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Ban on animal meal to be overturned

Chickens like these may one day be snacking on their feathered friends Ex-press

Meat and bone meal has been completely banned as animal feed since 2001, but with the end of the mad-cow crisis, it looks set to make a partial comeback.

This content was published on May 10, 2008 - 10:10

In Switzerland and the rest of Europe, manufacturers are preparing for production again and the authorities are promising to enforce the strictest safety standards.

The feed will only be given to chickens and pigs, and they will not be chewing on fodder produced from their own species.

"There will be no authorisation [for production] without strict standards being applied," warns Cathy Maret, spokeswoman for the Federal Veterinary Office (FVO). "We aren't prepared to make any compromise on that."

Meat and bone meal, made from leftover carcasses, have a bad reputation to overcome. In the 1990s, they were blamed for spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad-cow disease.

A fatal, neurodegenerative disease in cattle, it is also believed – but so far not proven - to have caused new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob illness in humans who had eaten contaminated meat.

The resulting panic had led to the wholesale slaughter of herds of cattle and a sizeable drop in beef sales.

But with the mad-cow alert officially over, commercial interests and environmental concerns have come to the fore.

"We were always clear about what was banned, but we also said that once the crisis was over, we would have to reconsider what would have to be done with these scraps," added Maret.

Waste

The problem is that when an animal is slaughtered, much of the carcass is always left over. For cattle or sheep, only about half of the animal is used, for pigs and chickens, just a third.

This means the average meat-eating Swiss leaves behind in his or her lifetime the equivalent of two tons of offal, fat, bones, skin, hair and feathers.

Before the ban on meat and bone meal, most of this was cut up, cooked, dried and ground into flour and reintroduced into the food supply. Today, much of this still happens, except the end product finishes in the ovens of cement makers.

This is because animal scraps contain too much water to burn without some form of pre-treatment, which is also energy-intensive.

Since the ban, meal has also been often replaced by soya, which requires large amounts of water and pesticides, and is often linked to deforestation where it is produced. Prices have risen substantially over the past few months.

Presently, large quantities of vegetable protein are being imported to Switzerland at great cost while available products that could be used as feed for certain ruminants are being incinerated.

French pig farmers have managed to persuade their government to ask Brussels to lift the European Union's own ban. The European Commission has set aside €1.7 million (SFr2.74 million) to have its food safety services look into the issue.

Conditions

If bone and meat meal is authorised again in Switzerland, standards will be particularly strict. The FVO has already set out a series of conditions that it admits will make production difficult for feed manufacturers.

Any meal produced will not contain certain animal parts such as the brain and spinal cord – in other words that could harbour BSE infection sources – and production lines will have to be separated.

"Today, there are mills that produce feed for cows, then for chickens and then for pigs," Maret told swissinfo. "In the future, that won't be allowed. Each production line will concern only one type of animal."

Two other conditions for the use of bone and animal meal are more philosophical.

"During the mad-cow crisis, people were shocked to find out that cows, which are herbivores, were being fed flour containing animal proteins, in some cases from other cows," explained Maret.

To avoid future cases of "cannibalism", farmers will not be allowed to feed animal meal to their cows and sheep.

When the ban will be lifted is as yet unclear, since the Swiss authorities are waiting for Brussels to make the first move.

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Marc-André Miserez

In brief

Each year, Swiss meatworks produce 200,000 tons of scraps.

After being cooked and dried, they constitute 24,000 tons of fat, 4
5,000 tons of animal meal and 18,000 tons of bone powder.

Currently, only part of the fat is used by the cosmetic industry, while the rest is incinerated.

The cost of burning these scraps is SFr90 million per year, half of it paid for by taxpayers.

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Key dates

1990 : BSE is diagnosed for the first time in Switzerland. A ban is slapped on bone and animal meal for cows and sheep.
1994 : The EU implements a similar ban.
1995 : 68 cases of BSE in Switzerland.
1996 : Britain, where the epidemic seems to have started, slaughters four million animals, all older than two-and-a-half years.
2001 : Switzerland and the EU ban bone and animal meal for all farm animals.
2005 : Just three cases of BSE in Switzerland, while Britain still registers 203, spain 98 and Ireland 69.
2007 : No cases of BSE in Switzerland for the first time since 1990.

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