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EU: Commission Rejects Candidates' Criticism On BSE Classification

Brussels, 4 April 2001 (RFE/RL) The European Commission today rejected accusations that it has unfairly deemed a number of Eastern European candidate countries likely to present a BSE risk.

Governments in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have all attacked an EU risk-assessment study published 2 April saying BSE might be present in their herds. They say the study does not correctly reflect available scientific data.

The Czech government has already sent a letter of protest to David Byrne, the EU Commissioner for Consumer and Health Protection. Both Hungary and Poland have indicated they will soon do the same.

The risk-assessment study says countries deemed likely to harbor BSE have in the past imported significant amounts of live cattle and meat-and-bone-meal from EU countries where the presence of BSE has since been confirmed.

Beate Gminder, a European Commission spokeswoman today said the Scientific Steering Committee, which drew up the classification, is an independent body although it is affiliated with the Commission. Therefore, she said, the results can only be changed if new scientific evidence comes to light.

"As with all our other scientific opinions, it is constantly kept under review, the results will be always reevaluated, if there is new evidence, new data, new results from anything else.

She said that in 1999 when the Scientific Steering Committee drew up a risk-assessment study on EU member countries, Germany, Italy, and Spain had protested against being classified as presenting a likely BSE risk. However, Gminder said, the results of the study were vindicated later.

Countries deemed at risk from BSE must remove all so-called risk materials -- spinal cord, brain, and parts of the intestines, among other things - from meat exported to the EU. The restrictions are enforced in the belief that eating "high-risk" parts of infected animals could lead to humans contracting the human variant of BSE.

Gminder indicated that the desire expressed by governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to be "promoted" to the category of third countries where incidence of BSE is "unlikely but cannot be ruled out" is largely a matter of principle. In practical terms, she says there would be little difference, as BSE-risk materials must still be removed from all meat products exported to the EU.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, speaking on national radio this morning, said that Hungary was concerned the EU's negative assessment could affect Hungary's beef exports to third countries.

Other Eastern European countries classified as likely to present a BSE risk include Albania, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. The EU has deferred decisions on Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania.

All Eastern European candidate countries have themselves banned imports of EU beef since the outbreak of BSE.