Select Committee on European Scrutiny Seventh Report


CONTROL AND PREVENTION OF ZOONOSES


(22673)
11405/01
COM(01) 452

(a)
Commission Report on the measures to be put in force for the control and prevention of zoonoses.

(b)
Draft Council Directive on the monitoring of zoonoses and zoonotic agents, amending Council Decision 90/424/EEC and repealing Council Directive 92/117/EEC.

(c)
Draft Council Regulation on the control of salmonella and other food- borne zoonotic agents and amending Council Directives 64/432/EEC, 72/462/EEC and 90/539/EEC.


Legal base: (b) and (c) Article 152(4)(b) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 1 August 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 1 August 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 1 October 2001
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 24 October 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see footnotes below
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

Background

9.1  Council Directive 92/117/EEC[41] lays down measures for protecting against specified zoonoses[42] in animals and products of animal origin, in order to prevent outbreaks of food-borne infections. In particular, these include rules for the collection of information on the incidence of such diseases and its transmission each year to the Commission, and an obligation on Member States to inform the Commission of the national measures they are taking to achieve the objectives of the Directive in relation to specified zoonoses. In the latter case, special emphasis is placed on the steps necessary to deal with salmonella in hens, in accordance with detailed specifications laid down covering the inspections of both breeding and rearing flocks. Initially, the Commission was required to review the measures before 1 January 1996, but an amending Directive deferred that deadline until 1 November 1997, and specified that the review should refer in particular to new rules for the reporting system, methods for collecting samples and for examinations in approved national laboratories, the control of salmonella in poultry laying flocks, the control of salmonella in poultry breeding flocks and in compound feedingstuffs, and any measures to combat zoonoses other than salmonellosis. A further Directive amended the deadline for a second time (until 30 March 2000), an obligation which the Commission has now fulfilled some 18 months later in the current documents (though it points out that the delay has enabled it to take into account both the views of the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health, and its own proposal[43] laying down the general principles of food law and establishing the European Food Authority).

The current documents

9.2  These comprise a Report from the Commission, accompanied by two legislative proposals — one setting out revised requirements for the monitoring of zoonoses, and the other revised measures to control salmonella and other food-borne diseases. The Commission says that these were foreseen in its White Paper on Food Safety,[44] and that the proposals respect the main principles in the White Paper, such as laying responsibility for food safety primarily on food businesses, including feed manufacturers and farmers, creating an integrated policy from farm to table, and basing measures on risk analysis.

— (a) Commission Report

9.3  The Commission says that the goals on the collection of epidemiological data have been achieved with increasing success each year, but that the data still suffers from unharmonised surveillance systems, making it difficult to draw conclusions on trends within the Community. However, it notes that two zoonoses — salmonella and campylobacter — accounted for the major part of the reported cases of human illnesses, but that these figures also have to be interpreted carefully since it is likely that many instances are unrecorded. Despite this, the Commission suggests that the magnitude of the problem is significant. It also points out that the types of salmonella most prevalent in humans (S. Enteritidis and S. Typhimurium) are those most frequently associated with eggs or poultry, followed by other meat products, notably pork.

9.4  The Commission also reviews the current Community legislation on the control of zoonotic infections. It says that the control measures under Council Directive 92/117/EEC at present cover only poultry breeding flocks, as a consequence of the concern felt in the late 1980s at the increasing number of human salmonellosis cases derived from eggs, but that it was envisaged that this top-down approach to prevent vertical transmission from such flocks would at some future date be extended to commercial flocks. Other control measures affecting different stages of the food chain include Directive 90/667/EEC on animal waste and Directive 92/118/EEC on feed processing ingredients of animal origin, which it says were the subject of amending proposals[45] in October 2000; various controls at farm level, notably Council Directive 64/432/EEC on movements of animals with bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis, and Council Directive 92/46/EEC on the health rules governing milk production; and controls in the corresponding hygiene directives affecting the processing and distribution of foodstuffs of animal origin (and involving inspections in abattoirs, the construction and operating requirements for food processing premises, minimum processing conditions, and storage/transport temperatures). The Commission also points out that Community legislation on food hygiene is currently being restructured to establish a coherent, integrated and risk-based approach covering the whole food chain in accordance with the approach in its White Paper, and that Council Decision 2119/98/EC is relevant in that it sets up a network for the epidemiological surveillance and control of communicable diseases within the Community, which now includes a number of food-borne diseases with a read-across to the provisions in Council Directive 92/117/EEC.

