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BgVV in favour of bundling competencies in consumer health protection and more transparency for the consumer

01/2001, 03.01.2001

Federal Institute wishes to devote more use of its capacities to TSE research

According to the Director of the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Dieter Arnold, the bundling of competencies in consumer health protection would lead to safer and faster risk assessment and, by extension, to more effective risk management. Against the backdrop of the BSE crisis the Institute Director is advocating a statutory obligation to publish all expert reports and proposed measures in order to increase the transparency of scientific advice and political decisions for the consumer. The capacities of his Institute in Berlin and Jena, which reports to the Federal Ministry of Health, will be devoted to a greater degree to research into transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, TSE). The focus will be on research into TSEs in sheep and their relevance for the health of consumers. Because of the long incubation periods no results can be expected in the short term. Nevertheless, the research can still provide answers to many open questions and thus provide the foundations for effective measures.

BgVV welcomes the proposals for the creation of a Federal Office for Health Protection of Consumers particularly in conjunction with the establishment of a European Food Agency. The BSE crisis has once again shown that effective representation of national interests within the European community of states is only possible by bundling of competences in the field of consumer protection. Dr. Arnold pointed out the successful restructuring of the food authorities in England and France where the emphasis had been placed on the greatest possible autonomy, transparency and involvement of consumers. It was the opinion of BgVV that there should be a statutory obligation for all institutions on the federal and Land levels to publish their expert reports and proposed measures on the Internet.

The current splintering of responsibilities in consumer protection work in Germany was frequently counter-productive according to Arnold. In order to avoid a conflict of interests, he felt that a clear assignment of consumer health protection to the Federal Ministry of Health was unavoidable. In this context he saw BgVV as the crystallisation point in the close interplay with other federal institutes and federal agencies. The Federal Government and the Bundesrat also saw the Institute as the partner for cooperation with the future European Agency on matters of food safety and consumer protection.

The Federal Institute wishes to make greater use of its extensive shed and laboratory facilities in Berlin and Jena in research into BSE and scrapie in an integrated national and international research network. It also wishes to address the issue of whether there were similar diseases in fish. Furthermore, the emphasis will be on the epidemiology of TSEs in food-producing animals. In addition, the Institute has developed a new test method to determine the origin of meat based on a polymerase chain reaction which reliably determines the type of animal from which the meat comes. The test, which is currently being validated, will make an important contribution to consumer protection in the field of food monitoring, particularly in conjunction with the recently exposed label swindle in so-called "beef-free" sausages.

In future, BgVV will also be conducting research in live animals, particularly in sheep, on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The backdrop: scrapie has occurred in sheep flocks for centuries. Thanks to concerted epidemic measures in Germany efforts have succeeded in largely controlling the disease. In scientific discussions the spotlight is on the question whether unidentified BSE cases could have been "concealed" up to now behind the scrapie cases. On the grounds of precautionary health protection, BgVV feels that the testing of sheep for slaughter is worthwhile and is calling on producers to step up efforts to elaborate a valid test, which can be used on a routine basis for the differential diagnosis of scrapie and BSE in sheep. No such test is available at present. BgVV has repeatedly pointed out the need for research into a potential BSE risk from sheep. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Health, the Institute is currently working together with other federal institutes on a corresponding risk assessment. Already in November BgVV informed consumers that the consumption of mutton, like the consumption of beef, carried a risk (cf. Press Release No. 26 of 28 November 2000). The use of risk materials from sheep like those from cattle and goats has been banned since October 2000.


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