EU SRM controls were introduced last year by Commission Decision 2000/418/EC. This Decision is being implemented in three stages. The first two stages - the introduction of EU-wide controls on SRM and the ban on pithing - have been completed. This consultation concerns the third stage: the introduction of EU-wide SRM controls on imports from countries outside the EU (which we refer to below as 'third countries').
In addition, the above Decision has been further amended (by Decision 2001/233/EC, of 14 March 2001) to extend the EU definition of SRM to include vertebral column, including dorsal root ganglia, of cattle aged over 12 months (UK cattle are excluded). The amending Decision further prohibits, in all member States, the use of any cattle, sheep or goat bones in the production of mechanically recovered meat (MRM). This consultation also concerns these changes.
The Government strongly supports the principle of EU-wide measures on SRM. The Agency is satisfied that the introduction of EU SRM controls on imports from third countries on a risk-assessed basis will not result in any significant reduction in the current level of protection of UK consumers in relation to such imports. The Agency also accepts that the addition of vertebral column to the EU definition of SRM will reduce the risk of exposure to BSE associated with consumption of bone-in meat, particularly from older cattle, in certain EU countries. Views are therefore primarily being sought on the way it is proposed to implement these rules into English law and on their impact on businesses in England.
The Agency is seeking comments on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on those proposals which affect the import controls for which the Ministry is responsible.
Controls on imports from third countries
The UK has since 1 January 1998 prohibited the import of SRM and required a wide range of meat and meat products to be accompanied by a veterinary certificate declaring that the product contains no SRM. These controls currently apply to imports from all third countries except Australia and New Zealand. However, these are UK national controls and now need to be amended to make them consistent with the EU import controls.
With effect from 1 April 2001, Commission Decision 2000/418/EC prohibits the import of SRM into the EU from third countries and requires imports of fresh meat, meat preparations and products, and processed animal protein from such countries to be accompanied by a veterinary certificate that they do not contain or are not derived from SRM. The Decision however places an obligation on the Commission to exempt certain third countries from the controls. Such exemptions are to be based on a scientific assessment by the EU Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) of the BSE risk status of third countries which wish to export products of animal origin to the EU.
The SSC has so far placed the fourteen countries listed below in the lowest of the four categories in its risk classification, denoting that the presence of BSE in those countries is highly unlikely. The SSC is expected to issue further third country risk assessments over the next few weeks. As the SSC's assessments of BSE risk in third countries emerge, the Commission is amending the SRM Decision to exempt such third countries in the lowest BSE risk category from the SRM import controls. So far ten of the fourteen countries (as indicated) have been so exempted (by Commission Decision 2001/270/EC).
The effect of the exemption is that no tissues from cattle, sheep and goats born, continuously reared and slaughtered in the countries concerned would be subject to the EU SRM controls. Consequently the parts of such animals which would normally be classed as SRM may under EU law be imported into the EU and sold for food. Changes are therefore needed to the current UK imports controls in order to extend the exemptions currently provided for products from Australia and New Zealand to products from additional countries in the above list.
The letter enclosed draft implementing legislation which would exempt from SRM import controls all the countries listed above. The FSA intention, however, is that the implementing legislation will include only countries which have been exempted under EU law at the time the legislation is made. If an EU decision has been made in respect of the above countries by that time, they will remain in the legislation as executed; if not, they will be removed. If, on the other hand, before the FSA make these changes, further third countries are added to the list of countries exempt from EU SRM controls, the FSA would propose also to add those to the countries which are not subject to SRM controls on imports to England.
The controls on bovine vertebral column
The main risk from BSE infectivity associated with bovine vertebral column arises from the presence of the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). These are small knots of nervous tissue closely associated with the spinal cord and have been shown in experiments to contain high levels of infectivity shortly before the animal begins to show signs of the disease. In practice, normal deboning procedures will remove virtually all DRG from the meat.
As stated above, the EU definition of SRM has been extended to include vertebral column, including DRG, of cattle aged over 12 months. However, the EU legislation provides an exception from this rule for cattle from UK, Portugal, Sweden, Austria and Finland, on the grounds that either BSE is highly unlikely to be present in native cattle (Sweden, Austria and Finland) or the animals currently entering the food chain were born after the date of an effective mammalian meat and bone meal feed ban (UK and Portugal).
