BSE testing change could benefit meat sector

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bse Bovine spongiform encephalopathy European union Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy

A move to raise the age limit from 30 to 48 months at which UK cattle are tested for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), would, if implemented, help reduce processors' costs and free up supplies.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), following a meeting yesterday, said it supports the move to testing at 48 months but would not wish this to be implemented until a further report on surveillance has been produced and this has been passed to the Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (SEAC) for review.

SEAC said that an increase in the age at which cattle intended for human consumption are BSE tested would represent "a minimal to negligibe increase in the risk to human health."

The proposal to raise the age at which cattle are BSE tested came as a result of recent changes to EU legislation. EU Members States are now allowed to apply to reduce their monitoring programmes for BSE.

In the UK, any move to raise the testing age of cattle slaughtered for food has to be agreed by FSA and subsequently must have ministerial approvement.

Cost savings

According to a report in the Farmers' Guardian, the change in the testing age could result in approximately 140,000 more cattle entering the food chain without being tested, which would result in considerable savings for the UK meat industry in terms of sampling and transport costs.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said that processors would welcome the development in view of the fact that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) is proposing to transfer the cost of BSE testing back to the industry.

Boost for UK beef

Alastair Johnston, National Farmers Union (NFU) livestock advisor told that the introduction of the new regulations would be “good news for the UK meat industry​."

“Our national herd is becoming safer on an annual basis and this regulation can help maintain consumer confidence in the product,” ​said Johnston.

Since 1994, measures have been in place in the EU to protect human and animal health from BSE. These have mainly consisted of the removal of certain organs and parts of cattle - specified risk materials (SRM) - before human consumption and of a ban on giving feed contaminated with animal proteins to animals.

SRM is that part of the animal most likely to contain BSE infectivity, and SRM controls remove over 99 per cent of BSE infectivity that may be present in cattle.

At its peak in 1992 there were over 36,000 cases of BSE in the UK, which had dropped to 82 cases by 2004, while there were 67 BSE cases reported in 2007.

The NFU told previously that it hopes that eventually age discrimination will be scrapped altogether, providing greater freedom for processors in selection of animals used.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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