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Authorisation and use of the BSE rapid test

25/2000, 22.11.2000

Joint Press Release of the Federal Agency for Viral Diseases in Animals, the Federal Agency for Meat Research and the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine

From 1 January 2001 onwards perished cattle and cattle delivered to animal waste processing plants are to be examined for BSE. This measure serves first and foremost to improve BSE monitoring of cattle stocks and identification of the actual status of BSE infections in the Member States. Within the framework of these measures Germany is obliged to examine a representative random sample of 8,000 such animals. In any case, the federal government had already decided to test all perished cattle. Estimates suggest the number of animals to be around 66,000 every year. Given the considerable increase in the number of diagnosed cases of BSE in Switzerland and France thanks to the use of such tests and the resulting uncertainty amongst consumers, the federal government has called on the Länder to begin using the rapid test as soon as possible.

Similar to the situation in human medicine all methods used to diagnose infections in animals must be officially authorised pursuant to the Epizootics Act. The National Reference Centre for BSE and Scrapie Diagnosis of the Federal Research Agency for Viral Diseases in Animals, Tübingen was recently appointed the authorisation authority for the rapid test. So far, two producers there have applied for authorisation of their tests. Both methods are based on the immunochemical detection of degenerated prion proteins and are to be conducted within 6 to 8 hours. However, only tissue samples taken from the brain of the animals after death can be tested. This method is not suitable for other tissue like muscle meat or blood.

Both of the impending rapid tests were pretested in an EU-wide trial. For the 1,400 samples they were able to distinguish between brain tissue of animals with BSE and animals not suffering from BSE. However, this study did not include any samples from animals during the incubation period, i.e. prior to the outbreak of the disease. There is no substantiated scientific data as to the point in time onwards when infected animals can be definitely identified during the average five-year incubation period. Samples with a negative test result cannot, therefore, guarantee that the animals are not infected with BSE as the level of pathogens may lie below the detection limit of the test. Around 60 % of all slaughtered cattle in Germany are younger than 3 years old. The proportion of BSE cases in the United Kingdom was below 0.25% for this age group. In Germany BSE has not been detected up to now in any indigenous cattle. The study conducted in North-Rhine/Westphalia involving 5,000 slaughter animals did not uncover any cases of BSE. Against this backdrop, the use of the currently available tests for all slaughter cattle seems to be little suited as a preventive consumer health protection measure.

Given the frequently expressed doubts about Germany's BSE-free status and the availability of the rapid test, the German BSE status should now be further confirmed and documented. In the past thousands of studies have been conducted on animals with central nervous symptoms using internationally recognised methods. These studies by the Land veterinary monitoring authorities, veterinary training centres and the national reference laboratory always produced negative results for indigenous animals. The effectiveness of the German monitoring system was demonstrated by the discovery of 6 BSE cases in imported cattle. The forthcoming introduction of the rapid test will serve to increase consumer confidence in the food, beef. Furthermore, it will provide more information on Germany's BSE status and will be welcomed from the scientific angle by all three institutions.


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