FSA supports BSE testing age increase

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has supported an increase in the BSE testing age requirement for cattle slaughtered for human consumption.

The Food Standards Agency's has supported an increase in the BSE testing age requirement for cattle slaughtered for human consumption.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said last week that the decison to move from the current 30 to 48 months was based on sound science and risk assessment.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the decision was 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."

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

He believed the limit change would have a "significant impact" on both producers and taxpayers, reducing the number of tests by more than 100,000 and saving around £1.1m, and would benefit the meat industry, taxpayer and consumer.

The FSA will now make formal recommendations to health ministers across the UK who must agree to support the increased testing age before the change can be implemented.

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, which has enabled us to reach this decision."

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 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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