12 April 2002

Ultimatum for France

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

FRENCH authorities have been given 25 days to respond to a long list of recommendations after EU Commission inspectors identified gaping holes in Frances BSE controls.

The shortcomings include a failure to use the correct definition of a "BSE suspect" under the surveillance programme and the irregular collection of samples from fallen stock.

The Food and Veterinary Office team also found major weaknesses at abattoirs in detaining carcasses awaiting test results. "Sufficient guarantees cannot be given that carcasses are not released before negative test results are available," says its report out this week.

It also emerged that the requirement to destroy all animals born on the same holding one year before the birth of a BSE case is not met.

Further failures were encountered in Frances meat-and-bonemeal controls. "Measures to prevent carryover in plants where MBM was used before the ban were not harmonised," says the report. While some plants were meticulous in dismantling and cleaning production lines, others took no action.

Sampling of animal feed was also deficient, made worse by the fact two organisations are involved with no evidence of close co-ordination. "A programme with a low number of samples, lack of targeting and deficient techniques is not likely to detect even major non-compliances."

The inspectors found further problems in the controls on specified risk materials, including a failure to stain SRMs properly and the cross-contamination of carcasses with remnants of spinal cord.

"The reconciliation of SRM throughout the whole food chain is not effective," says the report. "It cannot be demonstrated that all SRM is collected and disposed of according to EU requirements."

NFU president, Ben Gill, said the reports findings did not come as a surprise – "Its what weve suspected all along. It is indicative of the French governments blatant hypocrisy in banning imports of British beef while failing to get its own house in order," he told FW.

French demands for the UK to increase its testing programme were a cover up for their own failings at controlling BSE, he added.

But the study was not entirely negative. The inspectors concluded that the French epidemio-surveillance of BSE was generally efficient, and approval and control of laboratories was well implemented. &#42

The report followed a five-day visit last September, taking in two laboratories, two rendering plants, three feed mills, four slaughterhouses, four cutting plants and an MBM/SRM store.