Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA Press Release (2002/0217), 9 May 2002

BSE - Agency takes action on meat from Poland, Zimbabwe and South Africa

The Food Standards Agency is advising that meat from Zimbabwean, South African and Polish cattle over thirty months old may pose a slightly higher BSE risk than other legally sold imported beef. Although the amount of beef imported from these countries is very low and the specified risk controls apply, major retailers are already acting to protect the public following discussions with the FSA.

Poland, Zimbabwe and South Africa, along with 11 other countries, are exempt from the UK's Over Thirty-Month rule (OTM), which applies to imported and home produced beef. The rule was introduced in 1996 to reduce the risk of BSE infectivity entering the food chain. The Agency announced on Tuesday 7 May that it is to review the OTM controls. In addition, the EU has introduced new rules to combat BSE whereby animals over thirty months have to be tested before they can enter the food chain.

The European Commission (EC) has classified Poland as likely to present a BSE risk. The first case of BSE in Poland was confirmed on 2 May 2002. Eleven of the exempt countries, according to EC classification, are highly unlikely to present a BSE risk or to have a risk which is classified as unlikely but which cannot be excluded. No risk assessments have been carried out in South Africa or Zimbabwe.

Specified risk controls, which remove 95% of any infectivity that may be present, apply to all home produced and imported beef. UK imported beef is inspected to apply these controls.

There have been no imports of beef from Zimbabwe since August 2001, because of foot and mouth restrictions. The latest UK trade statistics for 2001 indicate that there were 41 tonnes of beef imported from Poland and 29 tonnes from South Africa. It is not possible to establish how much of this beef is over thirty months. Some Polish beef is known to have been imported into the UK from elsewhere in the EU. Total UK consumption of beef in 2001 was approximately 1.049 million tonnes (Meat and Livestock Commission)

The Agency is asking the Commission to expedite risk assessments for Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is also raising its concerns about Polish BSE controls with the Commission.

Since 1996, the Over Thirty Month (OTM) rule prohibits the sale of meat for human consumption from cattle aged over 30 months at slaughter, because cattle over this age are more likely to develop BSE than younger animals. When the rule was introduced, very few animals had shown signs of BSE at 30 months, and the earliest appearance of BSE in cattle that had been experimentally fed with infected material was at about 32 months. The OTM rule has had a major impact on reducing the risk to public health by significantly limiting the number of infected animals which might otherwise have entered the food chain.

The European Commission's BSE risk classifications are:

Exemptions to the OTM rule are beef from cattle that were born, reared and slaughtered in the 14 countries that in 1996 were considered to have a low risk of BSE in their herds. Aside from Poland, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the 11 other exempt countries are: Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Mauritius, Namibia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Swaziland, Uruguay and the United States of America.

The Specified Risk Material (SRM) rule specifies that the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infectivity (including brain tissue and spinal cord) must be removed before they enter the food chain.

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