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64th Annual General Session of the International Committee of the Office international des épizooties: New recommendations on bovine spongiform encephalopathy

The International Committee of the Office International des Epizooties (1) held its 64th annual General Session in Paris from 20 to 24 May 1996. The Chief Veterinary Officers of 117 OIE Member Countries were present, together with the Directors or representatives of 17 International Organisations, including the FAO (2), WHO (3) and WTO (4).

  • Among the most important decisions taken during the General Session was the adoption of a revised Chapter for the International Animal Health Code (5) concerning bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (6) (7). The preceding chapters were prepared in 1992 and 1995. This updated Chapter takes into account the latest scientific information, discussed by a joint OIE/WHO Expert Group, which met in Paris at the beginning of May.

    In the new arrangements was 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 animals. Imports of cattle from countries having a high incidence of BSE have to take the farming conditions of these cattle into account, by verifying that they were born after the date on which prohibition of feeding meat and bone meal of ruminant origin to ruminants was effectively respected, or if they 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 distal ileum, as well as products derived from proteins) from cattle over 6 months old may not be exported from countries with a high BSE incidence. For countries with only sporadic cases of the disease, measures are less restrictive. However, these countries may export cattle only if the feeding of ruminants with meat-and-bone meal of ruminant origin has, in fact, been prohibited in their territory.

  • The Regional Commissions and the Specialist Commissions of the OIE presented an analysis of changes in other diseases of animals, including the most contagious (15 diseases) and those having less serious repercussions (93 diseases). This analysis was accompanied by a report of special measures taken by the OIE, in collaboration with the FAO and WHO and regional organisations, such as the European Union, aimed at controlling specific serious diseases, in particular foot and mouth disease in South-East Asia, and rinderpest and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, as the latter disease has increased alarmingly in Africa.

  • From a technical point of view, the International Committee recommended the application of all the resources of biotechnology to the development of animal production in the world, while observing vital safety standards, evaluated independently and objectively.

    In addition, Member Countries requested the OIE to act as their principal source of information. Such information is particularly needed to resolve animal health problems associated with international trade, brought to the notice of the WTO.

  • A report of the Strategic Planning Group, composed of representatives from all parts of the world, was presented to the 64th General Session. This Group examined the activities of the OIE between 1990 and 1995, and concluded that "the OIE had achieved considerable results despite a restricted budget and a reduced administrative structure, and that it could be regarded as a model of resource management on an international scale". The Group proposed to the International Committee some new orientations, which the Office could undertake for the period 1995-1999, concerning essentially the strengthening of surveillance and dissemination of animal health information (particularly by the Internet). These activities also concern the updating of standards and health recommendations for international trade in animals and animal products, as well as cooperation with the national Veterinary Services.

The use of such standards and recommendations has been advocated by the WTO since 1995.

(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 for animals, including those also affecting humans, and to determine the health standards for international trade.

(2) FAO = Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

(3) WHO = World Health Organization

(4) WTO = World Trade Organization

(5) The International Animal Health Code (the Code), adopted by the OIE International Committee, defines the health standards recommended for international trade in animals and animal products. The Agreement of the World Trade Organization on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures specifies the use of these standards.

(6) Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow disease" has occurred 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, Denmark, Falkland Islands, Germany, Ireland, Sultanate of Oman, Italy and Portugal. According to article of the Code, these countries or territories can be considered as free from BSE. Apart from the United Kingdom, four other European countries have reported sporadic, indigenous cases: Switzerland (211 cases), Ireland (125 cases), Portugal (37 cases) and France (19 cases). Veterinary controls have been set up in all these countries. Epidemiological studies of affected cattle in these countries have shown, in most cases, potential exposure to 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 (referred to as "BAB" - born after the ban) in the United Kingdom (> 26 000), Switzerland (9) and Ireland (3).

The Office International des Epizooties has followed the evolution of this disease since it made its appearance and has prepared several normative texts on the subject since 1990. These have been regularly updated, with a continuous concern for the protection of animal and public health.

According to the International Animal Health Code, this is a nervous disease of adult cattle, affecting individuals and not whole herds. There is no evidence that it is contagious.

(7) The complete chapter of the Code which refers to bovine spongiform encephalopath,y and the Resolution by which it has been adopted, are obtainable on request from the Central Bureau of the OIE.

Contact : Maria Zampaglione