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Bovine spongiform encephalopathy: the Office international des épizooties provides the latest epidemiological information in a public audience to the European Parliament

On 24 and 25 June 1996, the Committees on 'Environment', 'Public Health and Consumer Protection' and 'Agriculture and Rural Development' of the European Parliament organised a public audience in Brussels on the following subject: 'Bovine spongiform encephalopathy and risks for human health'. Other than the European parliamentarians, a number of experts, representatives of professional associations, and the Director of the World Health Organization's Department for the Surveillance of New Diseases participated in the audience. The Director General of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) (1) was invited to present to the European parliamentarians the latest information concerning the surveillance and control of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ('BSE') worldwide.

  • The evolution of bovine spongiform encephalopathy worldwide can be summarised as follows:
    • On 24 June 1996, the disease was recognised mainly in the United Kingdom (over 160 000 cases since 1989). During the past years, some cattle exported from the United Kingdom have succumbed to BSE in Canada (1 case), Denmark (1 case), Falkland Islands (1 case), Germany (4 cases), Sultanate of Oman (2 cases) and Italy (2 cases). According to article 3.2.13.2. of the International Animal Health Code of the OIE (2), these countries or territories can be considered to be free from BSE. Apart from the United Kingdom, four other European countries have reported sporadic, indigenous cases (other than some imported cases): Switzerland (221 cases), Ireland (125 cases), Portugal (43 cases) and France (20 cases).

    • Epidemiological studies of affected cattle in these countries have shown, in most cases, potential contamination by protein products of animal origin supplied by carcass disposal establishments. Some cases have occurred in animals born after the prohibition of incorporation of meat-and-bone meal in feed for ruminants came into force in the United Kingdom (> 26 000), Switzerland (9), Ireland (3) and France (1).

    • The Office International des Epizooties has followed the evolution of this disease since its appearance and publishes every Friday, the list of newly reported cases on the OIE Web site: "http://www.oie.org" or "http://194.2.74.10".

  • The measures adopted on 24 May 1996 by the 143 OIE Member Countries were reiterated with respect to international trade. They can be summarised as follows:
    • The authorisation, without any restriction, of international trade in milk, milk products, as well as in hides and skins derived from healthy cattle living in countries where BSE has occurred.

    • By-products, such as gelatine, collagen and tallow, which have been processed in such a way that there can be no residual BSE infectivity, are considered harmless. Likewise, there is no proof of the existence of a risk linked to trade in semen from healthy bulls.

    • Imports of cattle from countries with a high incidence of BSE must take the farming conditions of these cattle into account, by verifying that the cattle were born after the date on which prohibition of feeding meat-and-bone meal of ruminant origin to cattle was effectively respected, or if the cattle were born and reared in a herd entirely free from the disease, and were never fed meat-and-bone meal.

    • Certain products (brain, eyes, spinal cord, thymus, spleen and part of the intenstine, as well as products derived from proteins) from cattle over 6 months old from countries with a high BSE incidence, must be removed from all slaughter cattle carcasses and destroyed. On no account may they be subject to trade.

    • For countries with only sporadic cases of the disease, measures are less restrictive. However, these countries may export cattle only if the prohibition of feeding animals of this species with meat-and-bone meal of ruminant origin has, in fact, been respected in their territory. Furthermore, meat-and-bone meal must no longer be traded internationally if it originates from a country with a high incidence of BSE.

(1) OIE, the world organisation for animal health, was created in 1924 and has its headquarters in Paris. The Delegates of its 143 Member Countries form the 'International Committee', which is supported by the work of four Specialist Commissions, one of which is responsible for the International Animal Health Code. The OIE's mission is to inform and advise the Veterinary Services of its Member Countries, in order to contribute to the eradication of the most dangerous diseases of animals, including those also affecting humans, and to determine the health standards for international trade.

(2) The complete chapter of the International Animal Health Code which refers to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and the Resolution by which it has been adopted, are obtainable on request from the Central Bureau of the OIE. The use of the Code texts has been recommended by the World Trade Organization since 1995 in the application of the sanitary and phytosanitary measures included in the GATT Agreement.

Contact : Maria Zampaglione

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