Professor Richard Smallwood, Australia's chief medical officer, and Mr. Ian Lindenmayer, managing director of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) announced on July 18 that a certification system that would determine the conditions under which beef and beef products may enter Australia. The new measure will strengthen Australia's ability to keep the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) out of the food supply. Eating food contaminated with BSE is believed to be the cause of the human disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). The new certification system would come into effect on 16 September 2001. It will apply to all countries, not just those in Europe. This will be coupled with a voluntary withdrawal of these products already on supermarket shelves if countries providing the beef ingredients have not provided the appropriate certification details. "Australia has closely followed developments in the incidence and understanding of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its relationship to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans," Professor Smallwood said. Australia is concerned about the results from increased testing and surveillance in European countries during the past year. Back in January 2001, Australia suspended imports of beef and beef products from 30 countries. This was meant to protect public health in Australia and to provide time to review international scientific evidence and recommendations. This week, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council amended the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to require beef and beef products sold in Australia to be derived from cattle that are free from BSE. According to Mr. Lindenmayer, the new measures replace the temporary suspension of European beef and beef products. "We are concerned that meat and bone meal likely to be infected with BSE has been exported from the United Kingdom and Europe to countries outside Europe. This could have transmitted the disease to cattle herds in those other countries," Mr Lindenmayer said. Currently, there is no scientific test available to identify BSE material in individual processed meat products. ANZFA is adopting an approach based on an assessment of the BSE-safety of beef production in each country wishing to export to Australia. Countries would be assigned to one of four categories, according to their respective BSE risk. Consignments of beef and beef products from category D countries cannot be imported. Products from category B and C countries can only be imported if the national authority can certify that the product is derived from animals not exposed to BSE risk and if specific risk materials have been excluded from the food chain. Products from category A countries can be imported as they represent a negligible risk for human health. According to Mr Lindenmayer, 15 European countries where cases of BSE have been reported will be deemed the highest risk (Category D) and will have the existing temporary import suspensions of beef and beef products extended. These countries are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.