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Brussels, 16 July 2010
Questions and answers on TSE Roadmap 2
What are TSEs?
Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) are a family of diseases affecting humans and animals and are characterised by a degeneration of brain tissue, giving it a sponge-like appearance, which could lead to death.
The family includes diseases such as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in small ruminants (sheep and goats), Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in cervids, such as deer or elks. TSEs are largely attributed to a particle, known as the prion, which is an infectious agent composed primarily of an abnormal form of protein.
BSE was first diagnosed in the United-Kingdom in 1986. It turned into an epidemic because meat and bone meal produced from animal carcasses was included in animal feed. Up until December 31 2009, about 184.600 cases of BSE were detected in the UK, 5450 cases elsewhere in the European Union (EU) and 520 in the rest of the world (see Annex). Surveillance has shown that most cases concerned cattle born in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, i.e. before the EU measures to tackle BSE were introduced.
BSE is transmissible to humans causing Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD). vCJD is believed to be caused by the transmission of the BSE agent to humans through the consumption of infected meat. vCJD occurs mostly in young people and most cases have occurred in the UK, although there have been cases also in France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain in the EU and, as regards non-EU countries, in the USA, Canada, Saudi-Arabia and Japan.
What are the measures currently in place for BSE in the EU?
The EU has a large body of legislation in place, drawn up on the basis of independent scientific advice, to protect humans and animals from BSE. Among the main measures currently in effect are:
What impact have these measures had?
The results of the intensive monitoring programme, which has been in place since 2001, show that there has been a significant overall decrease in the number of BSE cases across the EU. In 2001, there were 2167 recorded BSE cases in the EU-15. This figure dropped to 67 for the EU-27 by 2009. There is also a significant fall in the number of cases by birth cohort, from 1870 in 1995 to 23 in 2001. The average age of positive BSE cases in healthy slaughtered animals in the EU has risen, from 74 months in 2001 to 146 months in 2009. This data supports the idea that BSE contamination occurred during a clearly defined period in the past before the stringent EU measures entered into force.
Why has the Commission drawn up a TSE Roadmap II?
The first TSE Roadmap, adopted in 2005, provided an outline of possible future changes to EU measures on TSEs in the short, medium and long-term while still making food safety and consumer protection the highest priority. The majority of short and medium term actions envisaged in the first TSE Roadmap have been achieved and the positive trend already observed in 2005 in the BSE epidemic has continued since then. At the same time, the impact of BSE on human health appears to be more limited than initially feared.
The aim of the new Roadmap is to outline future possible amendments of the measures to align them with the situation where the EU is finally on the threshold of eradicating BSE within its cattle population. However, amendments to the TSE rules are, and will continue to be, made through a step-by-step approach and on a solid scientific basis. In this respect, the scientific advice provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should continue to play a crucial role when considering future policy options.
What are the main areas covered by the TSE Roadmap II?
The TSE Roadmap II deals with the main BSE measures in place, outlining the current EU legislation and presenting possible future policy options for consideration. Among the issues dealt with in the TSE Roadmap II are the rules on the removal of SRM, aspects of the feed ban, monitoring programmes and the eradication policy for scrapie in small ruminants.
Does this mean that there will be less protection against BSE?
No. The health of the consumer will remain the chief priority and no changes which would in any way compromise this will be considered. The amendment of certain measures would only be proposed if the positive trend continues and changes are backed by solid scientific assessment and conditions. Moreover, vigilance should be ensured in order to continue to monitor the situation in case of a potential re-emergence of BSE or emergence of a new TSE agent in cattle population.
See also IP/10/957
Annex: Evolution of positive cases world-wide since BSE was recognized
Sources: < 1997: OIE; From 1997 Systematic notification of animal diseases by MS, completed by monthly reports of the UK and Portugal, and since 2001, of the other MS; websites of the competent authorities of MS and the IOE. - (a) All imported cases - (b) Including imported cases: Ireland: 5 in 1989, 1 in 1990, 2 in 1991 and 1992, 1 in 1994 and 1995; France: 1 in 1999; Portugal: 1 in 2000, 2002 and 2003; Italy: 2 in 2001 and 2 in 2002