Food Law News - EU - 1997
8 October 1997: BSE - Consolidated Report on BSE
Commission Press Release (IP/97/858), 8 October 1997
Consolidated Report on BSE
The Commission answers to 75 key questions on consumer health made by the European Parliament
Eight months after the European Commission and the European Parliament put consumer health and food safety at the centre of a joint political effort to combat BSE, the Commission presented the progress achieved by adopting today the final consolidated report to the Temporary Committee of the European Parliament on the follow-up of recommendations on BSE. The document highlights the achievements that were made in order to eradicate BSE, to protect public health and to regain consumer confidence in food safety. "Current investigations have shown that there are deficiencies in the official control of meat production in Member States" said Mrs. Emma Bonino, Commissioner responsible for consumer policy, "and therefore the Commission will take measures to strengthen the veterinary checks system in the Union in order to improve food safety and fraud prevention". In its report, the Commission puts forward an ambitious work programme, building on the achievements. In pursuing and monitoring this programme the Commission will continue its close co-operation with the other Institutions (European Parliament, Council of Ministers) and the Member States. For the Commission it is obvious that also Member States will have to face up to their responsibilities, in particular concerning controls, if the fight against BSE is to be won. The Commission will report twice a year to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on further progress.
The final consolidated report on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE/mad cow disease) highlights the major joint political effort made by the Commission and the European Parliament to eradicate BSE, to regain consumer confidence in food safety and to protect public health. The document answers the 75 detailed questions of the Temporary Committee on the follow-up of recommendations on BSE and points to the following achievements:
- The Commission has put consumer health and food safety at the centre of a new political initiative: responsibilities for legislation were separated from scientific advice, risk assessment, control and inspection. Action is based on the principles of independence, transparency and excellency.
- A green paper on food law has been issued. A proposal for a draft Directive on an extension of product liability to primary agricultural products has been decided by the Commission. The Agenda 2000 proposals contain major reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy directed towards sustainable farming and the production of safe and healthy food.
- BSE cases have strongly declined: whereas at the peak of the mad cow disease in the years 92 and 93 about 3.000 new cases had to be registered every month the confirmed cases came down to less than 500 new cases per month in 1997. The implementation of the Florence agreement of the European Council from June 1996 played a major role, in particular through the slaughtering of about 1,7 million animals that were over 30 months old.
- As to the causes and origins of the BSE crisis, the Community launched a major research programme of ECU 50 million and an international scientific conference on meat and bone meal. The feeding of ruminants with ruminant meat and bone meal, which is the source of the infection, had already been forbidden in 1994. However, concerning the processing of meat and bone meal, the Commission had to open infringement cases against several offending Member States. "It is the application of EU legislation by the national authorities rather than the legislation itself which is crucial to the protection of human health" said Franz Fischler, Commissioner responsible for Agriculture, "and the Commission will not hesitate to use the legal means available to ensure that legislation is effectively implemented".
- The Commission has acted strongly to ensure the respect of European Union (EU) legislation in the field of BSE. The veterinary and fraud inspection services have contributed in a major way to act on fraudulent exports of UK beef. Taking into account recent veterinary inspection results it appears that the UK remains in breach of its obligations in respect of controls in abattoirs and meat plants. As a result the Commission opened an infringement procedure in September 1997.
- The Commission has adopted an action plan on BSE measures on 26 May 1997. As part of this action plan, a EU wide ban on the use of specific risk material, in particular brain and spinal cord, was imposed.
The Commission expresses its full sympathy to the victims of the new variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (nvCJD). Recent scientific findings published in "Nature" on 2 October 1997 found clear similarities of nvCJD in humans and BSE in animals. The families of the victims have addressed a request for "a no-fault compensation scheme" to the United Kingdom government. In the spirit of solidarity, the Commission agrees with the European Parliament that financing could be provided through the EU budget in addition to means made available by Member States, under the condition that corresponding initiatives are taken by the latter. "Solidarity could be expressed through subventions to associations in the field, such as the new variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease Families Association, to assist their development and operations", proposed Mrs. Bonino.
Building on the conclusions of the committee of inquiry, the Commission has undertaken major reorganisation measures which should ensure that the Commission is in a position to react appropriately to challenges in the field of consumer health. Mr Erkki Liikanen, EU Commissioner responsible for personnel, said: "We have put our house in order. The new management in the veterinary field has the Commission's full confidence." As regards possible disciplinary measures referred to in the inquiry report, the Commission has examined the matter and has not found any ground which would justify the opening of the disciplinary procedure.
The Commission also stresses that some major issues will have to be addressed in the future:
Transparency and openness are essential for convincing the European consumer that the scientific advice provided to the Commission is really geared to the objective of protecting their health. A permanent dialogue and in-depth discussion between consumer organisations, industry, producers and other socio-economic operators, scientific advisers and political decision-makers is of great importance. However, it must also be stressed that the work programme does not depend on the Commission alone: the European Parliament and the Council, as co-legislators, will also have an important part to play. In pursuing and monitoring this programme, the Commission wishes to continue a close and constructive co-operation, following normal procedures, with the European Parliament and it intends to report twice-a-year to the European Parliament and the Council on further progress.
- The EU has a vital interest in ensuring that international trading rules are respected. It is important to ensure that our exports do not encounter unjustified restrictions in gaining access to the world market. The EU must be able to set the level of protection of human health which it considers to be appropriate.
- For pharmaceutical products, the analysis of risk also has to take into account their beneficial effects. Therefore a derogation for them should be envisaged on the basis of scientific advice in order to avoid any shortage in life-saving and essential medicines in the Union.
- The actual control of the manner in which EU legislation is implemented is a responsibility of the Member States, with the Commission having the role essentially to check how Member States' authorities perform this duty. The present situation where a different level of effort, resources and commitment is given by national administrations to the inspection and control services is not satisfactory. It would be highly desirable if Member States now take a more common approach to procedures and manuals, organisation and operational criteria, education and training standards.
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