A Veterinary Risk Assessment performed by DEFRA which considered the culling options for BSE cohort cattle in the UK has supported the government’s policy of removing cohorts as soon as possible.

In January 2007, European regulations were amended to allow Member States to apply for derogation status that would permit keepers to use of cohorts until the end of their productive lives.

The derogation is subject to the agreement of the European Commission and other Member States and dependent upon a favourable risk assessment taking into account the control measures in that Member State.

On the basis of the risk assessment, veterinary advice is that culling cohorts as soon as possible provides a higher level of disease control than permanently restricting cohorts until the end of their productive lives.

The risk assessment recommends that the UK continues to implement the policy of culling cohorts as soon as possible, but reviews this assessment in two years time, in the light of the predicted continuing decline in the BSE epidemic.

The Veterinary Risk Assessment concludes that cohort culling:

• supports the government’s challenging target of eradicating BSE in Great Britain by 2010
• promotes consumer confidence in UK beef
• avoids the need for expensive additional control measures to monitor cohorts
Since 2001, European regulations have required the culling of cohorts as soon as possible. 

The VRA can be viewed at:  http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/bse/pdf/cohort_controls-risk.pdf

BACKGROUND TO THE CONTROLS

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a fatal neurological disease of cattle. Consumption of feed contaminated with BSE is believed to be the principal, if not the exclusive, route of infection with the BSE agent.

Scientific studies have shown that cattle are more susceptible to infection with BSE during the first year of life. The mean incubation period of BSE is approximately five years. Approved tests can only detect the disease in the later stages of the incubation period.

Cohorts are cattle born in the same herd as, and within a year either side of, an animal affected with BSE, or cattle reared with the animal when both were under a year of age. Cohorts are cattle which might have consumed the same feed as an animal affected with BSE when both were under a year of age.

BSE monitoring has indicated that cohorts have a significantly higher level of BSE infection than normal healthy slaughtered cattle.