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NZ follows intl. guidelines over beef imports

Media Release

8 October 2001

New Zealand follows international guidelines over beef imports

NEW measures to manage the health risk to humans eating imported bovine meat products are being consulted on by the Ministry of Health says Jim Sim, Food Manager.

Details of the new measures, which will protect the public from the risk of variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease (vCJD) by preventing the import of beef and beef-derived products that could contain the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) agent, are being made public by the Ministry of Health today.

"They protect the health of New Zealanders in line with international best practice."

The measures are based on the best scientific evidence available. They are closely based on the relevant international standards developed by the world organisation for animal health (the OIE or Office International des Epizooties), and are consistent with the country-by-country BSE risk assessment (GBR) procedures developed by the European Commission, Mr Sim said.

The new measures will cover all imports of bovine meat products from any exporting countries. Those exporting countries at greater risk of BSE need to provide more assurance that risks have been managed to meet New Zealand's requirements.

"We are introducing a certification regime for every country exporting to New Zealand. If BSE is present we will require a high standard of proof of the exporting country's countermeasures to ensure food and food products are BSE-free. The standard of certification required diminishes with the degree of risk or potential risk although even BSE-free countries will have to provide some documentation."

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"We believe a more comprehensive regime that includes every country exporting to New Zealand will better protect New Zealanders against any potential risk of BSE than the blanket ban on mainly European products currently in place."

As well as information for New Zealanders there will be international consultation with other governments prior to implementation of the certification regime. This process will take 60 days and the current ban on products from specified countries will remain in force until the new system is in place.

Mr Sim said the measures were developed by a team of staff from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. "They all believe the best way to approach the issue of BSE is to take practical steps to reduce risks where possible and follow international guidelines."

"At the same time these steps enable us to meet our obligations under international trade agreements."

The move has the backing of the BSE expert scientific panel which has been providing advice to the Ministry of Health on the issue since 1996.

Australia and New Zealand have been working closely on this issue and both are BSE free.

"People can be confident about the safety of beef and beef products from both countries," Mr Sim said.

Copies of the consultation document are available from the Ministry of Health Web site

Or may be ordered requesting item number HP3478 from:

Wickliffe Ltd (Ministry of Health) PO Box 932 Dunedin

Ph: 04 496 2277 (Wellington) Fax: 03 479 0979 (Dunedin) email:


What is BSE?

Bovine spongiform Encephalopathy is a slowly progressive and ultimately fatal neurological disorder of adult cattle.

What is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)? Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare fatal brain disorder which was first recognised more than 70 years ago. There is no effective treatment and no reliable test to predict the disease. Approximately 85 percent of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease illnesses occur spontaneously without any known cause. Other causes include certain medical treatments that are no longer used such as human growth hormone injections and dural grafts (brain membrane). The symptoms may take 30 years to develop. Since the disease was identified by Dr Alfons Maria Jakob in the 1920's, over 3000 cases have been reported world-wide.

What is variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD)?

A new and more aggressive strain of the disease which was identified in the United Kingdom in 1996. It produces similar symptoms to classical CJD though the disease develops more rapidly.

Why is BSE a concern for public health?

The Government was advised by an expert committee of scientists in 1996 that a new variant of CJD had been identified and that it seemed likely to be linked with BSE found in cattle. Variant CJD is thought to be contracted by eating meat infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) sometimes also described as "mad cow disease". It historically has affected people in the 16 to 52 year age group. The mean age is 28 years.

When and why did the suspension of British beef and beef products begin?

The Ministry of Health in 1996 suspended the import of British beef and beef products because consumption of beef from cows that are not BSE-free has been implicated in the development of vCJD in humans.

When and why did the suspension of European beef and beef products begin?

The import of these products from 30 mainly European countries was suspended from 8 January, 2001 following the discovery of cases of BSE outside the United Kingdom.

All EU member countries started mandatory testing of cattle for BSE from 1 January 2001 to determine the prevalence of BSE in their cattle herds. There were only very small quantities of beef products imported to New Zealand from Europe prior to the ban's implementation. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated the likelihood of getting vCJD from eating European beef and beef products at less than one case per 10 billion servings of beef.

What about Japan?

