BRITISH CATTLE should no longer be considered as having a high risk of BSE, but should be reclassified as moderate risk – the same as most other EU member states.

And there is no need for over-30-month cattle to be kept out of the food chain, so long as they were born after July 1996 and so long as they are tested for BSE.

Those are the views of the European Food Safety Authority which was asked to give an opinion by the EU Commission in Brussels.

EFSA‘s biohazards panel has also advised that the Date-Based Export Scheme rules can be relaxed.

The requirements for export beef to come from cattle more than six months old whose dams have survived at least six months could be removed, it said.

“Under these conditions, the consumer risk in relation to UK cattle is comparable with the BSE risk to which EU consumers are currently exposed.”

UK ministers have welcomed the EU scientists‘ opinion.

“The government and industry have worked hard to control and eradicate BSE. EFSA‘s view recognises this and is good news for British beef,” said junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty.

“We will keep on working closely with the European Commission and other member states to ensure that controls on UK beef exports are eased as soon as possible.”

Welsh agriculture minister Carwyn Jones said it was “an important first step in the right direction”.

But he was keen to point out that it would still require a specific proposal from the European commission and the agreement of 25 EU farm ministers before normal beef exports could resume.

EFSA‘s opinion follows a request made by DEFRA last summer that the UK should be granted moderate risk status.

This was because the incidence of the disease had dropped below 200 cases per million head of cattle under 24 months old – the internationally recognised threshold.

That was challenged on the grounds that the UK does not test all over-30-month cattle for BSE, but just a sample of them.

EFSA was therefore asked by the European Commission whether the UK‘s approach of scaling up estimates to give a national picture of BSE levels was reliable.

In its opinion published this week, EFSA agrees that the entire UK beef herd will fall below the 200 case threshold in the second half of this year.

“Already the UK is clearly of moderate BSE risk with respect to its cattle born after July 1996,” it said.