Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

970753 Food Safety Proposal Sent to EU Farm Ministers

July 17, 1997

The European Commission will ask EU farm ministers next week to approve a proposal to protect consumers from mad cow disease, despite its rejection by member state veterinary officials, the Commission said on Thursday.

The EU Standing Veterinary Committee on Wednesday rejected by eight votes to seven plans to remove risky animal tissue from human and animal food to help eradicate the fatal cattle brain disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).

"It was unacceptable, given the public concern about BSE, that some member states refuse to apply necessary precautions to protect human and animal health," EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler said in a statement.

Fischler said he hoped the proposal will now be approved by EU farm ministers when they meet on July 22-23.

One extra vote in favour, giving a simple majority, would enable the EU's executive to implement the proposal to remove the brain, eyes, tonsils and spinal cord of cattle, sheep and goats over 12 months of age.

European Commission officials said some ministers, sensitive to public opinion, could vote differently from their officials.

"Otherwise they risk being accused of putting economics above human health," said a Commission spokesman.

EU sources said Portugal, Belgium and Finland were the the most likely to switch positions and vote for the change. In December, only Britain, Ireland, France, Sweden and Luxembourg supported a similar proposal.

Since then, the Netherlands, where two cases of BSE have been reported, and Spain have swung round in favour.

Other countries argued that removal of the material was an unnecessary expense as they were free of BSE and scrapie, a similar brain disease in sheep.

But the Commission says that no country could be considered totally free of BSE because inspections and controls were often inadequate. Following critical EU inspectors' reports, it has started legal action against 10 countries for failing to respect rules aimed at stamping out mad cow disease.

Britain, which already removes the risky animal tissue, has warned that if the Commission's proposal is not approved next week it will ensure that beef imports comply with rigorous British food safety standards.

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