Lauren Melella, Global Animal
The Food Standards Agency has advised ministers that routine BSE (more commonly known as mad cow disease) testing on the carcasses of healthy cattle slaughtered for food is no longer necessary.
The agency board says testing of healthy cattle is no longer necessary as long as other existing safety controls be enforced vigilantly. Other safeguards, such as removal of the most risky parts of the animals from food and banning animal protein in cattle feed, should be more than sufficient to protect consumers from unsafe consumption.
However, testing will continue on animals that die for reasons other than for human food. The recommendation marks the end of an era, 26 years after the first BSE case was found in Sussex in 1986 and 16 years after the first linked cases of variant CJD (a form of brain damage that leads to a rapid decrease of mental function and movement) in humans were identified.
Up until 1996, only animals under 30 months could be eaten by people in the UK until a testing regime allowing for food from older cattle was introduced in 2005. Currently, the upper age limit before testing has been gradually raised and is now necessary only on cattle over six years old. Regardless, huge numbers of cattle have continued to slaughtered merely because they could not be sold for food. During testing, the cattle are slaughtered where the meat is destined for human consumption.
So far this year, only two confirmed cases of BSE have been reported in the United Kingdom. This compares with over 37,000 in 1992. The decision follows the European commission’s proposal to allow some member states, including the UK, to decide to stop testing these cattle. Food agency chairman Jeff Rooker said he believed the decision was a proportionate measure.
Rooker states, “The FSA is here to protect the public and, with no new BSE cases in cattle slaughtered for their meat for more than three years, we believe the decision to stop this particular testing requirement is a proportionate measure. However, this is not a green light for the industry to cut corners, so it is imperative the other controls, including the other surveillance measures, are maintained vigilantly.”
He added that if ministers agreed to stop testing in January, the FSA would produce a report after six months detailing the results of BSE monitoring and the enforcement of other controls to ensure confidence in the continued effectiveness of the anti-BSE measures. Further reports would be published annually.
In all, 176 people in the UK are thought to have died from vCJD. No one thought to have contracted the disease is still alive.