THE Scottish beef industry yesterday welcomed moves to remove the compulsory testing of older cattle for BSE, some 16 years after it was introduced in the United Kingdom in the wake of widespread fears over the possible spread of the brain disease.
Following three years where not one case of BSE has been identified in cattle over six years old, the Food Standard Agency (FSA) has this week recommended to the UK government that it remove this testing requirement, which is estimated to cost the Scottish meat processing industry £500,000 annually.
Lord Rooker, chairman of the FSA, said: “The FSA is here to protect the public and, with no new BSE cases for more than three years, we believe the decision to stop this particular testing requirement is a proportionate measure.”
However, he warned this was not a green light for the industry to cut corners and it was imperative the other controls – including a ban on feeding animal protein to livestock – were maintained with vigilance.
On when the relaxation might take place, he said that it could be as soon as January and if that was the case the FSA would produce a report after six months not only detailing the results of BSE monitoring but also on the enforcement of the feed and specified risk materials ban to ensure confidence in the continued effectiveness of the BSE controls.
NFU Scotland saw the move as an endorsement of the safety of beef as well as a recognition that the steps taken by the industry to eradicate the disease had been successful.
Union president Nigel Miller saw it as a lifting of “the shadow cast by BSE”. He also pointed to the financial benefit through stripping out a significant element of cost from the beef supply chain. This might, he suggested, lead to some of the smaller abattoirs and processors considering taking in older cattle.
On the export front, he added that the move sent out a clear message to the rest of the world that Scotch beef should be on their menus.
He also argued that sheep controls should now be looked at. “We have long argued for an end to the requirement to split older sheep carcasses and remove spinal column material, on the basis that there is no scientific justification.”
Ian Anderson, executive manager with the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, agreed with Miller it was now time to re-classify some of the exempt material such as bovine intestine and mesentery fat as well as ending the need to remove the spinal cord from older sheep.
“The benefits which these measures would deliver, without compromising public health, would far outweigh those from the BSE testing of healthy slaughter cattle.”