Documents considered by the Committee on 15 September 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

17   Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs)



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COM(10) 384

Commission Communication: The TSE Road map 2 — A strategy paper on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies for 2010-2015

Legal base
Document originated16 July 2010
Deposited in Parliament22 July 2010
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 3 August 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone, but see footnotes 70, 71, 72
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


17.1  At the height of the BSE crisis, the EU introduced a range of measures aimed at reducing the spread of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in cattle, and hence the incidence of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (nvCJD) in humans. These included in particular Regulation 999/2001[70] laying down rules for the prevention, control and eradication of TSEs (which introduced the classification of Member States and third countries according to their BSE status, a prohibition on the feeding of mammalian protein to ruminants, rules governing the removal and destruction of specified risk material, together with a range of measures, such as monitoring for TSEs, the notification and slaughter of affected animals, and rules for the marketing and export of live animals and animal products). In addition, Regulation 1774/2002[71] lays down rules governing the disposal of animal by-products not intended for human consumption.

17.2  In 2005, the Commission noted that there had been a significant overall decrease in the incidence of BSE across the EU, and it concluded that a number of changes to these controls could now be considered without endangering consumer health or the policy of eradicating BSE. It has therefore produced a Communication[72] setting out a so-called TSE Roadmap, elaborating a strategy covering the short and medium term (2005-09) as well as the long term (2009-14). In their Report of 14 December 2005, our predecessors commented that it was clearly right that the justification for the steps taken in response to a particular crisis should be reviewed from time to time, and commended the Commission for having sought to assess whether, in the light of the significant reduction in the number of BSE cases in cattle within the EU, some of the existing measures might be relaxed. However, they added that the matters addressed in the Communication dealt with an area of continuing public and animal health interest, and they noted that the Government had reservations over at least some of the steps suggested. They therefore recommended that the document should be debated in European Standing Committee, and that debate took place on 30 January 2006.

The current document

17.3  The Commission has now produced this further Communication — The TSE Road Map 2 — reviewing the measures taken to date, and setting out a strategy for 2010-15. It notes that the majority of the short and medium term actions set out in the previous TSE Roadmap have been achieved, and that the number of BSE cases has continued to decline (from 865 in 2004 to 67 in 2009), whilst its impact on human health appears to have been more limited than originally feared. It says that the goal for the coming years is to keep the measures under review, whilst assuring a high level of food safety, and that amendments should continue to be taken on a stepwise basis, supported by solid scientific evidence from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), underpinned by continuing research in areas where gaps in knowledge currently exist. The Commission then gives a more detailed account of developments under a number of different headings:

Specified risk materials

Specified risk materials (SRM) are those organs[73] considered on the basis of scientific knowledge and a high precautionary level to harbour BSE in an affected animal, and the removal of listed SRM from the food chain — which the Commission describes as the most important public health measure — has been mandatory since 2000. It notes that the age limit for the removal of SRM from the spinal column was increased on 1 January 2006 from 12 to 24 months, with a further increase from 24 to 30 months being adopted in April 2008. The Commission says that any amendment of the list of SRM should be based on new evolving scientific knowledge consistently with maintaining a high level of consumer protection and taking into account the epidemiological situation. It adds that the EFSA is currently re-assessing the current list for small ruminants, and that the aim should be to align the EU list with the international standards laid down by the World Health Organisation for Animals (OIE), if this is supported by solid scientific advice. It also suggests that the current obligation on Member States having a negligible risk status (see below) to remove SRM from the food and feed chain could be reviewed.

Mammalian feed ban

A ban on the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) to cattle, sheep and goats was introduced in July 1994, and, in order to reduce the risk of cross-contamination, a total EU-wide suspension on the use of processed animal protein (PAP) in feed for any animals farmed for food production was introduced in January 2001 (subject to some exceptions for fish meal used for non-ruminants). This also ruled out the presence of any constituents of animal origin in feed, but in 2005 a tolerance was introduced in the case of beet pulp for bone fragments originating from unavoidable environmental contamination, and this was extended to all feed materials of plant origin in 2009. The possibility of using fishmeal in milk replacers destined for young ruminants was introduced in September 2008. The Commission says that any revision of the current feed ban should be risk-based and take into account the existence of a reliable test to identify the species from which traces of MBM originate, and it notes that the EFSA is currently examining the risk linked to small amounts of PAP in feed. It says that, in the light of the EFSA's findings, it may then propose the introduction of a tolerance level for a very small presence of PAP in feed without jeopardising current eradication measures, and that, since the risk of transmitting BSE between non-ruminants is very small, a lifting of the ban on the use of PAP from non-ruminants in non-ruminant feed could be considered, so long as the prohibition on intra-species recycling is retained.

Categorisation of countries according to BSE risk

Originally, Member States and third countries were divided into five categories according to their BSE status, but, following the adoption by OIE of a classification based on three levels of risk— negligible (with no export restrictions), controlled (with exports allowed when SRM is removed), and undetermined (where only a limited list of tradable products may be exported) — the EU introduced such a system in June 2007.

