Sales of beef-on-the-bone have received a boost, following an EU Commission decision to raise the age limit at which vertebral column must be removed from beef carcasses under its system of BSE controls.

The UK used to allow the sale of bone-in beef from animals up to 30-months-old, but this was reduced to 24 months as a condition for allowing British beef exports to resume in May 2006.

With many cattle slaughtered between 24 and 30 months of age, the rule change then had a big impact, reducing the supply of bone-in cuts to consumers, while putting up processing costs to producers.

New threshold

But, as of today (Tuesday), the whole of the EU is shifting to a new 30-month threshold for removing vertebral column. “Today’s decision is a further reflection of the progress Europe has made in the battle against BSE,” said food safety commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.

Since October 2000, vertebral column has been classified as specified risk material (SRM), and has therefore had to be removed and destroyed from cattle over a certain age.

“Due to this, and other stringent risk reducing measures, there has been a significant decline in the number of positive BSE cases detected in the EU over the past few years, while the age of those positive cases has steadily increased,” said an EU Commission statement.

Removing vertebral column

In light of this imporoving situation – there were just 320 cases of BSE in 2006 compared with over 37,000 in 1992 – the EU Commission has been able to raise the age for removing vertebral column.

“This is expected to have a positive impact on the competitiveness of farmers and meat industries, and to reduce the amount of SRM waste generated in the EU and therefore to reduce the costs for its destruction,” said the statement.

It also brings the EU in line with the international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).