Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA Press Release (2003/0341), 7 March 2003

BSE - Options considered to replace Over Thirty Month Rule with new controls: Public meeting discusses revised risk of BSE

Options for a possible change to the Over Thirty Month (OTM) rule in the UK, where cattle over thirty months are not allowed into the food supply, were discussed at a public meeting today in London.

The meeting marks a further stage in a review set up by the Food Standards Agency in July 2002 to decide whether, in the light of a significant decline of cases of BSE in the UK, the OTM rule is still a proportionate measure to take to protect public health. It is estimated that, at the peak of the epidemic, more than 10,000 of the highest risk animals a year were going into the food chain as compared to less than one today.

The Rule is one of the three BSE control measures. The main control measure is the removal of SRM (Specified Risk Material), which removes over 95% of BSE infectivity in cattle. The third measure is the ban on feeding meat and bone meal to farm animals, which was introduced in 1996.

Any option which involves a change to the current OTM rule would require BSE testing of all cattle over thirty months old before they could go into the food supply. Options being considered:

The options that are emerging as those which may be most appropriate to consider include complete removal of the rule, or allowing animals born after 1 August 1996 into the food chain.

An analysis of the number of cattle going into the food chain which may have BSE, and the possible effect on public health (in terms of the number of new vCJD cases that might occur if the OTM rule was changed) was presented at the meeting. Whilst there are many uncertainties, it showed that relative to the past risk, any risk resulting from a change in the rule would be marginal.

The risk assessment has taken a pessimistic assumption that there may be 5000 vCJD cases over the next 60 years:

If animals born after 1 August 1996 were allowed into the food chain after being screened for BSE, it is estimated that this would represent an increased risk of 0.024 additional vCJD deaths over a 60-year period from infections between 2004-9 (ie there would be a 2.4% risk of one additional case of vCJD over a 60-year period and a 97.6% chance of no extra deaths). The estimated worst case would be 1 additional vCJD case over that period; the estimated best case would be close to zero additional cases.

If all animals were allowed into the food chain after being screened for BSE (ie if the OTM rule was completely replaced by screening), the estimated number of additional vCJD cases would be 0.037 over a 60-year period. The estimated worst case would be 1.6 extra vCJD cases over that 60-year period.

Issues of the practicality and enforceability of testing were also discussed, as well as the costs and benefits of any change to the rule.

Sir John Krebs, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said:

'This public meeting has been an important step in our consultation process in reviewing the Over Thirty Month Rule and in considering what control measures may be appropriate to replace it if a change is made. Public health and consumer protection are top priorities in risk management decisions. It is also essential that any decisions are based on a thorough scientific assessment of risk. In this case, there is a consensus that the risk from BSE has declined dramatically.'

A formal written consultation will mark the next stage of the review. It will begin at the end of March, for 12 weeks. Taking all views into consideration, the Board of the FSA will discuss the outcome of the review at its meeting in July, and make recommendations to Ministers.

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