BSE controls may be impractical, say MPs

08 August 1997

BSE controls may be impractical, say MPs

NEW controls to remove the spinal cords of sheep and goats at slaughter – as a precautionary measure to protect against the possibility that sheep may carry BSE – could prove too difficult, MPs warned yesterday.

Their caution was directed at European Commission rules drawn up last month. These stipulate that EU abattoirs must remove specified risk materials (SRMs) from sheep, cattle and goats at slaughter.

Experts believe cattle contracted BSE during the 1980s when they were feed meat and bone meal made out of ground-up sheep carrying the disease scrapie.

Although there is no proof that scrapie in sheep leads to a fatal brain disease in humans – unlike BSE in cattle – the EC decided to introduce the new measures to allay consumers fears and minimise potential risk.

The Commons European Legislation Committee said yesterday: “We realise that all matters relating to BSE are sensitive, but it is important that action taken is both practicable and justified.

“Public confidence will not be enhanced by measures which are unenforceable and cannot be carried out in a practicable way.”

The MPs are concerned that the Commission will introduce measures that are legally-enforceable, but possibly impractical and costly, to stop the skull, tonsils and spinal cords of cattle, sheep and goats entering the animal or human food chain.

UK abattoir owners have already expressed concern, saying they accept the cattle measures – which are already protocol in the UK – but fear the sheep measures will prove too difficult and costly.

The Commons committee says it has not seen any evidence to suggest that the removal of the spinal cord of sheep or goats is feasible. Earlier this year, the governments advisory body on BSE concluded that the process was possible and urged the Government to go along with the EU proposals.

But the BSE advisory body based its conclusions on a report by the Meat and Livestock Commission which indicated that, although the removal of the spinal cord from sheep was not impossible, it would prove difficult and was likely to create commercial problems.

The Committee recognises today: “The removal of spinal cord from cattle does not present a problem, nor does the removal of the skull or spleen, but the removal of the spinal cord of sheep and goats is a different matter.”

The report goes on: “There is no evidence that `BSE in sheep has yet been found in a natural environment but, if the risk exists, then any proposals to deal with it must be practicable and capable of enforcement throughout the Community.”

The Committee demands full costings for complying with the proposals and a Commons debate when the House returns from its summer break.

David Cracknell, PA News

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