Food Standards Agency
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Board advises on increase in BSE testing age

The Agency has advised Ministers that it would be acceptable to increase the age at which BSE tests are carried out on healthy cattle slaughtered for human consumption.

The advice was given following a discussion on proposed changes to BSE testing held at the Board’s open meeting in Belfast on 25 May. The proposal is that the age threshold for healthy cattle slaughtered for human consumption born in the UK and 24 other member states should be increased from 48 to 72 months.

BSE testing requirements for 'risk' cattle (those most likely to test positive for BSE, but not BSE suspects) would remain largely the same and those for BSE suspects (cattle with clinical symptoms of the disease) would not change.

Commenting on the proposed change, FSA director of food safety Alison Gleadle said: 'Numbers of BSE cases have dropped dramatically since the height of the UK's BSE epidemic. In 1992 there were more than 37,000 clinical cases reported. Last year there were just 11 detected via the testing programme – none of which were in cattle slaughtered for human consumption.

'Subject to effective surveillance for BSE continuing to be in place, the Agency believes that increasing the threshold for BSE testing of healthy slaughtered cattle to 72 months would be acceptable on grounds of food safety. The main protection for consumers is through the removal of specified risk material.'

If Ministers agree to proceed with the change, which could take place from 1 July this year, it will be the third major relaxation in BSE controls in the last six years.

In November 2005, the ban on cattle aged over thirty months (OTM) from entering the food chain was replaced with BSE testing of all OTM cattle entering the food chain.

In January 2009, the age threshold at which cattle had to be tested for BSE was increased from 30 months to 48 months.

The latest change would mean that almost all healthy cattle slaughtered for human consumption will not have to be tested until the age of 72 months.

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