Britain may back EU plan to relax
rules on ‘mad cow’ cattle testing
Source of Article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article4922886.ece
Tough controls on beef that protect consumers
from the human form of “mad cow” disease may be relaxed in Britain and
across the Continent.
At present the brains of all cattle aged over 30
months are tested for BSE before the beef is allowed into the food chain. The
European Commission has now put forward a plan to raise
the testing age to 48 months from next January.
In the UK this would mean that beef from
106,000 cattle a year – about a quarter of all British beef produced annually
– would be allowed on sale for the dinner plate without their brains being
The Food Standards Agency is recommending the
change to its board, which is to discuss the issue next Wednesday. Advice
will then be sent to health ministers. Approval has already been given to the
Commission by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa).
Patrick Wall, chairman of Efsa and an adviser to
the FSA on meat controls, told The Times that
the tests on 30 month-old cattle were redundant. “In the past two years of
testing for BSE in animals over 30 months there have been no positive cases
in cattle under 42 months throughout Europe.
My view is that the controls are not necessary and are not proportionate to
the risk,” he said.
Papers published by the FSA disclose that
scientific experts at Efsa and at the UK’s
Veterinary Laboratories Agency have calculated that if the testing regime
moved to cattle aged 60 months, let alone 48 months, less than one infected
animal would be missed a year from all cattle slaughtered in 15 EU member
states. The UK
food watchdog is also satisfied that human health will be protected by
removal of material from carcasses, which are most likely to carry infection.
Since November 2005, when compulsory brains-testing
of cattle was introduced, 10 out of 1.29 million animals aged over 30 in the UK have been
found infected with BSE. The youngest, in 2006, was 48 months. The animals
were immediately condemned unfit to eat and removed from the food chain. The
agency has urged the board to agree a move to testing at 48 months in the UK.
The move - 12 years after the Government
admitted a link between eating BSE-infected beef and the variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – has alarmed families who have lost loved ones
from the incurable illness. The CJD Support Network is to lobby Gordon Brown,
Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, and MPs to oppose it. Department of
Health figures show that 164 people in the UK have died or are likely to
have died from the human form of BSE and three are being treated for the
Christine Lord, 50, who buried her son, Andrew
Black, four days before Christmas last year, said: “I know the risk is
significantly less but even if just one cow slips through the system that is
one too many.” Her son, a 24-year-old TV producer, fell sick in 2006 but it
took months before his condition was diagnosed. She said: “This policy
60,000Beef farmers in the UK is all about profit over
Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary, will
not lift the testing age unless there is a favourable
opinion from the FSA and health ministers, a spokesman at the Department for
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
Stuart Roberts, the director of the
British Meat Processors Association, said:
“There may be some concerns about public health but consumers must be
reassured that the important health controls remain in place.”