States in east 'must tighten up on BSE regulations'

April 3, 2001 Financial Times (London) by Dan Bilefsky

The European Commission yesterday warned that the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia were at high risk of suffering mad cow disease, or BSE, and could face a ban on their meat exports to the European Union unless they tightened their controls against the brain-wasting illness.

The Commission said its chief scientists had concluded that these central and eastern European countries were likely to have been exposed to BSE because of their past imports of cattle and potentially infected meat and bone meal (MBM) from the European Union.

The Commission called on them to comply immediately with tough anti-BSE regulations requiring removal of so-called risk materials - parts of cattle such as brain and spinal cord thought likely to harbour BSE - from their beef exports into the 15-member bloc.

However, the Commission's decision provoked a furious response from some of the named countries. Poland and the Czech Republic, both candidates for EU membership, challenged the scientists' conclusions, emphasising that they had never experienced a case of BSE.

"This opinion is very unjustified and will have a psychological effect on the country," said Tadeusz Wijaszka, the veterinary affairs counsellor at the Polish mission to the EU in Brussels.

While Poland has reported no cases of BSE, the Commission said it was included on the list of high-risk countries due to past imports of EU-produced MBM, which until recently amounted to about 400,000 tonnes a year.

But Mr Wijaszka said that imported meal had only been used for pigs and poultry and posed no risk to cattle in the food chain.

Poland was likely to launch a formal appeal against the scientists' conclusions.

The Czech Republic said that it too was likely to contest the scientists' conclusions.

"We are not satisfied with the EU's conclusions and were surprised because we have had no case of BSE," said Libor Secka, the Czech Republic's ambassador to the EU.

"The controls will mean more labour and higher costs for beef producers and being labelled a high-risk country could be very harmful for our trade with other countries."

Beate Gminder, spokeswoman for David Byrne, EU health commissioner, said

Poland and the Czech Republic are likely to contest the scientists' conclusions on exposure to mad cow disease the "high risk" designation was not likely to have much of an impact on eastern and central European beef exports to the EU, since most of the bloc's non-EU beef imports came from Brazil, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.

"Of course none of these countries are happy to be included on the list. But their past imports of meat-and-bone meal from countries where BSE has since been confirmed puts them at risk of the disease," said Ms Gminder.

Concerns about the presence of risky materials in the European food chain were fanned recently after spinal cord was discovered in consignments of beef which had been exported from Germany and the Netherlands to Britain and Ireland.

Mr Byrne threatened to ban German meat exports if abattoirs in Germany continued to flout EU safety standards.

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