The Food Standards Agency agreed yesterday to support a move to increase the age at which UK cattle are BSE tested from 30 months to 48 months, subject to a review of current and continued BSE surveillance.
FSA chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton, said: "The Board supports the move to testing at 48 months but would not wish this to be implemented until a further report on surveillance has been produced and this has been passed to SEAC for review.
"This report should also include the issue of fallen stock. The FSA Board would like to be presented with this information and to revisit this issue before any further action is taken on BSE testing in the UK."
FSA chief scientist, Andrew Wadge, said: "The number one priority of the FSA is to protect consumers. Prevention of exposure of people to BSE rests primarily with SRM controls and not BSE testing.
"The Agency believes an increase in the age at which cattle are tested for BSE is a proportionate measure and that a review of surveillance is an important factor when considering this issue."
The Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (SEAC) recognised an increase in the age at which cattle intended for human consumption are BSE tested would represent "a minimal to negligible increase in the risk to human health".
SEAC also highlighted the importance of BSE surveillance in monitoring infection levels to ensure they remain extremely low and suggested that if testing controls are modified then BSE surveillance must be kept under review.
The FSA said it was difficult to give a timetable for the proposed report into the surveillance of BSE testing but added, "This is something we will be pursuing with for some urgency."
The proposal to raise the age at which cattle are BSE tested came as a result of recent changes to EU legislation. EU Members States are now allowed to apply to reduce their monitoring programmes for BSE. For an application to be successful Member States must show a declining or low prevalence of BSE and that they have implemented the EU BSE surveillance programme and feed ban for at least six years.