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Press Release 01/41


Rome, 21 June - More than 30 countries have improved surveillance and have banned the import of meat and bone meal (MBM) and live cattle from Western European countries, where the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been confirmed, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement issued today.

In Paris last week, an international conference on BSE urged all countries not to be complacent. Countries should assess the risk and take precautionary measures against developing BSE in cattle and the human disease vCJD. The conference was jointly organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), FAO and the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE).

In January FAO issued a warning saying that more than 100 countries which have imported meat and bone meal (MBM) or live cattle from Western Europe during the 1980s are at risk. Some countries also re-exported MBM to third countries.

Regions that are particularly at risk, because they have imported sizeable quantities of MBM from Western Europe during and since the 1980s, include Eastern Europe, Asia and the Near East. The Czech Republic has recently reported its first case of BSE.

"BSE may still be undetected in countries outside Western Europe which imported contaminated feed or cattle in the 1980s and 90s and do not have effective surveillance and risk management in place," said FAO Senior Officer Andrew Speedy. "But if countries take the necessary steps, consumers can be reassured that the beef they eat is safe."

Many of the countries that have restricted trade, such as Argentina, Uruguay and Namibia, are meat exporters. They are very concerned to preserve their trading status.

Some meat importing countries are banning beef and cattle imports from BSE affected countries and from countries which are considered at risk. At least 15 countries have gone further in strengthening their sanitary controls and have launched surveillance programmes to screen suspected animals for signs of BSE.

Fewer countries have followed FAO's recommendation of banning the use of all MBM for ruminant feeding (not just MBM imported from Europe). Some countries, however, have considered a complete ban on the feeding of animal protein meals to all farm animals.

The EU Scientific Steering Committee's BSE risk assessment study considers 24 of the 46 countries analysed so far to be in the higher risk category.

FAO emphasized that the banning of imports of MBM, cattle and beef is not the only answer to controlling the spread of BSE.

"All countries outside the EU should conduct a national risk assessment for BSE with surveys and targeted testing of high risk animals, particularly imported animals, at abattoirs and fallen stock at farms," Speedy said. The animal feed industry should ensure the traceability of feed ingredients and should implement the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, which aims at identifying potential problems and taking corrective measures throughout the food chain.

FAO called upon governments to implement a national Action Plan to control BSE. Based on the legislation and surveillance schemes now imposed in Europe, all countries should ban the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) to cattle, sheep and goats.

FAO stressed, that there are many safe and affordable alternative protein sources for feeding farm animals. Live animals and animal products should only be imported from countries with rigorous BSE control measures. All animals should be identified and traceable.

Cattle for human consumption should be slaughtered latest under 30 months of age, FAO said. Older animals should have a prion test at post-mortem. Specified risk materials should be completely excluded from the human food chain (head, spinal cord, lymph nodes, and part of the intestines. This is recommended in the case of all low risk animals (traditionally managed local cattle) and should be obligatory in the case of high risk animals (intensively fed and imported animals). In most countries improved slaughterhouse procedures are needed to minimize possible contamination. Stunning methods should only include electrical stunning or non-penetrating captive bolt methods. Dead animals unfit for human consumption, should not enter the food chain at all.

Strict ante-mortem inspection should be undertaken to look for symptoms of BSE. Suspect cases showing clinical signs should be killed, the disease confirmed or refuted by histopathology or laboratory tests.

Experts are considering the risk of BSE in sheep and goats. Animals have been infected experimentally but so far no natural cases of BSE in these species have been detected. However, FAO recommends that the specified risk materials should also be removed from sheep and goats and should not enter the human food chain.

FAO said that there is a need for more training and capacity building in all countries. Awareness among farmers and the meat industry should be increased.

To address the concern of many developing countries, FAO provides technical assistance to establish or to update animal feed legislation and to improve food and feed safety measures. "If strict BSE control measures are implemented, assurance can be given that products are safe, and trade can be conducted with confidence," Andrew Speedy said.


For more information please contact Erwin Northoff, Media Relations Officer, Tel: 0039-06-5705 3105, e-mail:

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