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Brussels, 13 November 2000

Byrne and Fischler proposing BSE-test for all older cattle in the EU

European consumers have reacted strongly to the recent developments in relation to BSE in France. Commissioner David Byrne, responsible for Health and Consumer Protection and Commissioner Franz Fischler, responsible for Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development insist on as much transparency as possible on the extent of BSE in the European cattle population. The European Commission will be proposing to Member States to put in place a comprehensive BSE-testing of all bovine animals, above a certain age. These tests would serve as an extra guarantee to consumers as to the safety of the beef they are consuming, complementing the existing stringent protection standards in place. The options how to put the programme in practice will be discussed in the Standing Veterinary Committee which will meet on Wednesday this week (15 November 2000) and in the Agriculture Council on 20 November.

Commenting on the suggestion, David Byrne said: "One of the major lessons I have learned in dealing with BSE is that the political establishment must be fully transparent with the public on the issue. There must be no hidden agendas. No distortions. No false assurances. Transparency, information and open dialogue must guide our actions. We must make known the risks and the protective measures which we have introduced to tackle those risks. At the Community level, we have put in place a comprehensive series of controls which I am satisfied reduce the risk of a very low level. The envisaged programme will however increase information and transparency to the consumer and further strengthen our controls."

Franz Fischler added: " I am very conscious of the huge public concern at the extent of the disease in our cattle herd. It is our responsibility at both the national and the Community level to take that concern very seriously. I am convinced that farmers agree with me that it is of utmost importance to restore public trust in beef products."

The testing programme is closely linked to the age of the animal since only cattle above a certain age develop clinical symptoms of BSE due to the long incubation period of the disease. Current BSE-tests can only be applied on the brain of a dead animal (post-mortem).

The testing programme agreed upon earlier and entering into force EU-wide from 1 January 2001 onwards was targeted at animals at risk (animals showing neurological symptoms) and foresaw around 170 000 tests. Some Member States have already started with their testing programme, which led in France to the detection of previously undetected BSE-cases.

Commissioner Byrne reiterated his call on Member States to introduce earlier than planned the testing programme and enlarge it substantially (see IP/00/1286 of Friday, 10 November 2000).

Current risk prevention measures in place

Over the past six years, the EU has put in place several important laws which considerably reduce the level of risk of any exposure to BSE-infected cattle by humans. The most important ones are:

  • The ban on the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to ruminants;

  • The much higher standards for the rendering of animal waste;

  • The requirement to remove and destroy specified risk materials (i.e. spinal cord, brain);

  • The active surveillance measures to detect cases of BSE, including the introduction of random tests.

These control measures now applying are a huge improvement on the past situation. They are all based on open and transparent scientific advice. They can however only work if they are rigorously implemented. Member States have the responsibility to ensure that these controls are implemented strictly.

Commissioners Byrne and Fischler consider that the exact and full implementation of these measures in all Member States should ensure the high level of public health protection that the consumer expects.

Situation in France

France has seen the increase of BSE cases over the past months, partly as a consequence of the testing programme put in place. While being clearly disturbing, the figures must be looked at in perspective. The current higher incidence amounts to about 7 cases per million bovines aged over 2 years. This compares with the internationally recognised level of 100 cases per million for high incidence Member States.

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