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BgVV: Further measures needed to reduce BSE risk

03/2001, 17.01.2001

The Institute calls for the definition of specific risk material to be extended and the age restriction lifted

The European Commission defines "specified risk material" in conjunction with the risk of BSE transmission at present as "skull (including brain and eyes), tonsils and spinal cord from cattle aged more than 12 months [...]". For reasons of precautionary health protection BgVV believes it is necessary to consider not only the spinal cord but the entire spinal column as risk material and to lift the restriction age. Already last week the Institute called for a renunciation of the splitting of animal carcasses during the slaughter process, which is prescribed in the EU, in future in order to reduce the risk of contamination of meat from healthy animals with BSE pathogens. BgVV believes it would make sense to extend the BSE rapid test to cattle aged more than 24 months.

In the case of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies all organs and body parts, in which BSE infectivity could be detected at some point after infection, are deemed to be risk material. In the risk material decision of the European Commission the term of "specified risk material" is dependent on the age of the animals. The age laid down in the decision takes into account the earliest point in time at which infectivity could be detected up to now and also encompasses an additional time safety margin. The point in time of infectivity of an organ or body part was determined

  • by injecting the pathogen-containing material into conventional mice - a test method whose sensitivity does not suffice according to scientific opinion today;
  • by injections to calves - a more sensitive test which was, however, conducted on a comparatively low number of animals and
  • by "infection patterns", i.e. the age-related incidence of clinical BSE disorders in cattle.

However, it is this very age distribution which may change through the wide application of the BSE rapid test. Also against the backdrop of the discussion about a possible involvement of milk replacers in the course of infection, a certain number of younger infected animals could be expected. Because of the open scientific questions about the transmission and spread of the pathogen, BgVV recommends that the definition of specific body parts as "specified risk material" be applied for precautionary reasons in future without age restriction to all cattle and in all countries in which BSE cases have occurred. Furthermore, BgVV believes it is necessary to extend the definition of risk material. Not only the spinal cord but the entire spinal column should be classified as risk material since the spinal cord, in its functional unity, cannot be separated from the spinal column and there is a risk of contamination of BSE-free meat during the slaughter process as a consequence of the splitting of the spinal column (cf. bgvv press release 02/2001 of 10. January).

Of the 180,000 animals with a clinical BSE disorder in the United Kingdom, only around 50 animals (0.03%) were younger than 30 months. The wide application of the rapid test has shown in recent weeks that it can identify BSE infections in cattle in some cases prior to the outbreak of clinical symptoms. BgVV, therefore, believes it would make sense to extend the test to all cattle over the age of 24 months. However, the Institute is of the opinion that if the test age were to be reduced further, only rare (positive) random findings could be expected given the present sensitivity of the BSE rapid test.

Finally, BgVV points out to the Länder authorities that the production, placing on the market and use of catgut which was manufactured from risk material is banned with immediate effect within the EU. Catgut is used as a surgical material for stitches. It is manufactured from animal intestines and has the positive characteristic that it dissolves during healing. It is, therefore, used in veterinary medicine in animals body as a stitching material and could in the past be manufactured from cattle intestines. Since catgut is not a veterinary medicinal product, the manufacturer does not require marketing authorisation by BgVV before placing it on the market. Examination of compliance with the ban by the manufacturers of catgut for use in veterinary medicine therefore comes under the responsibilities of the federal Länder.


Press information

Date Title Keywords
Avoid the contamination of meat with BSE pathogens during slaughtering!


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