FSA says other safeguards such as removal of risky parts of animals from food are sufficient to protect against mad cow disease
BSE testing on carcasses of healthy cattle slaughtered for food should end, the Food Standards Agency has advised ministers.
The agency board says the regime is no longer necessary as other safeguards including the removal of the most risky parts of animals from food and banning animal protein in cattle feed should be sufficient to protect consumers.
Testing will also continue on animals that die for reasons other than for human food. The recommendation marks the end of an era, 26 years after the first BSE case was found in Sussex in 1986 and 16 years after the first linked cases of variant CJD in humans were identified.
Huge numbers of cattle were slaughtered because they could not be sold for food. Only animals over 30 months old could be eaten by people in the UK from 1996 until a testing regime allowing for food from older cattle was introduced in 2005. The upper age limit before testing has gradually been raised since and now is necessary only on cattle over six years old.
So far this year, only two confirmed cases of BSE have been reported in the UK. This compares with over 37,000 in 1992. The decision follows the European commission’s proposal to allow some member states, including the UK, to decide to stop testing these cattle.
Jeff Rooker, who chairs the agency, said: “The FSA is here to protect the public and, with no new BSE cases in cattle slaughtered for their meat for more than three years, we believe the decision to stop this particular testing requirement is a proportionate measure. However, this is not a green light for the industry to cut corners, so it is imperative the other controls, including the other surveillance measures, are maintained vigilantly.”
He added that if ministers agreed to stop testing in January, the FSA would produce a report after six months detailing the results of BSE monitoring and the enforcement of other controls to ensure confidence in the continued effectiveness of the anti-BSE measures. Further reports would be published annually.
In all, 176 people in the UK are thought to have died from vCJD. No one thought to have contracted the disease is still alive.