Moves are afoot in Brussels to raise the age at which animals have to be tested for BSE, potentially saving the meat industry millions of pounds in costs.
The development follows the publication of two scientific opinions by the European Food Safety Authority in Italy, which say that raising the age will lead to only a negligible increase in the risk to human health.
Currently around 10m cattle are tested for BSE in the EU15, yet the number of BSE cases detected fell from 2164 in 2001 to just 149 in 2007.
According to EFSA, “if the age for testing for BSE increases from the present 30 months to 36 or 48 months, less than one case in cattle could be expected to be missed annually in the whole EU 15”.
“If the age for testing increases to 60, 72 and 84 months of age, then fewer than 2, 4 and 6 BSE cases respectively could be expected to be missed,” it added.
EFSA also assessed the “at risk” group of cattle, which covers fallen stock and animals displaying signs of disease before slaughter.
“If the age for testing for BSE in cattle “at risk” increases from the current 24 months to 30, 36 or 48 months, then less than one case could be expected to be missed annually in the EU 15,” it concluded.
While EFSA makes no specific recommendations, it is likely that the findings will be taken by the EU Commission and turned into a proposal to increase the age of testing for BSE.
Time to act
The British Meat Processors Association urged the EU to act quickly.
“We remain overburdened by a long and costly legislative hangover because of BSE,” said BMPA director Stuart Roberts. “It’s difficult not to feel optimistic by the prospect of a significant change in the testing limit, and we now have a strong scientific base for change.
“Such a move could immediately deliver benefits to industry, government and the consumer at a time when the cost of food is already influencing the weekly shop.”
It is estimated that each test costs roughly £20 to complete.