23 March 2000
MAFF ‘clueless’ on threat to lamb chops

THE government is clueless as to how to respond to EU proposals which could see British lamb chops banned, claims the shadow agriculture minister.

The European Commission has proposed a BSE league table which would see members in the high category – which would include Britain – bring in even more stringent measures to remove specified risk materials.

This could mean the beef-on-the-bone ban lifted last year re-imposed, and a ban on the sale of lamb chops from animals over 12 months old.

Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said the proposals were “extremely alarming”.

He told the Radio 4 Farming Today programme: “I think its a risk of truly horrifying proportions, and its impossible to get a clear answer from the Ministry of Agriculture at the moment.

“I dont think the ministry knows how to respond to this threat, yet it is creeping up on us week by week.”

He added that it was extremely unfair that only Britain and Portugal would be placed in high categories, as there was evidence of substantial under-reporting elsewhere.

Peter Smith, acting chairman of BSE advisory committee SEAC, rejected proposals that the risk of BSE in sheep should be related to the level of BSE in cattle.

And the British Veterinary Association say there is no scientific basis for the proposals and will fight them.

John Thorley of the National Sheep Association says most of the lamb eaten is under 12 months old which will not have been exposed to any risk of BSE from infected feed, which is now banned.

He is confident the ban will not go through because no signs of a problem have been detected. And as time passes since infected feed was banned the risk recedes, he adds.

Mr Thorley said the proposal had been deferred in the past because there had been no change in the results.

Discussion of the proposal by the EC has been deferred until June. It will be debated in May by the International Veterinary Health Office.