Feed ban relaxation treated with caution

The ban on feeding animal remains to pigs and poultry could be set to be relaxed, the European Commission has revealed.

The ban was imposed 14 years ago, in response to the BSE crisis.

However, EC scientists said it is now safe to feed porcine remains to poultry and vice versa, because Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) has almost disappeared. They have briefed MEPs ahead of an official proposal to be submitted later this year. The scientists argue that poultry and pigs, unlike cattle, should be allowed to eat animal remains because they are not vegetarian but omnivores and their diet would naturally include some meat.

Industry reaction to the Commission's move has been one of caution. A spokesman for the pig sector company BPEX said: "This is primarily a food safety issue, so we will be guided by the FSA (Food Standards Agency) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority)."

Robert Newberry, the National Farmers' Union chief poultry adviser, said: "The NFU will always follow the best scientific advice and understanding, and so we are waiting to hear the final EFSA and FSA opinions on the matter. We will be following this very closely. Ultimately, we want a level playing field for our members to operate efficiently and competitively. However, the jury is still out on this - we definitely don't want to turn out products consumers don't want."

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council pointed out that only a very small amount of feed, just 4-5%, would incorporate animal remains. He said poultry by-products went into pet food, so the animal feed stream would not be of great value to his sector. "It may be good for the hard-pressed pig sector, which has to pay a considerable amount for porcine by-products to be disposed of."

But the European Fat Processors & Renderers Association (EFPRA), which had been campaigning for the animal feed ban to be relaxed for a number of years, has changed its position. Today it is happy for animal remains to be included in fish feed, but believes Europe should be more cautious in relaxing the animal feed ban. It has come up with a conservative 2% threshold for ruminant-processed animal protein in feed, unlike consultant DNV, which, in its report, concluded up to 5% ruminant contamination of non-ruminant processed animal protein did not lead to any higher risk of BSE in the EU cattle herd.

Defra said there are currently no specific proposals to relax the EU BSE feed ban in poultry and pigs, but added: "An EU project looking at testing methods is due for completion in 2009. We would only support the proposal if we were fully satisfied that appropriate and effective testing had taken place to control the use of such proteins in pig and poultry feed."

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