The success of the European Union's efforts in combating Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle or scrapie in sheep and goats, allows the EU to contemplate changes in some of its rules.
Earler this month, the European Commission adopted a Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, which outlines areas where future possible changes to EU TSE-related measures could be made. The document – The TSE Road Map 2 – a strategy paper on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies for 2010-2015 – underlines that any amendment should maintain the EU's high level of protection of human and animal health and of food safety and should be backed by solid science. The Road Map is a reflection paper that opens up dialogue on the issue.
Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, John Dalli, said: "The European Union has made great progress in its battle against BSE and we are finally on the brink of eradicating the disease within the Union. Strong and comprehensive EU measures are to be credited for this progress.
"This Roadmap is a reflection on strategy for the years to come: any changes to the BSE measures will not affect in any way our fundamental objectives to eradicate the disease and to protect the EU's citizens".
The Road Map identifies six areas where changes to the current TSE measures could be made in the future:
- Specified Risk Materials: (SRMs; i.e. organs that could harbour BSE infectivity): The EU SRMs list could be aligned with the international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
- The feed ban: A certain tolerance level of processed animal proteins (PAP) could be introduced; provisions banning the use of certain PAP for animals such as pigs, poultry and fish (i.e. non-ruminants) could be removed without lifting the prohibition on intra species recycling (e.g. poultry meal could be fed to pigs and pig meal to poultry but not pig meal to pigs).
- Surveillance: The monitoring system could be better targeted by increasing gradually the testing age limits, or through various testing methods.
- Scrapie eradication measures: These could be brought in line with the latest scientific information, which could mean – among other things – adapting measures for atypical scrapie if data confirms that this scrapie strain is not contagious or continuing to encourage genetic control of the disease in sheep through breeding programmes.
- Cohort culling: As the number of BSE-positive animals has dropped to zero in 2009 the systematic cohort culling of cattle could be stopped and animals could be sold for consumption provided they are tested with negative results before entering the food chain.
- Ante-mortem and post-mortem tests: If ante-mortem tests become available the testing of live animals could be an option. This could be particularly helpful for herd certification purposes vis-à-vis small ruminants.
What's next?The first TSE Roadmap, a reflection paper adopted by the Commission in 2005, provided an outline of possible future changes to EU measures on TSEs in the short, medium and long-term. The majority of short and medium term actions envisaged in the first TSE Roadmap have been achieved and the positive trend already observed in 2005 in the BSE epidemic has continued since then.
The Commission's goal for the coming years is to continue the review of the measures while assuring the highest level of food safety. Amendments to the TSE rules are, and will continue to be, taken following a step-by-step approach supported by a solid scientific basis provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
In setting its future strategy, the Commission is also obliged not to lose sight of other threats to animal and public health, such as Salmonella and Antimicrobial Resistance. The Commission, based on existing scientific evidence, believes there is a need to better prioritise actions taking into consideration the impact the various diseases have on public health.
"The encouraging trends in relation to BSE merit a considered review of the opportunities to focus on these other threats," concludes the Commission's Communication to the European Parliament and Council.