From January 2013, abattoirs will no longer have to test healthy cattle going for slaughter for BSE, following EU proposals to changes the BSE testing regime and advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that surveillance testing of ‘at-risk animals’ easily meets the international standards.
Defra estimates this move will save the fresh meat industry in England and Wales, which organises and pays for the testing, approximately £2.83m per annum, while the government will also save around £776,000 per annum.
Defra also announced it is consulting on wider changes to the BSE testing regime, in order to reflect the decreasing risk of the disease. The two-week consultation will run from 5 December. Ministers will seek advice from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and health ministers before making any changes to BSE testing of cattle slaughtered for human consumption in England and the proposal will then be voted upon by member states when the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) meets in December.
A spokesperson said: “These proposals from the EU reflect the decreasing risk of BSE and will decrease burdens for industry. The key measures to protect public health are unaffected by this change, and there will be no increase in the risk to consumers.”
There have been no cases of BSE in healthy slaughtered cattle in the UK since 2009, and only two confirmed cases in the UK in 2012 from fallen cattle. Defra said that feed controls were the key animal health control measure for BSE, and it stressed that key public health control measure for BSE will continue to be observed, regardless of the declining epidemic, with specified risk material (SRM), the tissues and organs found to contain BSE infectivity, being removed from the food chain and destroyed.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) welcomed the move. BMPA director Stephen Rossides said: “The BMPA strongly supports the European Commission’s proposal to stop BSE testing of healthy slaughtered cattle and confine testing to ‘risk’ animals. The Commission’s proposal is based on an EFSA scientific opinion, which shows that, against the background of the continuing declining trend of BSE cases in the EU, including the UK, the testing of healthy slaughtered cattle is no longer necessary and would not compromise public safety. The industry takes very seriously the importance of maintaining public health and public confidence in the safety of beef. But these controls are no longer relevant and simply add unnecessary and unwelcome costs to businesses.”
Ian Anderson of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) also welcomed the proposal. He told Meatinfo.com: “We have said for some time that, while the need for BSE controls to be imposed quickly at the time was paramount, the authorities have been slow to wind them down even when the evidence supported that. We are very pleased therefore that this science based proposal has come forward. It will save the Scottish industry almost half a million pounds a year at a time when the economics of beef processing are very difficult.
However he added that the measures, while welcome, did not go far enough, adding: “We now need further proposals to re-classify most of the bovine intestine and the mesentery fat as Category 3 animal by products and end the need to remove the spinal cord from older sheep. The benefits which these measures would deliver, without compromising public health, would far outweigh those from the BSE testing of healthy slaughter cattle.”
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