Food Standards Agency
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Consumers surveyed oppose animal protein in feed

A majority of people taking part in research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency were against European Union (EU) proposals to relax a ban on using processed animal protein (PAP) in livestock feed for chicken and pigs.

The Agency’s Board will be discussing the EU proposal on Wednesday 7 September.

In response to European Commission proposals that could see PAP used in UK livestock feed for the first time since 2001 (1996 in the case of pig protein), the Agency commissioned qualitative research with 80 people to gauge the public’s attitude towards a change in the current ban.

The results show that, having considered the risks and potential benefits of the proposals to relax the ban on pig and poultry feed, most of the participants involved in the research were against changes to the current restrictions.

After receiving detailed information about the European Commission’s proposals, six out of the eight focus groups involved supported a continuation of the ban, with one group 'neutral' and the other 'for' relaxing the ban. The main reasons for opposing a relaxation of the ban were concerns about health risks, a lack of scientific knowledge about how diseases like BSE spread and concern about whether there were any benefits to the consumer.

While respondents discussed the potential economic and environmental benefits of the proposals, such as less wastage of meat by-products and a reduction in carbon emissions from importing soya – currently used as an alternative for PAP – from abroad, they felt that relaxing the ban would be a backwards step.

Research details

TNS-BRMB conducted research in August 2011 with 80 participants, divided into small focus groups of 10 people in Cardiff, Aberdeen, Belfast and Banbury. Information needs were identified at an initial discussion meeting. The groups reconvened a week later, where answers to their questions were provided. The research follows an earlier study, commissioned by the FSA in June 2011 to gauge public reaction to the proposed ban, involving four focus groups of 10 people (in Croydon and Huntingdon). The findings showed a majority of consumers were against plans to relax the ban.

The science behind the story

A total ban on the use of mammalian meat and bone meal in feed for all farmed animals was introduced in the UK in 1996, after a link was discovered between Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (vCJD). Feeding cattle protein to cattle caused the spread of BSE and led to an EU-wide ban on feeding PAP to all farmed animals in 2001.

Following advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the decline of BSE in the EU and the development of improved animal feed screening tests, the European Commission is calling for the ban on using non-ruminant (pig and poultry) PAP in feed for pigs and poultry, to be lifted. Restrictions preventing the use of ruminant (cattle and sheep) animal protein in all livestock feed, and the ban on intra-species recycling (feeding PAP to the same species, such as pig PAP to pigs) would, however, remain.

In 1992, at the peak of the epidemic, 37,000 cases of BSE were identified in UK cattle. In 2010, 11 BSE cases were identified in the UK, of which five were born after August 1996, when the UK ban came into effect. In 2011 (up to 31 July), four BSE cases in the UK have been identified (two in Great Britain born after August 1996 and two in Northern Ireland, of which one was born after August 1996).

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