FSA News Item, 8 March 2011
The Food Standards Agency has been working with Defra, the devolved administrations and other agencies in an ongoing investigation into allegations of the illegal trade in cattle, born and reared in the UK before August 1996.
The Agency is letting consumers know that there is a very low food safety risk from eating meat or meat products from any such older cattle, this is due to the strict controls in place at all slaughterhouses in the UK.
It is illegal for cattle born or reared in the UK before August 1996 to be slaughtered for food (see 'The science behind the story' below). These animals have a higher risk of infection with BSE than younger animals, because they were born before the feed controls introduced to combat the spread of BSE were fully effective. However, the strict controls in place at slaughterhouses and cutting plants mean that the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infection, known as Specified Risk Material, are removed.
In addition, all cattle over 48 months of age must test negative for BSE before entering the food chain.
The Agency’s official veterinary officers in all abattoirs in Great Britain, and staff from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland, oversee the removal of the Specified Risk Material and BSE testing procedures, to make sure controls are effective and that consumers can have confidence in the safety of meat.
The Agency is supporting the strong action Defra and the devolved administrations are taking to limit the movement of cattle born before August 1996 and prevent cattle entering the food chain illegally.
The science behind the story
European Union law requires that the cohorts (animals of similar age from the same herd or reared together) of any animal infected with BSE are culled as a precautionary measure. In November 2005, a ban on cattle over 30 months of age entering the food supply was lifted and replaced by BSE testing. As a result, it became necessary to trace cohorts of BSE cases, all of which were over 30 months of age. However, the traceability system in place for animals born before 1 August 1996 was not able to trace all the cohorts from this time. To ensure no untraced cohorts entered the food chain, the decision was taken to ban all animals born before 1 August 1996 from being slaughtered for food.