A European Union ban on meat-based livestock feed, imposed over fears of mad cow disease, could in future be relaxed for certain types of animals, E.U. officials said on Monday.
The embargo was introduced in January in response to the discovery of the brain-wasting cattle disorder in Germany, Italy and Spain, fuelling fears that contaminated meat and bone meal (MBM) was spreading mad cow disease across the continent.
The belief that infected beef was the cause of a deadly human form of the disorder, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), led the E.U. in 1994 to ban feeding ground-up cattle to cattle, but such fodder was allowed for other animals.
But alarmed by mad cow cases appearing across Europe, E.U. food safety commissioner David Byrne decided on a temporary ban on all use of the feed, believing that controls - either on the farm or during the manufacturing process - were being flouted.
"Again and again I am asked if meat and bone meal [MBM] can be included in feed. No, never again for ruminants like cattle," Byrne said in a statement.
"That has been completely forbidden since 1994. Yes and no, when it comes to animal feed for omnivores like pigs," he said.
Byrne said it was too early to contemplate such a move now, and a ban could only be relaxed if consumers were convinced that such meal was safe, and only then if it was meat that could also be cleared for human consumption.
Byrne's comments follow the adoption last week by E.U. farm ministers of new rules on the treatment of animal by-products, laws he has previously said would be necessary to consider any ending of the MBM embargo.
The legislation is designed to establish clear standards on what is allowed in animal feed, in the event of the MBM ban being relaxed, and makes the requirements on fodder as stringent as those on human food.
"This is a milestone in improving the safety of what we eat," Byrne said.
The laws have to be passed by the European Parliament, which has wide powers over food safety issues, before final adoption.