattle which might be incubating BSE, largely due to the presence of dorsal root ganglia. The age structure of confirmed BSE cases further reduces the risk in animals less than 30 months of age. Past experience showed that 99,95 % of the over 180.000 BSE cases in Europe occurred in animals over 30 months of age. The SSC opinion points therefore towards their removal in bovines aged over 12 months where there are question marks over the effectiveness of the ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal and "whenever it cannot be demonstrated that the animal is unlikely to be incubating BSE….". It is therefore proposed to designate vertebral column as a specified risk material to be removed and destroyed for cattle over 12 months. This removal can take place at the place of sale to the consumer.
Where it can be clearly demonstrated that existing control measures (Ban on MMBM, removal of SRM and effective surveillance) are effective, it is also proposed to exempt certain Member States from this requirement. Thus Sweden, Finland and Austria may be exempted because they have not, to date, registered any native cases of BSE and are considered to be countries where BSE is unlikely. This rationale has already been used to exempt these Member States from the requirement to test all bovines aged over 30 months for BSE, except in relation to exports.
The UK will be exempted on the basis of the opinion of the SSC of 12 January and an additional testing programme (see below). While the SSC advised in this opinion that vertebral column should be removed, it accepted that the control measures in the UK, in particular the ban on any cattle aged over 30 months from entering the food chain, ensured that the number of animals that could be possibly infected was very small and decreasing. The SSC quantified this number at 0.8 animals of all cattle under 30 months in 2001. This derogation will not, however, lead to any exports of bone-in beef from the UK as these will continue to be banned under the Date Based Export Scheme. The practical impact of the derogation will, therefore, be to allow the continued consumption on beef on the bone in the UK itself.
Finally, the derogation in respect of Portugal is, like in the UK, based on the evaluation of the national measures in force to eradicate BSE and an additional testing programme of all fallen stock. Following several inspection visits by the Food and Veterinary Office, the Commission services have concluded that an effective meat and bone meal ban is in place in Portugal since 1 July 1999. The derogation would only apply to cattle born after this date and below 30 months. However, unless and until the Commission proposes a separate decision to lift the current ban on the export of beef and beef products from Portugal, the derogation would only apply to domestically consumed beef.
All the above derogations will be conditional on continued and improved surveillance for the presence of BSE. In this respect, increased testing of certain categories of animals will be required in all these Member States to provide added re-assurance on their situation with regard to BSE. In particular, the UK will be required to test an estimated 65.000 cattle born in the year following the effective feed ban (from 1 August 1996 to 1 August 1997). While these will not enter the food chain due to the ban on human consumption of animals aged over 30 months, the tests will provide invaluable epidemiological information.
Sweden, Finland and Austria will be requested to test all cattle over 30 months slaughtered for human consumption and all cattle which die on a farm. At the moment these countries are only obliged to test the cattle over 30 months which are at risk (emergency slaughtered or showing neurological symptoms), the ones whose meat is exported for human consumption and a certain percentage of animals which die on a farm.
Finally there is provision for other Member States to also apply for derogation on the basis of their epidemiological situation in relation to BSE and especially the effectiveness of the ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal to ruminants.
This proposal shall be implemented through an amendment to Commission Decision 2000/418/EC (the specified risk material decision) and is intended to take effect from 31 March 2001.
2. A ban on mechanically recovered meat (MRM) from the bones of bovines
There is already a ban on MRM from the skull and vertebral column of ruminants. However, there are control problems in ensuring that this distinction can be made. In the circumstances it is proposed to extend the ban to MRM from all bovine, ovine and caprine bones. The SSC opinion supports this orientation. The measure is also supported by consumers and the meat processing industry.
This proposal shall be implemented through a technical amendment to Commission Decision 2000/418 (the specified risk material decision) and is to take effect from 31 March 2001.
3. Heat treatment of rendered ruminant fats (tallow) used in ruminant feeds
Tallow for animal feedingstuff is currently filtered to remove proteins and impurities. The SSC recommends, however, that it should also be heat treated to the same standards as apply to ruminant meat and bone meal (133 degrees, 3 bars of pressure, 20 minutes). The SSC also recommends in addition that tallow for calf milk replacers should only be sourced from discrete adipose tissues (i.e. not from bones). The Commission proposes to introduce these requirements and that the same measures should also apply to tallow intended for food for human consumption. Tallow is extensively used in human food and it would be inappropriate to apply lesser standards to human food than applies to animal feed.
Some Member States would prefer the measure to extend to a total ban on the inclusion of all animal fats in animal feed or to all ruminant fats. The currently available scientific evidence does not, however, require such a measure. Nonetheless, the Commission services are continuing to review if control measures are adequate to ensure that ruminant fats can be safely used in ruminant food. The scientific advice on the safety of fats is also under continual review.
This proposal shall be implemented through an amendment to the Council Decision 1999/534/EC on processing of certain animal waste and is to take into effect from 1 March 2001.
4. Hydrolysed Proteins
The suspension on the use of certain animal proteins, largely meat and bone meal, in animal feed from 1 January 2001 provides for certain exceptions. These exceptions include hydrolysed proteins. However, clarification from the SSC was necessary on certain of the conditions which should apply to this exception. This proposal will be implemented through a technical adjustment to Council Decision 2001/9/EC to authorise for animals other than ruminants hydrolysed proteins from fish and from feathers and will come into effect on 1 March 2001