FSA Advises UK to Increase BSE Testing Age

UK - The Food Standards Agency today agreed to support a move to increase, from 30 months to 48 months, the age at which cattle slaughtered for human consumption are BSE tested. This decision was reached after the Board received assurances about the effectiveness of current and future BSE surveillance.
calendar icon 11 December 2008
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The Board had received advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (SEAC) at its meeting in October 2008 that the increased risks to human health from raising the BSE testing age are very small and that maintaining effective surveillance is important to monitor the changes in BSE risk.

At today’s meeting, the Board received a commitment from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to maintain effective surveillance in line with scientific recommendations and statutory obligations. It also considered the results of consultation on the proposals undertaken since October.

"We are entirely satisfied with the evidence brought before the Board today."
FSA Chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton

The advice will be subject to review and will be reassessed if any changes to elements of the BSE control regime are made that adversely affect the risk assessment.

FSA Chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton, said: ‘We are entirely satisfied with the evidence brought before the Board today. We felt reassured as to the future effectiveness of BSE surveillance. We are grateful for the comprehensive report that was provided to us by Defra that has enabled us to reach this decision today.’

FSA Chief Scientist, Andrew Wadge, said: ‘Following the Board’s request for reassurances on BSE surveillance, SEAC has reaffirmed its confidence that BSE now represents a minimal risk to humans. We welcome Defra’s commitment to keeping surveillance under review and to consult SEAC on the related risk assessments. We are confident that the Board's decision is appropriate given the continuing decline of BSE as a risk to public health.’

The Deputy President of the National Farmers' Union, Meurig Raymond, hailed the decision as a step forward and would not have been taken if there was any risk to consumers.

"We fully recognise that consumer confidence and public health protection is vital and would not have supported a move to increase the age limit if there was any risk involved. The BSE incidence rate is decreasing year on year and the UK has fully implemented the EU BSE surveillance programme and EU feed ban for over and above the stipulated time requirement.

"The key controls to protect public health will remain in place along with controls on animal feed which are the key controls to protect animal health. BSE will remain a notifiable disease and all suspect animals will continue to be tested," he said.

"The raising of the testing age will have a significant impact on both producers and taxpayers, reducing the number of tests by more than 100,000 and saving around £1.1 million, and will benefit the meat industry, the taxpayer, and the consumer."

Nigel Miller, NFU Scotland Vice-President, said:

“Given that from 2009 costs for such testing will lie with farmers rather than government, this is good news because it removes some potential costs. However, animals older than 30 months will still need to undergo SRM (specified risk material) removal.

“When it comes to animals that die on farm and are classified as fallen stock, once again only cattle over 48 months of age will need to be collected for BSE testing. The good news is that, following discussions with the Scottish Government, NFUS helped to secure a derogation for almost all islands who are now exempt from the process and able to bury their animals on farm.

“However, the bad news is that previously all cattle that required BSE testing were collected for free and now, under new rules which come into place in January 2009, farmers will have to pay for the collection and disposal of fallen cattle that require testing themselves. NFUS helped to secure a £2 million payment to ease the transfer but this post 2008 cost will be into three figures which will do nothing to aid the finances of businesses that, in many cases, are already finding times hard. Elsewhere in Europe these collection and disposal costs will continue to be government financed.

The proposal to increase the age at which cattle are BSE tested follows recent changes to EU legislation. From 1 January 2009, certain EU Member States (including the UK) may adopt the revised 48 month BSE test age. Health Ministers across the UK must also agree to support the increased BSE testing age before the change can be implemented.

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