Good progress is being made in meeting EU Commission conditions for lifting the ban on the use of fishmeal in ruminant feed, including the development of a test to distinguish fishmeal from meat and bone meal. The challenge now for the fishmeal sector is to overcome political inertia on the issue.
While it appears that the ban will be reviewed and could be lifted as early as September, there are concerns that the process could be dragged out into 2004.
Last Monday (23rd June) the Commission BSE Working Group studied results of two ring trials - an IFFO initiated, independent ring trial of a more sensitive feed microscopy method, and a Commission trial involving a variety of methods including classical feed microscopy. In essence the results showed that the upgraded method performed well, identifying 0.1% MBM in mixed feed in the presence of fishmeal, while the classical or official method was only able to detect MBM at 0.5%.
The Commission is now considering several options. One is to properly define the upgraded more sensitive method and put it before the expert advisory committee for adoption to replace the official method. Another option is to accept the current method's 0.5% threshold and conduct a formal risk assessment of the chances that MBM at such low levels might actually increase BSE incidence. It seems that the Commission will consider lifting the ban on fishmeal only when such further actions have
taken place - which could cause a short delay.
"It is a pity that the Commission did not think to make a proper risk assessment, before we lost up to 25% of our market in Europe," says fishmeal trader and FIN Chairman, David Stringer.
Just a week earlier (June 17th) the transfer of a group of temporary BSE feed controls - including the fishmeal ban - into the permanent TSE Regulations (99/2001), was approved by the EU Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health. In the preamble to the transfer measure and talks with fishmeal organisations, the Commission has said that the prohibitions on animal proteins 'should be reviewed' and that fishmeal was top of the review list. It also said the rules on using fishmeal should be simplified.
"Let's just tick off the Commission conditions for lifting the ban, " said Mr Stringer. "We have a test that can distinguish MBM from fishmeal to 0.1%. The Animal By-Products Regulation is in place. The prevalence of BSE is stable or declining in most Member States and reports on control of the feed ban are favourable.
"I believe that the ban could and should be lifted in September. It can't take more than a few weeks to acquaint laboratories with the
improved testing method. I believe that we are suffering from political inertia on this issue.
"Although our livelihoods and the reputation of a first class protein feed are at stake, the European governmental machine seem so immobilised by fear of new outbreaks of BSE that they cannot contemplate relaxing any control.
We have to redouble our efforts to overcome any inertia and to maintain the political momentum. UK fishmeal suppliers, together with the allies we have in the EU Parliament and in the producing countries like Chile and Peru will continue to exercise all the pressure we can muster, " he said.