This means that there is no need for a return to a ban on the sale of English beef on the bone. However, the EU legislation specifically provides that beef carcases containing vertebral column (but no other SRM) may be sent without prior agreement to another Member State. The legislation therefore would not permit us simply to ban the import of beef carcases containing vertebral column where this is SRM. We must therefore ensure, for carcases of cattle aged over 12 months at slaughter imported into England from:
The EU Decision allows only the export of carcases containing vertebral column. There is no requirement to accept imports of beef containing vertebral column/SRM in anything other than carcase form. The proposed legislation therefore makes clear that the import of this material in cuts of meat (e.g. rib of beef, T-bone steak) would not be permitted. 'Carcase' is however not defined in the EU legislation. Most trade in bovine carcase meat is not in whole carcases but in halves or quarters, or thirds of a half carcase. Any smaller portion would be subject to cutting/boning procedures, which must be undertaken in licensed cutting premises. We are therefore proposing to specify that the meaning of 'carcase' for this purpose includes half, quarter and one third of half carcases.
The EU legislation would permit vertebral column to be removed either at licensed cutting plants or at the point of sale to the consumer. Removal at point of sale (e.g. butchers' shops or catering establishments) would require all premises selling meat from the relevant carcases to the consumer to make provision for removing the SRM, keeping it separate from all other animal material, staining it with the required blue dye and disposing of it according to the SRM rules. Although the beef labelling rules require beef to be marked with its country of origin, there would be more opportunity for imported meat to have lost its identity by that stage, giving rise to scope for confusion among both retailers and consumers as to whether bones in meat were SRM. SRM removal would also be taking place in a much larger number of premises. Local authorities would therefore find the requirements to remove SRM from imported meat difficult to enforce. The FSA has concluded for these reasons that removal at point of sale would neither be practical nor enable proper control.
The FSA are therefore proposing that all imports of beef carcases containing vertebral column, where this is SRM, should be required to be sent direct to licensed cutting plants where SRM removal would be carried out under the supervision of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS). They are also proposing that only plants which are specifically designated for this purpose would be allowed to carry out this operation. The purpose of the designation would be to enable the MHS to check, before the plants concerned are able to receive this material, that they have appropriate arrangements in place to ensure that imported carcases are kept separate from all other bovine carcases until the SRM is properly removed and disposed of in accordance with the SRM rules. Cutting plants are not normally subject to full-time MHS supervision. Therefore, in order to enable the MHS to ensure that its staff are present in the premises when SRM removal takes place, we are also proposing that importers should be required to give the MHS at least 72 hours notice of the arrival of a consignment of carcases from which the vetebral column will need to be removed.
Views are particularly requested on
The Proposal on Mechanically Recovered Meat
This is the only part of these proposals which affects food from animals slaughtered in the UK. The current SRM controls prohibit the use of the vertebral column and bones of the head of cattle, sheep and goats in the production of MRM. The new EU legislation now extends this ban to all bones of these species, on the basis that it will enable better enforcement of the current prohibitions.
The use of UK beef bones in any food manufacture, including MRM, continues to be banned under the remaining UK beef bones controls. The change in the EU law would therefore in practice add only the bones of sheep and goats to the material from which production of MRM is currently prohibited.
The EU ban refers simply to 'the recovery of meat by mechanical means'. No definition of 'mechanical means' is given. For the purpose of this ban, the FSA proposal would define of MRM as any product which comes from the residual meat on bones and has been obtained by mechanical means. The intention is to prevent the use of bones which are the product of standard de-boning processes in MRM production. The proposal should not affect the production of oxtail, as the meat attached to the tail would not be considered to be 'residual meat'.
As described above, the proposed controls on removal of vertebral column in licensed cutting plants, as well as the controls on MRM production, would be supervised and enforced by the MHS. The additional supervision of removal of vertebral column would be likely to result in increased MHS costs. However, as with all SRM control costs, these would be borne by the Government. Enforcement of the requirement that imports of carcases containing vertebral column/SRM must be sent direct to a designated cutting plant will require an additional control by port health authorities in relation to imports to the EU from third countries. Local authorities would be responsible for checking that no carcases or meat containing vertebral column/SRM arrives at premises other than licensed premises.
The draft legislation
The proposals would be implemented by statutory instruments (issued in draft with the letter):-
The Specified Risk Material (Amendment) (England) Order 2001
This legislation, which is being taken forward by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, would include:-
The Specified Risk Material (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2001
This legislation, which is being taken forward by the Food Standards Agency, would include:-
Implementation by the devolved authorities
The functions of Ministers in respect of both food safety and animal health are now fully devolved to Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales (NAW) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The draft legislation would therefore apply only to England. The FSA is consulting separately on draft Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland legislation.
The FSA are required by the EU Decision to have implementing legislation in force with effect from 1 April. They have not been able to meet this deadline as the relevant amendments to the EU Decision were not completed until recently. They do however intend to press forward urgently with these changes, and so need to have comments by 22 June if they are to be taken into account.