Monitoring programmes

Because BSE had been found in apparently healthy slaughtered cattle, a monitoring programme was introduced in 2001, involving the testing of all animals over 24 months presenting a potential risk[74] and of all animals above 30 months of age slaughtered for human consumption. However, because the cost of testing in relation to the number of cases identified had become very high, 17 Member States (including the UK) with a clearly declining (or consistently low) prevalence of BSE were authorised to increase the age limit for their monitoring programmes to 48 months. The Commission says that this led to a reduction of about 30% in the number of tests performed annually in the EU between 2008 and 2009, and that, depending upon the results of ongoing monitoring programmes for Member States complying with epidemiological criteria, a further revision could be considered, provided this does not impair the continuous detection of any increase in the BSE epidemic or an emergence of new TSE strains (particularly atypical cases of BSE in animal older than eight years). In addition, any new system would have to be practical and easily manageable.

A monitoring programme for sheep and goats was introduced 2002 following a case of BSE detected in a goat in France, and included the testing of a minimum sample number of up to 10,000 sheep and 10,000 goats per Member State of risk animals over 18 months, and the testing of 10,000 healthily slaughtered sheep above 18 months in Member States with a large population, together with a minimum, statistically based number of healthily slaughtered goats. However, as no new cases of BSE were subsequently detected, the level of monitoring was reduced in July 2007.

Eradication measures for sheep and goats

Initially, a whole herd had to be culled if a TSE is detected in goats, with whole or partial culling being required in the case of sheep (including atypical cases found in those with genotypes considered resistant to BSE). However, new rules were introduced in July 2007 in flocks where scrapie has been detected, and specific measures adopted for those affected by atypical scrapie. Following an opinion from the EFSA, these were supplemented by new measures in February 2009 in the case of milk and milk products coming from flocks affected by classical scrapie in order to prevent its spread to other ruminant flocks through feeding. The Commission observes that, because of the high degree of complexity of TSEs in small ruminants, and the great diversity of factors influencing the transmission of scrapie, it is necessary to consider further the control legislation needed, and it lists a number of options which might be considered, adding that future research results will be key factor.

Cohort culling of cattle

Initially, cohort animals[75] linked to a positive BSE case had to be culled immediately, but, as relatively few of these had been found to be infected with BSE, it was decided in 2006 to enable Member States to apply for the killing and complete destruction of cohort animals to be deferred until the end of their productive lives. However, only Germany has so far applied for this derogation, and the Commission suggests that, since the number of cohort animals testing positive within the EU is now very low,[76] it might be possible to abandon systematic cohort culling and authorise these animals to be slaughtered for human consumption, provided they are tested with negative results beforehand.

Tests for detecting TSEs

The Commission points out that only the rapid tests listed in the relevant legislation, which have been thoroughly evaluated by the EFSA, can be used for the monitoring of TSE in the EU, and that, following the first evaluation in 1999, further such evaluations have been carried out, most notably by the Community Reference Laboratory in 2008. It says that an exercise is currently under way to identify new tests, and suggests that the testing of live animals could be introduced if validated ante-mortem tests become available, as a means of helping herd certification.

UK embargo

In 1998, particular restrictions were imposed on exports of beef and beef products from the UK to other Member States or third countries, requiring these to be de-boned and not to come from cattle over 30 months. These were subsequently lifted in May 2006.

17.4  The Commission concludes by pointing out that it is not realistic to eliminate risk completely, and that the costs and benefits of individual measures have to be weighed carefully in order to achieve proportionality. It stresses the paramount need for continuing research if measures are to be supported by solid scientific advice, and the need also to create an international framework to avoid BSE being used for protectionist ends. At the same time, it also says that it is important not to lose sight of other threats to animal and human health, such as salmonella and antimicrobial resistance, and that, in view of the encouraging trends in relation to BSE, there is an increasing need to prioritise action towards diseases which may present a bigger health threat within the EU.

The Government's view

17.5  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 3 August 2010, the Minister of State of Agriculture and Food at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Jim Paice) notes the continuing decline in the EU BSE epidemic, and, in welcoming this Roadmap, says that the UK will develop its negotiating position on specific proposals as they arise. He adds that future policy options will depend upon factors such as amendments to recommendations of the OIE, supportive advice from the EFSA, or the development and validation of new tests.


17.6  This document provides a useful report on the steps taken in this area following the first TSE Roadmap, and on the further measures which might be considered, and, for those reasons, we are drawing it to the attention of the House. However, given the significant fall in the number of BSE cases since that Roadmap, and the Commission's assessment that the impact on human health appears to have been more limited than originally feared, we do not think there is a similar need for the current document to be considered further by the House. We are therefore clearing it.

70   OJ No. L 147, 31.5.01, p.1. (19751) 5196/99; see HC 34-xiii (1998-99), chapter 2 (17 March 1999) and HC 23-xxxi (1999-2000), chapter 1 (29 November 2000). Stg Co Deb European Standing Committee A (14 February 2001). Back

71   OJ No. L 273, 10.10.02, p.1. (21759) 12648/00 and (21767) 12646/00; see HC 28-iii (2000-01), chapter 2 (17 January 2001), HC 28-vii (2000-01), chapter 3 (28 February 2001) and HC 28-viii (2000-01), chapter 2 (14 March 2001). Stg Co Deb, European Standing Committee A (7 March 2001). Back

72   (26757) 11408/05: see HC 34-xiii (2005-06), chapter 2 (14 December 2005). Back

73   Such as brain, tonsils, spinal cord and intestines. Back

74   For example, fallen stock, emergency slaughtered animals, and those with clinical signs at ante-mortem inspection. Back

75   These include the progency, or animals which received the same feed in the first year of their life. Back

76   There were none in 2009. Back

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