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Further steps to safeguard Europeans against BSE

In a renewed effort to set out harmonised rules to ensure that tissues likely to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) are kept out of the food chain, the European Commission has endorsed a proposal for a Decision to regulate the use of specific risk materials ...
In a renewed effort to set out harmonised rules to ensure that tissues likely to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) are kept out of the food chain, the European Commission has endorsed a proposal for a Decision to regulate the use of specific risk materials (SRMs) presenting a BSE risk.

The proposed approach would oblige all Member States to remove certain risk materials from the food and feed chain.

'Removal of SRM is the single biggest contribution that can be made to reducing the risk to humans from BSE, and thereby reducing the possibility of human infection by nvCJD' (new variant Creutzfelt Jakob disease),' says the Commission.

The new strategy follows continuous and recently reinforced scientific advice to remove highly risky tissues from the food and feed chain. Additionally, the first ever diagnosis of BSE in a native Danish cow in March this year raised more doubts about the BSE-free status of many countries without reported BSE.

'If we want to have the highest standards for our citizens, then we must remove those risk materials which provide for 95% of the infectivity,' said David Byrne, Commissioner responsible for Consumer Protection and Health. 'We should learn the lesson from the recent BSE case in Denmark. The need to have an EU-wide scheme to remove SRMs is long overdue. This is of utmost importance to the protection of public health.'

All Member States would be obliged to remove the skull (including brains and eyes), the tonsils and the spinal cord of cattle, sheep and goats above 12 months, the ileum of cattle above 12 months and the ileum and spleen of sheep and goats of all ages. In high risk countries, i.e. the UK and Portugal, the entire head excluding the tongue, the thymus, the spleen, the intestines and the spinal cord of bovine animals over 6 months would also have to be excluded from the food chain. Additionally the vertebral column has to be removed in Portugal for bovine animals over 6 months and in the UK for bovine animals over 30 months.

The proposal also prohibits the use of certain slaughtering techniques which entail a risk of contamination of animal blood by the release of BSE-infected brain tissue into the bloodstream, following scientific advice received in April 2000.

The proposal will be submitted to Member State representatives in the Standing Veterinary Committee on May 10. If the Member States agree to the proposal, it will be formally adopted by the Commission and enter into force on 1 July 2000. The decision will be subject to review in the light of new scientific evidence. The provisions of the Decision will be repealed when the proposed Council and European Parliament Regulation for the prevention and control of certain transmittable encephalopathies enters into force.

This replaces the Commission's previous proposals to this end which have, as yet, not been accepted by Member States. While there is no EU-wide system on removal of risk materials, eight Member States (Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal and the UK) have introduced national rules.

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