UK BSE rule change opens door to more supplies

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bse, European union, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Uk

The UK government's decision to relax its rules on bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) will make more beef available to
the UK processing market, and potentially the rest of Europe.

The government yesterday agreed to allow domestic cattle aged over 30 months to be slaughtered and used for human consumption. The ban was imposed nine years ago after the outbreak of BSE or "mad cow disease". The move comes after the country's food regulator advised governmentthat the country has developed an effective system to test cattle aged over 30 months for BSE before they enter the food chain. The rule change would bring the UK into line with the rest of the EU, where a testing system for cattle over thirty-months-old has been operating since 2001. The changes could eventually lead to the European Commission relaxing restrictions on exports of UK beef to the rest of the bloc's market. Earlier this year the European Commission proposed liftingthe additional restrictions the bloc put on imports of most live cattle and beef products from the UK. The Commission cited the steep decrease in the incidence of BSE within the UK and throughout the rest of the EU, as reasons why the ban might be lifted. A testing system, as proposed by the UKgovernment would go a long way to opening up the market. The release of more cattle for food consumption would be important for the EU market. For the first time in 20 years consumption of beef and veal surpassed EU production in 2003 and is expected togrow further by 2012, according to a forecast report by the European Commission. The report forecasts beef and veal production will decrease to around 7.6m tonnes by 2012, in line with the structural reduction of the bloc's dairy herd and the impact of the introduction of thesingle farm payment. A tight domestic supply and a steady demand means food processors will have to rely on more imports entering at full duty, notably from South America. EU food processors margins are being substantially hurt by the rising cost of meat supplies and other inputs this year. Last December, the UK government announced in principle that the current rule excluding older cattle from the food chain could be replaced with a BSE testing system. Under the government's proposals, older UK cattle born before 1 August 1996 will continue to be excluded from the food chain. In addition, legislators will make it an offence for farmers to sendcattle born before that date to abattoirs producing meat for human consumption. Under the new regime carcasses will not be allowed to leave abattoirs until they have tested negative for BSE. The main BSE control, the removal of specified parts, including spinal cords, willremain in place. This removes over 99% of any possible infectivity in cattle. Farmers will continue to be banned from using feed containing mammalian meat-and-bone. The rules also include: establishing a review group to scrutinise and advise on the implementation and roll out of the testing system for its first year of operation; regularly scheduled visits by official veterinarians to every fresh meat plant processing cattle over 30 months old; and The testing system is expected to come into force on 7 November this year. Changes in export restrictions are not expected to come into effect before early 2006. The Food and Drink Federation's deputy director general, Martin Paterson, said the relaxation of the rules would provide relief for the processors who depend on a ready supply of beef. "This regime will bring the UK back into line with fellow member states by enabling the industry once again to use meat from cattle over thirty months old," he stated in a pressrelease. "We also welcome the government's assurances that it will work in Brussels to ensure that beef from UK cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 can be exported again as soon aspossible." Before the BSE crisis in 1986, the UK's beef exports were worth about £1bn (€1.5bn) compared to £20m (€29m) last year, according to Food from Britain, a consultancy. Farmers have received compensation under a scheme that costs the government around €528m a year. The BSE epidemic was first recognised in the UK in 1986. At its peak in 1992, a total of 37,280 cases were discovered in UK cattle. So far this year the UK remains at the top of the BSE list, with66 cases confirmed, indicating that the total for the year could fall by about 60 per cent. Spain has reported 52 cases so far this year, Ireland 37 cases and Portugal 13 cases. Germany and Francehave so far not reported any incidents of BSE. Poland reported 11 cases of BSE last year and has so far discovered another 11 cases this year. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, Ireland found 126 cases of BSE in its cattle last year, compared with 137 found in Spain. The UK had the highest incidence of BSE cases in theworld last year with 343 cases confirmed, followed by Spain, Ireland. Portugal is fourth in the BSE league, reporting 92 cases in 2004, followed by Germany with 65 cases. France reported 54 cases ofBSE last year. External links to companies or organisations mentioned in this story: Food Standards Agency Food and Drink Federation

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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