9.5  The Commission's Report also reviews the progress made under the latter Directive. It says that not all Member States were able to implement this fully in terms of submitting plans for the monitoring and control of salmonella in breeding flocks, but that nevertheless effective measures have in the main been taken, with the incidence of salmonella appearing to have stabilised in many Member States. It also says that the obligations to monitor and report findings have increased co-operation between the national authorities responsible for feedingstuffs control and animal and public health, as well as the awareness of the presence of zoonotic agents in different parts of the food chain.

9.6  Despite these improvements, the Commission remains concerned that the number of human infections caused by salmonella remains high, and that new threats are emerging, as for example from campylobacter and E. coli. It therefore believes that further measures are now needed to deal with these, to reflect the more general need for an integrated approach to food hygiene covering the whole chain, and to avoid any likelihood of Member States bringing in unilateral measures which might jeopardise the functioning of the Community market. More specifically, the aim would be to create a system where more comparable data was available using harmonised collection methods (and which would then be used as a basis for future risk assessments and risk management); to take account of the prevalence of zoonotic agents in the different Member States; to ensure a high standard of food safety through the introduction by Member States of disease reduction programmes, based on common targets; and to address concerns regarding the spreading of zoonotic agents through intra-Community and third country animal trade.

— (b) Draft Directive on monitoring

9.7  This proposal would build upon the systems established under Council Directive 92/117/EEC, but it would make a number of changes as follows:

    —where necessary, common criteria would be established for data collection;

    —the list of zoonotic agents covered would be extended, and the scope of the data collected would in future include anti-microbial resistance;

    —priority would be given to zoonoses posing the greatest risk to human health, but monitoring should also facilitate the detection of emerging zoonoses;

    —the basis would be created for co-ordinated Community monitoring programmes, with the results being used to assess risks and establish disease reduction targets;

    —food businesses would be required to keep results of testing, and (when requested) to pass these on to the designated competent authority;

    —food-borne disease outbreaks would be investigated to provide data on cause, foodstuff involved, and (where possible) epidemiological and microbiological studies; and

    —Member States would have to produce for the Commission and the European Food Authority annual reports on trends and sources of zoonoses.

— (c) Draft Council Regulation on the control of salmonella and other

food-borne agents

9.8  This proposal would create a framework for reducing disease by setting Community targets for specific zoonotic agents in selected farm animal populations, in particular salmonella in poultry and pigs, but with provision for other zoonoses and stages in the food chain to be selected, according to such criteria as their occurrence in humans, animals, food and feed, their gravity in humans, and their economic consequences. (This does, however, not include BSE, for which a considerable body of specific legislation has been enacted in recent years.) It provides for targets (relating to the maximum percentage of positive epidemiological units and/or the minimum percentage reduction in such units) to be set by the Commission within a time frame ranging from 31 December 2003 to 31 December 2006, and for Member States to draw up, with Commission approval, the control programmes needed to achieve such a reduction. The latter would have to cover feedingstuffs production, the primary production of animals, and the processing and preparation of foodstuffs of animal origin, and to specify the measures to be taken, including those by the food businesses concerned.

9.9  More specifically:

    —breeding flocks of hens found to be infected with S. enteritidis or S. typhimurium would be compulsorily slaughtered;

    —hatching eggs from those flocks would have to be destroyed, used for the manufacture of egg products, or subjected to equivalent treatment to eliminate salmonella infection, in accordance with the proposed regulations on the hygiene of foodstuffs;

    —as from 1 January 2008, eggs from laying flocks infected with S. enteritidis or S. typhimurium, or from flocks of unknown salmonella status could only be used for the manufacture of egg products, or subjected to equivalent treatment to eradicate these two salmonella types, and the flocks would have to be destroyed in accordance with the rules laid down; and

    —as from 1 January 2009, unless fresh poultry meat is destined for industrial heat treatment or equivalent to eliminate salmonella, it would only be able to be placed on the market in the absence of salmonella in 25 grammes.

