THE OVER-30-Months Scheme looks set to be scrapped by September 2005 with the Date Based Export Scheme to follow suit by November, farmers weekly has learned.

However, the ban, which prevents meat from cattle over 30 months old entering the food chain, will only be lifted if a rigorous, and 100% accurate, BSE testing regime can be established beforehand.

Currently only about half of the OTM cattle slaughtered are tested for BSE.

But, the current system – even if it was simply expanded – is not sufficient to meet the requirements being laid down by the Food Standards Agency.

“This is not simply an additional test, it will be the only test. It must, therefore, be flawless if it is to protect public health,” said Patrick Wall, chairman of the independent review group established by the FSA to oversee the establishment of a testing process.

Field trials have already begun on a suitable system using various models from Europe as a basis and there are plans to expand the trials early in the New Year.

“The new system is similar to what is already in place in Europe. Offal destined for human consumption will have to stored and labelled on a cow-by-cow basis and separate from that destined for incineration until the test results are returned.”

RESPONSIBILITY

Much of what is required to set up the testing system is the responsibility of abattoirs. They should be aware of the importance of establishing a reliable, accurate and efficient testing system, said Professor Wall.

“Under the new system results will be returned to abattoirs within 12-hours. Any sample received by the Laboratory of Government Chemists that is not of an adequate standard will be returned as a no-test” a result that carries the same penalties as a positive test,” he added.

Many in the industry had hoped the ban would be lifted by mid-July allowing for a steady flow of cull cattle on to the market before the seasonal drop in price in the run up to Christmas.

However, the eventual date will be decided by the FSA who will base their decision on the report by the review group chaired by Prof Wall. In the meantime DEFRA is believed to be preparing the legislation, a process expected to last until July.

Timing will be crucial as the EU Food and Veterinary Office is scheduled to make its next visit to the UK at the beginning of June. During this visit DEFRA and the FSA will be hoping to convince them that British beef is once again safe to export.