Commission to adopt key health protection measure to reduce BSE risk
Mr David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and consumer protection, has welcomed the support of a majority of the Member States who, following a meeting of the Agriculture Council, have now ratified his proposal to remove specified risk materials (SRMs) - tissues most likely to precipitate the spread of BSE - out of the food and feed chain. The European Commission can now adopt the proposal, which opens the way to introduce harmonising rules for the removal of SRMs from the food and feed chain from 1 October. As a result, slaughterhouses in the UK and in Portugal will have to take out more tissues because of their higher BSE risk. However, all Member States, including those countries where BSE hasn't been detected yet will be required to discard SRMs. 'This is a major breakthrough in our work of the past years to make sure that the highest health protection standards are in place throughout the EU,' said Byrne. 'I am very pleased with the simple majority reached by the Member States. This measure is the best possible safeguard to keep meat products clear of BSE infectivity and to protect consumers from the risk of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD). Together with the improved BSE monitoring and testing programme agreed with the Member States in April we will have a solid and comprehensive package of measures in place to prevent future crises and deliver on our food safety promises.' The Decision, as voted on 19 June, will require all Member States to make slaughterhouse and authorised meat cutting and processing plants remove: - the skull (including the brains and eyes), the tonsils, the spinal cord and the ileum of cattle above 12 months; - the skull (including the brains and eye), the tonsils and the spinal cord of sheep and goats above 12 months or of younger animals that have a permanent incisor erupted through the gum; - the spleen of sheep and goats of all ages. This list will apply equally to third countries from 1 April 2001 onwards if their BSE free status is not established by a scientific risk assessment. Some Member States already have legislation to this end, which will stay in place until the Community measure comes into force. Given the higher BSE risk in the UK and Portugal, those countries' slaughterhouses and authorised meat cutting and processing plants will also be required to remove: - the entire head (excluding the tongue and including the brains, eyes, trigeminal ganglia and tonsils), the thymus, the spleen, the intestines and the spinal cords of cattle above six months; - the vertebral column (including dorsal root ganglia) of cattle above 30 months. The vertebral column may also be removed at the point of sale. The Decision also prohibits the use of certain slaughtering techniques which entail a risk of contamination of animal blood by the release of BSE-infected tissue into the blood stream as of 31 December 2000. It will be subject to review on the light of new scientific evidence and progress made in controlling and preventing BSE infectivity through risk management measures. In addition, the provisions of the Decision will be repealed when a proposed Council and European Parliament regulation for the prevention and control of certain transmissible encephalopathies enters into force. Council is expected to discuss this regulation in the autumn.