Food Law News - EU - 2001

European Court of Justice Press Information, 13 June 2001

BSE - Hearing in Case C-1/00: Commission of the European Communities v France

By a Decision of 27 March 1996, the Commission prohibited the exportation of meat and meat products derived from bovine animals slaughtered in the United Kingdom to other Member States and non-member countries.

In March 1998, the Council lifted the ban, subject to strict conditions, for certain meat and meat products derived from bovine animals slaughtered in Northern Ireland.

By a Decision of 25 November 1998, the Commission adopted the principle of permitting the export of bovine products under a Date Based Export Scheme (DBES). Pursuant to that Decision, the Commission, by its Decision of 23 July 1999, set the date of 1 August 1999 as the date from which the export of bovine meat products from the United Kingdom could recommence.

The French authorities, after consulting AFFSA (Agence Franšaise de SÚcuritÚ Sanitaire des Aliments) considered that the risk of contamination of bovine animals from other routes than the two known routes, namely feed and maternal transmission, could not be ruled out.

In those circumstances, and despite an opinion of the Scientific Steering Committee referred to by the Commission, France did not lift its ban.

The Commission therefore brought an action before the Court of Justice of the European Communities on 4 January 2000 for a declaration that France had failed to fulfil its Community obligations by not applying the Commission's Decision.

The Commission is supported by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The hearing in this case will take place on Tuesday 19 June before a plenary session of the Court of Justice of the European Communities.

The following information summarises the principal cases concerning BSE that the Court of Justice has dealt with.

Principal cases ruled upon and cases pending before the Court concerning BSE

Cases C-365/99: pending

Portugal v Commission (C-365/99)

Request for partial annulment of Commission Decision 99/517/EC of 28 July 1999, amending Decision 98/653/EC concerning emergency measures made necessary by the occurrence of BSE in Portugal (extension from 1 August 1999 to 1 February 2000 of restrictions on the export of products derived from bovine animals slaughtered in Portugal).

Case C-428/99: pending

H. van den Bor BV v Voedselvoorzieningsin-en verkoopbureau

Reference for a preliminary ruling. Competence of a Member State, pending enactment of Community rules on the matter, to provide for compensation to be paid in respect of loss suffered as a result of the slaughter of calves originating in the United Kingdom.

Case C-507/99: pending

Denkavit Nederland BV v Minister van Landbouw, Natuurbeheer en Visserij and Voedselvoorzieningsin-en verkoopbureau.

Reference for a preliminary ruling. Whether or not a basis is required in Community law for a national decision ordering the slaughter of calves originating in the United Kingdom, the purchase of which by the national authorities, for the purposes of destruction, was authorised by Commission Regulation (EC) No 717/96 of 19 April 1996 adopting exceptional support measures for the beef and veal market in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Case C-514/99: action declared inadmissible by the Court on 21 June 1999

French Republic v Commission of the European Communities

Request for the annulment of the Commission's decision refusing to modify or cancel Commission Decision 99/514/EC.

The action was brought against an implicit decision of refusal in a statement made on 29 October 1999 by Mr Commissioner Byrne. The Court considered that such a statement did not constitute the taking of a position by the Commission and could not therefore be regarded as the expression of a Commission decision refusing to amend its earlier position.

Indeed, the Commission had not previously received an express request for the amendment of Decision 99/514, but had merely received some allegedly new evidence which might alter the legal and factual context taken into consideration.

The Court stated that if France considered that the information in question gave rise to an obligation on the Commission to adopt a fresh decision, it was for France to follow the procedure for failure to act established by the Treaty (Article 232 EC).

Cases C-157/96 and C-180/96 and C-180/96: on 5 May 1998, the Court confirmed the validity of emergency measures taken by the Commission against BSE (Decision 96/239 of 27 March 1996).

The Queen v Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, ex parte National Farmers' Union a.o.
United Kingdom v Commission of the European Communities

The Court held that the Commission had the power to take measures of this kind, since the Directives concerned allowed it to interevene rapidly in order to prevent the spread of a diseaseaffecting animals or a threat to human health. There was no evidence to support the argument that the Coimmission's sole or main purpose was to allay consumer concern or to support the beef sector (an economic end) rather than the protection of health; therefore there was no misuse of power.

Finally, where there is uncertainty as to the existence or extent of risks to human health, the Court considers that the institutions may take protective measures without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those risks become fully apparent. According to the Court, the Commission displayed due caution by imposing a general ban on exports of bovine animals, bovine meat and derived products while waiting for more detailed scientific information.

Case C-477/98: on 5 December 2000 the Court held that the United Kingdom could prohibit imports of bovine heads from other Member States

Eurostock Meat Marketing Ltd and Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.

The Court considered that this precautionary measure was justified bearing in mind the BSE risks posed by those materials, while waiting for a Commission Decision prohibiting the use of those materials to be applied.

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