The European Parliament voted Wednesday to allow changes to the European Union's (EU) BSE rules, reflecting improvements in the overall BSE situation in Europe. New rules are expected to be online by the end of the year.

"The BSE situation in the EU has improved considerably, and it's time to adapt the rules to reflect this," said Markos Kypirano, EU commissioner for health and consumer safety.

The new rules will allow the European Commission (EC) flexibility in changing BSE and TSE-related rules, including expected changes like allowing the introduction of fish meal back into the food chain for ruminants. There will also be a reduction in the number of mandatory tests for BSE, coupled with better targeting of surveillance under certain well-defined conditions, the EC says.

According to a statement from the Parliament, legislators wished to specify the annual surveillance program to include all cattle older than 24 months sent for emergency slaughter and those more than 30 months slaughtered under normal conditions, to have stricter supervision and to require detailed justifications of scientific committees responsible for any new changes in law.

Certain provisions in the amended legislation will be brought in line with stricter provisions under the current transitional measures. For example, for mechanically separated meat (MSM), no ruminant bones in countries with a controlled or undetermined BSE risk will be allowed to be used for the production of MSM, rather than just a ban on the vertebral column.

Also, "specified risk material" (SRM) including brains, tonsils and spinal columns will be moved from the Annex of the Regulation to the articles in the main body of the legislation, requiring European Parliament legislation to remove the ban. However, all other SRM remains listed in the Annex of the Regulation.

The new rules also brings European BSE-risk categories into line with the World Animal Health Organization's new three-tiered, rather than five-tiered, risk model. This OIE system is based on three categories (1- negligible risk, 2- controlled risk, 3-undetermined risk). -- Meghan Sapp in Brussels, Belgium