Mad Cow disease has been nearly eradicated, EU's executive claimed, at a discussion of a proposal to end systematic killing of entire herds with one sick cow.
"The European Union has made great progress in its battle against BSE and we are finally on the brink of eradicating the disease within the Union," said European Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli.
AdvertisementFears that madcow was linked to a brain-wasting disease among humans who ate tainted beef sparked a panic in the 1990s and a decade-long EU ban on beef from Britain, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Europe took drastic measures to curb the disease.
When a cow tests positive for madcow, all cattle born in the 12 months before or after the birth of the sick cow are killed, as well as those that may have consumed the same contaminated food.
The European Commission said it was time to end such measures in a proposal submitted to the European Council and the European Parliament.
The commission said the "systematic cohort culling of cattle could be stopped" because of the dramatic drop in cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
Animals from herds in which a cow suffered from the disease could also be sold for consumption as long as they test negative before entering the food chain, it said.
The commission also proposed to relax a ban on animal protein used in pig and poultry feed that was imposed in 2001. This would allow pig meal to be fed to poultry and poultry meal to pigs.
But it would maintain a prohibition on "intra species recycling": the feeding of pig meal to pigs or poultry meal to poultry.
The EU executive also wants to keep a ban on feeding animal protein to animals that are supposed to feed on grass, such as cows.
More than 190,000 cases of madcow disease have been detected in the EU since it was first diagnosed in Britain in 1986, forcing the destruction of millions of cows.
The EU slapped a total ban on exports of British live cattle in March 1996 at the height of the mad cow crisis, after London reported a link with a new form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, connected with eating BSE-tainted beef.
The EU lifted the ban on British beef in 2006.
Only 67 positive cases of madcow disease were identified last year and the animals were old cows that could have been contaminated long ago, the commission said.
The European farmers group Copa-Cogeca welcomed the commission's proposal but also asked the EU executive to raise the minimum testing age for madcow disease to reduce the number of tests in the EU.
It also said it was "happy" about the plans to lift restrictions on animal protein for non-rumminants.
"Copa-Cogeca calls on the Belgian Presidency (of the EU) to make urgent progress on this in the coming months," said Copa-Cogeca secretary-general Pekka Pesonen.