31 March 2000

Europe-wide BSE testing to start agenda

By Philip Clarke

TESTING for BSE throughout Europe is due to begin next January as the Commission steps up its efforts to eliminate the disease from the EUs cattle population.

A new proposal, passed by commissioners on Wednesday (Mar 29), calls for post-mortem tests to be carried out on fallen stock and animals subject to emergency slaughter to see if they are incubating the disease. Only animals over two-years-old will be targeted.

The intention is to test 10% of these casualties – about 65,000 animals a year – throughout the EU. However, individual member states will be encouraged to go beyond this 10% minimum.

Consumer affairs commissioner David Byrne said: "It is of utmost importance to learn as much as possible about the scale of the disease in Europe. I encourage all member states to introduce these tests."

The measure will be presented to the Brussels-based standing veterinary committee on Apr 5, where it can become law if a sufficient majority of member states support it. Little opposition is anticipated.

France is in the process of launching its own post-mortem testing, focusing on fallen stock in the regions with the greatest concentration of BSE. About 40,000 animals are to be tested. "We are ahead of the game and are happy the rest of Europe is to follow us, so we know if they have the same problems," said one French farmer representative.

Germany will also support the proposal, since testing was one of the demands the Berlin government was making in the argument over whether to readmit British beef.

This is despite the risk that BSE testing will show the disease to be much more widespread in Europe than previously suspected.

British beef representatives have also welcomed the move. "It is another useful tool in establishing the underlying incidence of BSE in member states, so long as people realise it is not appropriate for reassuring consumers about the safety of beef," said Helene Judge of the Meat and Livestock Commissions Brussels office.

Testing will also help establish the BSE status of each country, which will be used to determine which specified risk materials (SRMs) the member state will have to remove if and when the Commissions legislation in this area is approved.

Post-mortem tests from Swiss company Prionics, the French Atomic Energy Commission and Irish company Enfer Technology have been validated by the Commission. Results take between four and 24 hours to obtain. The Prionics test costs about £30. &#42