The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), whose job it is to assess risk in food, said this week that British beef will soon be downgraded to a 'moderate BSE risk', the same as meat from the rest of Europe. Between November 1986 and November 2002, 181 376 cases of the fatal cattle disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) were confirmed in the UK.
Following a request from the European Commission the EFSA scientific panel on biological hazards (BIOHAZ) examined the UK's application to be considered as a "moderate BSE risk"according to the standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE1).
"Thepanel concludes that the UK will reach the threshold that will enable it to beconsidered as a "moderate BSE risk"1 country at a date no later than December 2004," said the authority in a statement.
Causing millions of euros in lost revenues, and costing the UK taxpayer an estimated £4.6bn, the 'mad-cow' crisis in the mid-1980s struck down UK farmers, as countries blocked British beef imports over contamination fears.
BSE, a transmissible, neurodegenerative, fatal brain disease of cattle, has been linked to the human disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from October 1996 to November 2002, 129 cases of vCJD were reported in the UK, six in France and one each in Canada, Ireland, Italy and the US.
The scientific panel has published its findings but it is now up to the European Commission to take the decision to bring UK beef into line with the EU-wide "moderate BSE risk" category.
British beef exports are currently classed as "high risk" incurring stiff restrictions for UK farmers. The UK's National Farmers' Union welcomed the news, saying it "reconfirms the effect of the UK's BSE controls and shows that BSE is in rapid decline," and opens the way for the UK to export like all other member states.
For a country to be labelled a "moderate risk" it must post less than 200 BSE cases per one million adult cattle.