Europe Bans Animal Cannibalism to Curb Mad Cow

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - Only material derived from animals declared fit for human consumption following veterinary inspection may be used for the production of animal feed, according to a new regulation adopted by the European Parliament Monday. The regulation also prohibits any form of "cannibalism" within species.

The measure was passed to guard against another outbreak of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalothapy (BSE), which spreads when the neural tissue from infected animals is used to make meat-and-bone-meal that is then fed to other cattle. Cattle are grazing animals that do not naturally eat meat.


Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
European Commissioner David Byrne, responsible for Health and Consumer Protection, today welcomed the regulation which replace and simplifies a number of laws that have developed over more than a decade. "The requirements for feed are now as stringent as those for food, and this is a great step towards preventing any feed-born food crises like BSE or dioxin contamination," he said.

The regulation is based on "the over-riding principle to ensure food safety from the farm to the fork" by introducing stringent conditions throughout the food and feed chains requiring safe collection, transport, storage, handling, processing, uses and disposal of animal by-products, said Byrne.

The regulation extends the current ruminant "intra-species recycling ban," known as the cannibalism ban, to other species.

The measure does not affect the current total European Union ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal to farmed animals, which is a separate issue and remains in force without any date set to terminate it.

But the regulation establishes clear safety rules for the production of meat and bone meal in case it is ever re-authorized for inclusion in feed for non-ruminant species, such as poultry and pigs.


UK cattle at feeding time (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
The measure classifies animal by-products, defined as the parts of a slaughtered animal that are not consumed by humans, into three categories based on their potential risk to animals, the public or the environment, and sets out how each category must or may be disposed of.

Category 1 materials, animal by-products presenting the highest risk, must be completely disposed of as waste by incineration or landfill after appropriate heat treatment. These are materials containing BSE or scrapie, residues of prohibited substance such as hormones used for growth promotion, or environmental contaminants such as dioxins and PCBs.

Category 2 materials may be recycled for uses other than feeds after appropriate treatment. They may be burned to produce biogas, or composted, or processed into oleochemical products such as fatty esters and acids. These are animal by-products posing a risk of contamination with other animal diseases such as animals which die on farm or are killed in the context of disease control measures on farm or at risk of residues of veterinary drugs.

Only category 3 materials may be used in the production of feeds following appropriate treatment in approved processing plants. These are by-products derived from healthy animals slaughtered for human consumption.

The regulation requires reliable traceability and identification systems of marking for animal materials intended for specific disposal options, such as the incineration of meat and bone meal, to avoid possible fraud or the diversion of unauthorized products into food and feed.

BSE attacks the brain and central nervous system of adult cattle and eventually causes death. BSE is one of a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion diseases. The UK Food Standards Agency explains that they result from the buildup of abnormal prion proteins in the brain and nervous system.


Cow in the United Kingdom (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
Research has shown that TSEs have two characteristics in common: they can be transmitted between animals, and they cause the same spongy decay of brain tissues.

BSE was first found in the UK in 1986. Scientists still do not understand how the disease started in the UK, but most experts agree that BSE was spread by cattle eating feed that contained meat-and-bone meal (MBM), which contained BSE infected parts of other grazing animals. MBM is produced in a process called rendering, this is where otherwise unused meat products are taken from the animal carcass and turned into cattle feed.

Extensive use of MBM in cattle feed in the UK meant that, once it started, BSE spread rapidly. Currently, the UK has the highest level of BSE in the world with just over 179,500 cases confirmed since 1988.

Despite strict laws governing the removal of all brain and spinal cord tissue from the European animal feed chain, occasional instances of the disease still occur.

According to figures published by the UK Food Standards Agency, 147 animals were found to be carrying mad cow disease out of 4,469,892 animals tested in the first six months of this year.

Since 1999, other countries in Europe, besides the UK, have reported confirmed cases of BSE. These include Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. The disease has also spread to Japan and Israel.