FSA Press Release (2005/0596), 15 August 2005
The Food Standards Agency Board today agreed its advice to Ministers that an effective system to test cattle aged over 30 months (OTM) for BSE before they enter the food chain has now been developed. Ministers will decide the next steps.
Last December, the Government announced in principle that the current rule excluding older cattle from the food chain could be replaced with a system by which these animals are tested and then allowed to enter the food chain if the test is negative. The FSA was asked to advise Ministers on whether a robust testing system had been developed before the change could take place.
The initial decision to review the rule back in 2002 came about as a result of a steep decline in BSE cases, the number of which continue to fall – from over 36,000 at the peak in 1992 to 82 clinical cases last year. The main BSE control, the removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM) – which removes over 99% of any possible infectivity in cattle – will remain in place. The other key control, the ban on mammalian meat-and-bone-meal being fed to farm animals, is also unchanged and all animals born before August 1996 will continue to be excluded from the food chain. The rule change would bring the UK into line with the rest of the European Union (EU) where testing of cattle other thirty months old has been successfully operating since 2001.
Following its consideration of a report from the Independent Advisory Group that rigorously scrutinised the proposed system, the Board agreed to advise Ministers that:
The Board also agreed to advise Ministers that it considered there were a number of specific requirements that must be met before the change could take place:
Chair of the FSA, Deirdre Hutton, said: 'The Food Standards Agency was set up in the wake of the BSE crisis and has overseen controls to protect public health, a responsibility we take very seriously. We have taken no less seriously the responsibility of considering our advice to Ministers today.
'We have agreed today that a reliable BSE testing regime for OTM cattle has been successfully designed and trialled. However, we have also agreed to advise Ministers that the Agency considers that a number of measures need to be finalised to ensure that the new system will be effectively supported. I would like to thank Professor Patrick Wall and his team for their valuable and thorough work in assessing the proposed system.'
The Board also agreed that should the Implementation Review Group at any time have concerns about the system, then it is essential that the Board is able to advise Ministers to call a halt to operations.
In agreeing its advice today, the Board took into account three streams of evidence:
The public meetings and Independent Advisory Group both highlighted the importance of a communications plan around the rule change. The Agency agreed that this will be a priority.