14 December 2000
Food agency keeps BSE controls

By FWi staff

BRITISH controls against BSE are to remain in a bid to allay concern that the disease is more widespread in Europe than previously thought.

The Food Standards Agency said BSE controls would remain amid renewed fears that the disease is entering the food chain in France.

New results of a study published in the journal Nature showed the importance of controls on imports to protect consumers from BSE, it said.

The study, by Christl Donnelly, an epidemiologist from Imperial College, London, shows that BSE in France is over 35 times higher than admitted.

France has only admitted 206 cases of BSE since 1989, but the true figure could be 7300 and as much as 9,800, according to Dr Donnelly.

She argues that, while French reports claim that 49 cattle could have entered the food chain this year, the true figure is around 100.

Her study estimates that there is virtually no risk from imported French beef if British rules banning cattle over thirty months old are fully enforced.

Even if the rules were only 75% enforced, then the risks posed by British and French meat sold in the UK would be comparable, said Dr Donnelly.

The Food Standards Agency estimates that enforcement levels in the UK are currently at around 80%, according to agency chairman Sir John Krebs.

“The latest evidence shows the importance of BSE controls and, in particular, the over-thirty-month rule for imports,” he said.

Retaining BSE controls is a precautionary measure that will be reviewed in the light of evidence from the new European testing system, said Sir John.

Earlier this week, data from the French Food Standards Agency showed that a higher-than-expected level of cattle had reportedly died accidentally.

But commentators said the dead animals may have represented attempts by French farmers to conceal BSE, which would have meant the slaughter of entire herds.

In another development, Japan has banned all imports of animal feed from the EU amid concern over BSE, according to the Financial Times.

Japan has already banned all beef and meat-based cattle feed that has not been heat-treated from countries affected by the disease.

It also refuses heat-treated UK feed.