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BgVV again calls on industry to take all the effective steps to protect consumers from BSE

11/2001, 05.03.2001

No real risk of transmission from food fats and gelatines

Both gelatines and fats used in food production can be classified as safe according to the manufacturers when it comes to the risk of BSE transmission. This was revealed by discussions with manufacturers which were also attended by representatives of the federal and Länder ministries, by representatives of subordinate federal offices and the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV). Against this backdrop, BgVV renews its appeal to the manufacturers of foods and cosmetics to take all effective measures according to the current state of scientific knowledge in order to protect consumers from the transmission of BSE (cf. BgVV Press release 08/96 of 4 April 1996) - even if these extend beyond statutory provisions.

Gelatines and gelatine-containing products can be classified as safe according to international scientific opinion with regard to the risk of BSE transmission when they are manufactured according to the stipulated provisions of the Gelatine Manufacturers of Europe (GME). They prescribe, for instance, that the alkaline procedure, a treatment involving lime milk and sodium hydroxide, should be used in the production of gelatines from cattle skin and bones. Furthermore, raw materials from countries with a high BSE risk may not be used and the use of specific risk materials is, of course, banned. In addition, there are safety measures for the production of gelatines for use in medicinal products and cosmetics.

Because of the suspicion of contamination of animal fats with BSE risk materials prior to the entry into force of the ban on their use in October 2000, BgVV has asked for clarification from the higher Land authorities responsible for food control about the starting materials used. The fat melters authorised in Germany thereupon stated that neither tissue nor body fluids from brains, spinal cord or eyes had been used but only (in line with the provisions) fatty tissue and bones from edible animals. In terms of fatty tissue it was mainly kidney, pelvic and cutting fats from cattle and fat and rind from pig which were processed. In principle, the fats produced in the authorised fat melters are suitable for use as foods. By far the largest share, however, is not used as food but for technical purposes. BgVV recommends that other animal fats, which may not be used as foods (e.g. fats from animal waste processing plants) are rendered visible by suitable colour or odour supplements in order to make it easier for food control to distinguish between them.

The manufacturers stated that any animal fats (except for milk fat) used in baby foods are refined at temperatures of around 240oC and can, therefore, be deemed to be safe. By contrast, only cow's milk fat, plant oils and, more rarely, fish oil are processed in the production of breast milk substitutes. Against this backdrop, the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine, BgVV, once again expressly calls on the manufacturers of foods and cosmetics to take all measures for the health protection of consumers which are deemed to be effective according to today's level of scientific knowledge in order to restrict as far as possible the BSE risk. Within the framework of a voluntary undertaking this can extend to steps which go beyond the statutory measures.

They include:

  • the careful choice of starting materials. In order to obtain a safe starting material, risk material must be fully removed. The raw materials should not come from high-risk regions. Furthermore, the Institute recommends that no tissue should be processed from cattle under the age of one year which is deemed to be risk material in older animals. When producing meat and sausage products, no use should be made of brain or spinal cord from pigs until it can safely be ruled out that pigs cannot transmit the BSE pathogen.
  • the use of a production method which definitely inactivates the pathogen according to today's level of scientific knowledge. Where there is a high initial strain on the material, even heating to at least 133oC for 20 minutes under vapour overpressure (3 bars) in the autoclave is not considered to be sufficient to achieve complete inactivation.
  • examination whether in the case of a potential risk which has not been sufficiently clarified scientifically, other safe starting material could be used. Up to now, incidents of BSE have been observed in 24 animal species (e.g. in ruminants, large cats and various rodents). As far as we know, fish, poultry and pigs are not infected or cannot be infected through food.

There are still no indications of a transmission of BSE infection through muscle meat, milk or dairy products. Therefore, these foods continue to be deemed to be safe according to the international state of scientific knowledge. In all areas BgVV sees a need for further research.

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