25 February 1998
EU-wide SRM rules delayed again

By Boyd Champness

UNIFORM anti-BSE control measures will not be introduced Europe-wide until the end of the year following a decision by European Commission officials to remodel the proposals.

Implementation of the new specified risk material (SRM) controls were initially delayed from December last year until July 1 this year.

Under the rules, EU members states are supposed to comply with British abattoir standards and remove the brain, spinal cord and spleen of cattle, sheep and goats over one year old.

But todays announcement will give member states, and third countries, the opportunity to request an exemption from the rules if they can prove their country is BSE-free or has a low incidence of the disease.

The announcement is likely to end a potential trade row with the USA and other third countries, who are likely to be granted an exemption.

Member states have until July 1 to request an exemption and most are expected to do so. Scientists will then spend six months evaluating the risk-free status of each individual country and decide whether they should be exempt from the new abattoir rules.

Countries not granted an exemption will have to introduce the SRM rules into their meat plants by January 1, 1999.

Seven member states have reported BSE cases in their domestic herds including Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. These countries will have more difficulty achieving an exemption than the remaining eight member states.

A Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spokesman said the Government was “not happy” with the proposed amendment to the scheme.

He said the Government would like to see a more “cautious approach” taken with the SRM measures introduced across the board on July 1. Countries should then be given the opportunity to apply for an exemption after their introduction, he said.

The amendment – the brainchild of EC farm commissioner Franz Fischler and EC consumer and health commissioner Emma Bonino – will now go before the Standing Veterinary Committee.

If the Standing Veterinary Committee fails to give an opinion it will go before the council of farm ministers, which is likely to receive the amendment warmly .