Food Law News - EU - 2006

EP News, 25 April 2006

BSE - Mad cow disease: vigilance the watchword: European Parliament debates proposals

Ten years after the outbreak of mad cow disease, vigilance is still needed. A new regulation on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) is being introduced to consolidate and update existing legislation. At its meeting on 25 April, Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee approved the main points of the draft regulation but suggested tightening up the precautionary measures.

Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (PES, DE) was a member of the committee of inquiry into mad cow disease in 1996 and then chaired the temporary committee which in 1997 assessed the follow-up measures taken. She is now the rapporteur for the new regulation. Her 32 amendments were all approved today by the Environment Committee and her report as a whole was adopted by 44 votes to 2 with 2 abstentions. The plenary vote will take place in mid-May in Strasbourg , when MEPs will probably be presented with compromise amendments acceptable to both the Council and Commission. "It would be best to reach an agreement at first reading but not an agreement at any price", stated Mrs Roth-Behrendt.

In May 2005, the International Office of Epizootics, which has 167 member states, defined three categories of risk, to replace the five that existed previously, in which countries can be classified. These are "negligible", "controlled" and "undetermined" BSE risk (the latter being the highest risk). The EU regulation has to be brought into line with this. The new categorisation is less precise but MEPs are seeking to strengthen passive and active control measures, in particular by beefing up annual inspection programmes, laying down stricter criteria for any subsequent modifications, for example lists of specified risk materials such as brains and spinal marrow, and requiring detailed justifications from the scientific committees which make these modifications.

No meat or fish for ruminants

The outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy occurred when meat-and-bone meal was fed to animals, a practice which is now banned. The new regulation maintains this ban, stating "it is necessary to maintain the prohibition on the feeding of animal proteins to ruminants in forms not normally constituting part of the natural diet." Some MEPs would like to allow the use of fish meal but the Environment Committee rejected this idea. The rapporteur is contemplating, at most, a compromise with the Council and Commission to allow fish meal in feed for young calves.

A final point: when a case of BSE is identified, the entire herd is usually slaughtered. MEPs believe the slaughter of entire "cohorts" could be avoided, subject to strict control conditions, so that animals which appear to be healthy could be used until the end of their lives, since there is no scientific proof that BSE is transmitted through milk or by cattle to their young. By contrast, MEPs think that the use for human consumption of mechanically recovered meat (i.e. scraps of meat recovered by grinding up carcasses) should be reviewed.

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