PARIS (AFP) - The European Union will next week lift a ban, in place since the "Mad Cow" food scare 20 years ago, on feeding ground-up animal remains to some categories of livestock, an issue that still alarms consumers and farmers alike.
Almost all EU member states - with the exception of Ireland and France - voted in May for a change in regulations allowing processed animal proteins, or PAPs, to be used in feed for pigs and poultry that will come into effect from Monday.
The EU banned the use of PAPs in the feed of all farmed animals in 2001 as the full horrors of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, emerged.
The disease was spread widely by farmers feeding cattle with the meat and bone meal of dead and infected animals.
And then people died after contracting the human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, understood to be passed along by consuming infected beef.
In 2013, the EU decided to allow PAPs to be used again in fish feed after data showed that the bloc was close to eradicating BSE in its cattle population and scientific opinion indicated that the risk of BSE transmission between non-ruminant animals was negligible.
Lifting the ban on PAPs for feeding pigs and poultry - it remains in place for ruminants such as cattle, goats and sheep for the time being - will enable European farmers to use cheap animal protein again at a time when they fear they are being undercut by lower standards elsewhere.
"Seventy per cent of our costs are feed costs," the head of the FNP French pig farmers' association, Francois Valy.
Fears of cannibalism
The ban remains in place for ruminants such as cattle, goats and sheep for the time being.
Nevertheless, critics are worried that lax application of EU standards in some member states could open the door to possible cannibalism - where pig remains, for example, find their way into pig feed.
Foodwatch International's international campaigns director, Matthias Wolfschmidt, said there were "insufficient controls by the competent authorities of member states and (an) increasing danger that PAPs are illegally fed to herbivore farm animals, as well as being used 'cannibalistically'."
In France, which like Ireland abstained from the EU vote on the change in the regulations in May, officials appear to be cautious about the new partial lifting of the ban.
The agricultural ministry told AFP that it would wait for the food safety agency to take a position.
And Anne Richard from the French poultry farmers' association, said the reintroduction of PAPs "isn't going to happen just like that."
There were "lots of specifications prohibiting animal meal to reassure consumers," she said. "It's not immutable, but the subject has not yet been discussed collectively by the operators."
The farmers' union, Confederation Paysanne, which is opposed to industrialised animal farming, argues that the re-authorisation of PAPs in some animal feed would open the door to abuses.
What was to prevent a company wanting to make a quick profit from getting around the regulations, asked its spokesman, Nicolas Girod.
"What was it that caused mad cow disease - the search for profit, volume, productivity," he said.