9.10  The proposal also enables additional conditions to apply to trade with other Member States or third countries. For example, purchasers of live animals or hatching eggs obtained from those sources would be entitled to know the status of the holding of origin; and, subject to the approval of the Commission, Member States would be able for a transitional period, and as part of a national control programme, to apply national rules to such imports.

The Government's view

9.11  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 24 October 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the proposals are in line with UK policy objectives, and generally reflect the Government's aims following the establishment of the Food Standards Agency and the setting of targets for the reduction of salmonella and other food-borne organisms. However, he adds that a key element in the proposed Regulation is the introduction of national control programmes, and the need for national authorities to approve industry-led control programmes, which he considers would have considerable resource implications for the UK. He points out that the UK practice to date, with the exception of slaughter with compensation for breeding flocks of domestic fowl to combat S. enteritidis or S. typhimurium in the food chain, has been to encourage the farming, food and feed industries to adopt assurance schemes and control plans to improve the health status of their produce, supported by the Government issuing voluntary codes of practice.

9.12  The Minister also says that, under proposals to consolidate and update Community food hygiene legislation, the onus is clearly placed upon the food business operator to produce safe food — an approach which he says is generally accepted throughout the Community and reflects the status quo within the UK. He adds that, because the Commission's wider food hygiene proposals require the adoption of hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) procedures, there is little need for the current proposal to require control plans for such establishments.

9.13  A further point identified by the Minister is the need for clarification on whether the Commission's proposals require the slaughter of laying flocks once infection with S. enteritidis or S. typhimurium is suspected, or at the end of the laying period. He recalls that a policy of immediate slaughter was previously abandoned in the UK following the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), and that the Government considered it was not cost effective, with any risk to public health capable of being effectively managed by controlling the vertical spread of salmonella from breeding to commercial flocks. In this connection, he adds that, in its most recent review, the ACMSF recommended that the current policy should be maintained until the prevalence of salmonella in commercial laying flocks has been determined.

9.14  The Minister has also enclosed with his Explanatory Memorandum a draft initial Regulatory Impact Assessment, though this does little other than note the Commission's estimate that the annual cost of human cases of food-borne salmonellosis across the Community as a whole is between 560 million and 2,840 million euros (£343 to 1,740 million). However, he foresees an increase in costs to UK businesses in complying with the minimum requirements of national control programmes, including those arising from sampling and testing, and — depending on the timing of slaughter required when S. enteritidis or S. typhimurium are identified — the cost of lost production, the reduced price realised for eggs for further processing, and the cost of replacement birds. He also suggests that there may be resource and cost implications to the Government in preparing national control programmes, as well as in approving and auditing control programmes drawn up by businesses. An updated Assessment will be provided, once the Government's consultation exercise on the proposals has been completed.

Conclusion

9.15  Although salmonellosis does not perhaps attract quite the same public attention as diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, it is nevertheless a significant source of illness in humans, and the steps being proposed to reduce its incidence, particularly among poultry, are in principle very welcome. As the Minister suggests, a key consideration will be the relationship between the benefits to be derived from the proposal and its likely costs, and we will return to the subject once we have received the updated Regulatory Impact Assessment he has promised. In the meantime, we think it right to draw the proposal to the attention of the House.


41   OJ No. L 62, 15.3.93, p.38. Back

42   Diseases transmissible from animals to man Back

43   (21886) 14174/00; see HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (14 March 2001). Back

44   (20875) 5761/00; see HC 23-x (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (1 March 2000). Back

45   (21759) 12648/00 and (21767) 12646/00; see HC 28-iii (2000-01), paragraph 2 (17 January 2001), HC 28-vii (2000-01), paragraph 3 (28 February 2001) and HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 2 (14 March 2001). Back


 
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