The BSE crisis is no longer in the headlines, but the European Parliament wants to keep an eye on possible effects on public health and food safety. A year ago it asked the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy Committee to draw up an own-initiative report which will be presented to the House in a draft Resolution.
Reporting for the Committee, Karl Erik OLSSON (ELDR, S) explains the origins of BSE, saying it was first reported in 1986 in the UK. He says that between 1987 and 2000, almost 180 000 bovine animals were infected in Britain. During the same period, 1325 cases were found in other parts of Europe and new cases are still occurring. The report goes on to reveal that to date, 97 people have developed the disease in the UK, compared to three people in France and one in Ireland.
Mr Olsson says that the new variant of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which can be transmitted to humans, is affecting mainly young people. The incubation period is not known and it is therefore impossible to predict how many cases will eventually come to light.
The draft resolution stresses that the best way of protecting consumers in the long term is to completely eliminate the risk of more animals becoming infected with BSE. It criticises sharply the "inadequate and late implementation of EU legislation by certain Member States and the totally unacceptable failure by some Member States to comply with EU legislation". The Committee therefore calls on the Member States to step up their monitoring of how BSE testing is carried out, saying the Commission should verify that all EU states are applying strictly, the rules as set out in the TSE Regulation (No 999/2001).
MEPs want to see the 1994 ban on feeding mammalian meat-and-bone meal to ruminants enforced and complied with and they want testing to be extended to sheep. Members are calling on the Commission to fully investigate the possible link between calf feed and BSE, given the most recent cases in Denmark and Finland, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that animal feed cannot be contaminated with BSE. They support the policy of culling animals when a case of BSE is confirmed and they point out that the EU can reduce the risk of a third wave of BSE occurring at enlargement.
MEPs feel that the Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), should become the EU authority responsible for monitoring Member States' food legislation. The FVO should be given powers to instruct the Member States' authorities to adopt immediate measures, where necessary, in order to protect the health and safety of consumers. MEPs also take the view that the Commission must have the right to impose penalties on EU countries that fail to implement EU legislation.
Furthermore, the Committee urges the Commission to make available the resources needed to continue research into TSEs (transmissible spongiform diseases of the brain) and to clarify in future how the European Union can increase its readiness and capacity for dealing with as yet unknown disease and infections.
Finally, it calls on the Council and the Commission to reform the CAP, as soon as possible, so as to take account of the objective of food safety.