Japan has recently confirmed the presence of a case of BSE in a dairy cow. Japan was added to the list of countries suspended from exporting beef and beef products to New Zealand on 25 September 2001

What is the world organisation for animal health? The world organisation for animal health or OIE (Office International des Epizooties) is the intergovernmental agency recognised as responsible for setting international standards relating to animal health and animal diseases affecting humans (zoonoses). It is the animal equivalent of the World Health Organisation.

What are some of the considerations in the risk assessment process?

New Zealand's risk assessment will evaluate the BSE risk from countries wishing to export beef and beef products to New Zealand based on questions such as :

· Did they import meat and bone meal from Europe or Britain and feed it to cattle? · Have they ever rendered dead cattle and re-fed the product to other cattle? · Do they regularly test brain cell samples from dead cattle for BSE? · Are animals kept closely indoors and fed stockmeal and bone not grass? · Is there a traceable system for cattle imports?

What is the Ministry of Health doing to protect the public against the risk of BSE ?

Actions the Ministry have taken to minimise the risk from BSE include:

· UK beef import suspension in 1996. · European beef import suspension 8 January 2001 · Japanese beef import suspension 25 September 2001 · Sought voluntary withdrawal of stock on shelves · Blood donor deferral for donors who have spent six months or more in the UK between January 1980 and December 1996 · Leucodepletion - a type of blood filtering - has been introduced for all blooddonations.

Which products are involved in the current suspension of beef and beef product imports? Beef products may be included in foods such as soups, canned foods, sausages, gravies and sauces, thickeners, stocks and flavourings, pates, pastes, luncheon meats etc. The potential risk is higher with processed goods made from mechanically removed meat - which can include spinal nerve and brain tissue.

How do the measures taken here compare with actions taken by other countries? New Zealand's actions are based on the international standard and are also consistent with the approach taken by the European Union.

How does NZ's approach differ from Australia?

In terms of consumer protection there are few differences in the practical effect of measures applied in the two countries. New Zealand and Australia will continue to cooperate on managing vCJD risks in implementing their separate measures. The main differences are that New Zealand's approach:

· takes a wider scope and covers more specific animal by-products and details more tissues and processes for specific treatment (NZ adds in distal ileum, thymus, spleen, trigeminal ganglia and all protein products derived from them). It also places restrictions on gelatin, collagen and tallow. · is very closely based on international standards (Animal health code of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) which ensures consistency with NZ's international trade obligations; and · is consistent with the latest EU regulations (1 July) and therefore categorises countries into five levels based on their respective risk management and compliance measures. (Australia uses four levels)

What are the unique differences between CJD and vCJD? CJD tends to affect people aged from 60+ and symptoms may take 30 years to develop, whereas vCJD has been found in teenagers and young adults and it develops more rapidly. A striking early feature of vCJD is prominent psychiatric disturbance.

Have there been any cases of CJD in New Zealand? Since 1980 approximately two to three cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease have been identified in New Zealand each year. This figure represents approximately one case per million people per year - the expected rate seen internationally. In 1996 CJD was made a notifiable disease and a case register for CJD established. The register is similar to those already operating in Australia and the United Kingdom. This means all cases of CJD are notified so that cases can be reviewed and investigated to ensure consistent diagnosis and risk factor identification.

Have there been any cases of vCJD in New Zealand? No.

Is there a test for vCJD? Not yet. Overseas work continues on this but a test may be years away.

Is the Ministry of Health aware of anyone within New Zealand who has travelled to the UK and become infected with vCJD? No. The Ministry does not believe people who have travelled to the UK should be concerned about their health. To date, there is no evidence travellers to the UK, even those who may have eaten beef there, have become infected with vCJD.

How many people in the UK have vCJD? Up to 3 August 2001 there had been 106 definite or probable cases of vCJD in the UK.

Have there been any other reports internationally of vCJD? There has been one case reported in France and one in Ireland.

What are health authorities doing to protect New Zealanders from CJD and vCJD? New Zealand is excluding donors from giving blood if they spent six months or more in the UK between January 1980 and December 1996. The six month period is cumulative. This exclusion took effect on 17 February 2000. New Zealand has also introduced leucodepletion - which is white blood cell filtering for all other blooddonations.

Should I have a check up if I have lived in the UK? No. There is no need to be concerned about your health, and the Ministry of Health does not believe it is necessary to see a doctor.

Frances Ross Chief Media Advisor Communications Corporate & Information Directorate Ministry of Health DDI: 496 2202

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