The DBES was adopted by the Commission on 25 November 1998. The Scheme was first evaluated by the Scientific Steering Committee and was only adopted after incorporation of all amendments suggested by this Committee, as well as those following from European Union inspection missions and from consultation with technical experts of the Member States. The Decision included a condition that the date on which the dispatch of the products may commence shall only be set following a satisfactory inspection of the implementation of the scheme. The latest inspection took place in April this year and the result was generally considered satisfactory. Some recommendations were made in the inspection report to further improve the reliability of the scheme, to which the UK authorities have now replied in a positive manner. The Commission therefore concludes that all the conditions for setting the date have been met.
The dispatch of beef and beef products from the UK to other Member States and third countries was banned on 27 March 1996 following the announcement by the UK Government regarding new scientific findings on Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans and a possible link to BSE in cattle. The first step in lifting the ban was taken on 16 March 1998 when the Export Certified Herds Scheme (ECHS) in Northern Ireland was agreed. The date on which the dispatch of products under the ECHS could commence was set at 1 June 1998 by the Commission.
Main elements of the DBES
Only meat and certain meat products from animals born after 1 August 1996 and aged between six and thirty months may be exported. Furthermore offspring of BSE cases born after 1 August 1996 must be slaughtered and destroyed.
The eligibility criteria for the animals are : effective identification and registration of the animal and its dam, age between 6 and 30 months, positive evidence of the survival of the dam for six months after the birth of the calf and no evidence of BSE in the dam.
The entire production chain from slaughtering, cutting, further processing, storing and final dispatch must take place in establishments reserved for the handling of eligible products.
The strict control rules applying to the ECHS, including the requirement of an additional health mark and sealing, have to be implemented for the DBES also.
Eligible animals and establishments anywhere on the territory of the United Kingdom may qualify. However given the strict requirements of the DBES it is expected that only a few establishments will participate in the scheme initially. Following the new Decision, meat of animal slaughtered in Northern Ireland under the rules of the ECHS could also be processed and stored in and dispatched from establishments in Great Britain specially approved under the Decision.
Given that the evaluation of the BSE tests used positive samples from clinically diseased animals only, it is not yet possible to conclude whether the tests also could detect the BSE prion (the agent generally accepted to cause the disease) in animals in the early stages of the disease before clinical signs are present.
As long as the minimal infectious dose for humans, and the behaviour of the agent during the incubation period is not known, the current precautionary approach as foreseen under the DBES can not be refined by the use of the tests.