16 March 2001

Controversy as MBMis poised to come back

MEAT and bonemeal could be poised for a European comeback.

The controversial feed ingredient was only banned from all livestock rations in January, when Brussels finally accepted that existing EU controls, banning mammalian MBM fed to ruminants, were not working as anticipated.

It was clear there was cross-contamination of cattle rations from pig and poultry feed. And the inclusion of specified risk materials in certain countries ensured that some of this was contaminated with BSE.

But, addressing the Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, food safety commissioner, David Byrne, insisted the MBM ban was only a temporary measure. It would be premature to make it permanent.

Much too early

"It is far too early to arrive at such a far-reaching conclusion," he said. "The fact is, we cannot avoid the need to find safe and efficient means of treating animal by-products."

Under the right conditions, the 2m tonnes of MBM produced in the EU each year was a valuable source of protein, he said. "In many respects, it represents a very good example of re-cycling. Until very recently, there was a consensus that this was too valuable a resource to waste."

Planned new legislation on animal by-products provided an opportunity for its return. "Key to the proposal is the belief that there is a place for MBM produced under safe conditions," said Mr Byrne.

These conditions required that only animals fit for human food could be used, the highest rendering standards should apply and rendering plants should be dedicated to prevent "same species" contamination.

A commission spokeswoman explained that the commissioner was only talking about a return of MBM for pigs and poultry. "There is no question of using it for ruminants."

But UK farm organisations have responded with concern to the comments. Even though it is unlikely the total MBM ban would ever be lifted in the UK, any relaxation on the continent could damage consumer confidence, inflicting further damage on the beef market.

"MBM is the vector for BSE," said National Beef Association chief executive, Robert Forster. "Whatever the scientific arguments, if a country has BSE and still uses MBM, the suspicion will always be there."

But the UK Renderers Association welcomed commissioner Byrnes comments. Legalising MBM again would put some value back into the by-product market. "Although this refers more to the EU than the UK, I am pleased to hear what he says," said chairman, Brian Rogers.

He accepted that MBM would never be used again in ruminant rations, and suggested it could be another two years before there is any relaxation for pigs and poultry on the continent. It would be longer still in the UK.