T-bone steak came a step closer to reappearing on European menus on Tuesday after senior European Union officials said the removal of cattle vertebrae from food stocks provided little extra protection against the human form of "mad cow" disease.
The EU had banned the vertebral column from animals aged over 12 months on fears that tissue surrounding the bones could harbour mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), believed to cause a deadly human variant of the disease.
"There are a number of member states that question whether the banning of T-bone does provide any extra protection for consumers," EU food safety Commissioner David Byrne said after a meeting of EU farm ministers.
Byrne said that following widespread testing of cattle for BSE, there could be a justification for allowing the vertebral column into the food chain from cattle aged up to 30 months.
"The motivation for raising the age from 12 months is provided by the results from 5 million tests carried out on healthy cattle," he said. "The youngest positive case found in these tests was an animal aged over 42 months."
The over 12-month ban effectively took T-bone off Europe's menus because the renowned delicacy comes predominantly from cattle aged over 14 months.
Byrne said the EU's powerful Standing Veterinary Committee, made up of each member state's chief vet, would consider the issue. The group could rule on the matter in 2 weeks.
"In the circumstances the Commission considers there is a strong case for raising the age for removal of the vertebral column, for example to 30 months," Byrne said.
EU farm ministers failed to agree on how to reform the EU's sheep policy, haggling over the level of aid paid to farmers. The matter will be decided at the next meeting in December.