Food Law News - EU - 2001

EP Daily Notebook, 1 February 2001

BSE - Progress report on anti-BSE measures taken by the Community and Member States

Introducing his progress report on anti BSE measures taken by the Community and Member States, Commissioner BYRNE noted that since 1 January 2001 there had been a ban on meat and bonemeal and testing of all animals over 30 months. Following consultation with the Member States, the Agricultural Council on Monday this week had agreed to take further action to tackle the problem of BSE. These proposals were in line with the opinion of the Scientific Committee. He recognised that implementing them would be extremely expensive, however because of the severity of the problem, they were essential. Up until now it had proved very difficult to persuade all Member States to take sufficient action.

Firstly it was proposed that mechanically recovered meat should be banned from all the bones of all ruminants. Mr Byrne argued that a total ban was necessary and indeed the practice of selling mechanically recovered meat had become increasingly repugnant to consumers and industry.

Secondly it was proposed that ruminant fats in ruminant feeds should be pressure cooked. Mr Byrne accepted that there was a question over whether these changes could be properly enforced. At issue also was whether there needed to be an outright ban on ruminant fats in ruminant feeds.

Thirdly, the Commission proposed that the vertical column or backbone, should be removed where there were doubts about food safety. Again this raised a number of questions such as where the vertical column should be removed - at the abattoir or at the point of sale. He also recognised that there might be a case for removing the vertical column in animals over 12 months, as occurred in France.

At issue also was whether BSE states that had been up to now free from BSE, should be exempt of the ban. There would be a need for effective controls to monitor these proposals. In addition, it was being proposed that Member States should provide monthly reports on tackling BSE such as was required of Portugal and the UK. Mr Byrne argued that this should apply across the EU.

Full support for Mr Byrne's proposals came from Reimer BÖGE (EPP-ED, D) who argued that BSE had resulted from gross negligence by Member States and the Commission in the past. He believed that all animals over 18 months should be tested as Parliament had proposed. He also wondered what the situation should be with meat from third countries. Uniform consumer protection was required, he said.

Dagmar ROTH-BEHRENDT (PES, D) argued that all risk material - such as the spinal cord - should be removed and destroyed. The Commission and Member States should be moving quicker in this area. The same treatment should be applied for all fats and gelatine and they should be sterilised under high pressure and removed from the human chain. She wondered which Member States were really free of BSE and how reliable the testing procedures and controls were. All Member States should be dealt with in the same way, she concluded.

Mikko PESÄLÄ (ELDR, FIN) noted that the risk of BSE was lower in Finland, Sweden and Austria as these countries had implemented preventative measures. He believed that all Member States should bide by the decisions that the EU had taken.

Danielle AUROI (Greens/EFA, F) was another speaker to argue that the BSE crisis had been under-estimated by Commission and Member States. She believed that the Commission's measures did not go far enough and there was a need for a ban on animal fats. At present it was often the case that testing in abattoirs was perfunctory and this testing should be harmonised. The CAP should be made secure and the issue of animal production in battery conditions should also be addressed.

Salvador JOVÉ PERES (EUL/NGL, E) argued that this was a case study of what should not be done. The measures had been too late and had been reactive. The effects were lamentable and had failed to help farmers.

Liam HYLAND (UEN, Leinster) regretted that the initial measures had not been effective and there was now a lack of consumer confidence in meat. Farmers were the victims of circumstances beyond their control and their livelihoods and been devastated.

Emma BONINO (TGI, I) also lamented the fact that the institutions had only reacted when they had been forced to. She anticipated that Member States would be seeking derogations and trying to underplay the inspections.

Jean-Louis BERNIÉ (EDD, F) stated that the EU was responsible for a crisis which had led to a 27% decrease in consumption of beef. He noted that 400,000 jobs in France were dependent on this area. He wanted tests to be compulsory but believed that part of the herd should be preserved for testing purposes rather than destroyed.

Wolfgang ILGENFRITZ (IND A) also argued that these measures had come too late in the day and were one-sided. The Commission was not acting energetically enough he believed.

"Commissioner Byrne, you were right" declared Phillip WHITEHEAD (PES, East Midlands). There was now a prospect of millions of undisposable animals across Europe. He noted that the UK had been the first in the whole cycle of complacency, despair and back again. Draconian measures were necessary, he stressed. He wanted to know what the tests were showing and what Member States were saying. He was particularly concerned about what capacity Member States had for destroying materials. "Europe owes you its solidarity, Mr Byrne", he concluded.

A welcome for the ban on ruminants also came from Liz LYNNE (ELDR, West Midlands). She stressed that all safeguards must be monitored carefully and wanted the EU to learn from the UK's past mistakes.

Neil PARISH (EPP-ED, South West) considered that it was wrong for Member States to blame the Commission in this area. In tackling BSE one should not seek to re-invent the wheel. There must be one policy throughout Europe and older cattle had to be taken out of the food chain and destroyed. It was also important to look at imports from outside the EU.

Replying to the debate, Mr Byrne said he felt that as far as consumer confidence was concerned, the rest of the EU could learn from Britain's example. Beef consumption in the UK was on the increase and, in fact, higher than in 1996. This was because the authorities had acted and taken sufficient measures to restore public confidence in the industry. Unfortunately, some other EU Member States who had rather prematurely declared their countries to be 'BSE free' then were forced to backtrack at a later time. Not surprisingly, this had led to an adverse reaction in the public at large, with sharp falls in beef sales. As to measures now being put in place across the EU, he confirmed that testing for animals over 30 months old was now the norm and that from the 30th of April next, EU measures would also apply to imports from third countries. However, he added, scientists were not yet in a position to carry out tests on live animals.

On the related question of CAP reform, in response to the crisis, a joint committee with the agricultural department of the Commission had now been set up to examine what changes could be made to encourage what he termed "natural" food production". He admitted, however, that it was not feasible to abandon "industrial production" of food. And, he added, the national governments seemed slow to respond to measures designed to "green" the CAP. Nevertheless, this committee would examine such issues as whether the CAP benefited larger rather than smaller farmers. It was also necessary to question the fact that 45% of the budget went on subsidising arable crops. He also told MEPs that the budget ceiling, as agreed in Berlin had now been reached, and any increase in this had to be agreed unanimously by the Member States. He also recognised concerns raised in the debate about the enforcement and implementation of legislation. He promised to do his utmost here to ensure this. And, he added, he would aim to make sure that EU measures were applied across the board and did not lead to a distortion of competition. He recognised the concern raised over fats and dioxin. He said this was under consideration as was the idea of a ban on fats in ruminants.

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