FSA News Item, 15 October 2008
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board today agreed to support a move to increase the age at which UK cattle are BSE tested from 30 months to 48 months, subject to a review of current and continued BSE surveillance.
FSA Chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton, said: 'The Board 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 SEAC for review. This report should also include the issue of fallen stock. The FSA Board would like to be presented with this information and to revisit this issue before any further action is taken on BSE testing in the UK'.
FSA Chief Scientist, Andrew Wadge, said: 'The number one priority of the FSA is to protect consumers. Prevention of exposure of people to BSE rests primarily with SRM controls and not BSE testing. The Agency believes an increase in the age at which cattle are tested for BSE is a proportionate measure and that a review of surveillance is an important factor when considering this issue'.
The Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (SEAC) recognised an increase in the age at which cattle intended for human consumption are BSE tested would represent 'a minimal to negligible increase in the risk to human health'. SEAC highlighted the importance of BSE surveillance in monitoring infection levels to ensure they remain extremely low and suggested that if testing controls are modified then BSE surveillance must be kept under review.
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. For an application to be successful Member States must show a declining or low prevalence of BSE and that they have implemented the EU BSE surveillance programme and feed ban for at least six years.
Alongside BSE testing and surveillance a number of controls are in place in the UK to protect consumers:
Removal of Specified Risk Material
The main BSE control in place in the UK removes the parts of cattle most likely to contain BSE. These parts are known as Specified Risk Material. Similar controls apply in all other EU countries.
The Reinforced Feed Ban
It is illegal for cattle to be fed material that contains meat and bone meal, which is thought to have caused the spread of BSE in the 1980s.
These controls are based on current scientific knowledge and are designed to reduce the risk to consumers to an extremely low level. The risk from BSE cannot, however, be removed completely.