Proposals to change current UK legislation on BSE protection measures - bringing it into line with new measures covering the whole of the European Union - were issued for consultation today.

The proposals involve specified risk material (SRM) which comprises those parts of animals which may carry BSE infectivity. In order to implement a Commission Decision adopted at the end of June this year, it will be necessary to:
  • introduce EU rules - from 1st October 2000 - for the removal and disposal of SRM from cattle, sheep and goats;

  • ban - from 1st January 2001 - on the use of "pithing" (see Notes for Editors) on animals intended for human consumption; and

  • introduce EU-wide controls - from 1st April 2001 - on SRM imports from outside the EU.
These proposals are supported by the Food Standards Agency because they introduce, for the first time, harmonised SRM controls covering all EU Member States.

The proposals were considered by the independent Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), which advised that the benefits of introducing EU-wide controls outweighed any potential slight increase in risk caused by a small reduction in the amount of material currently designated in the UK as SRM.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The proposals are contained in Commission Decision 2000/418/EC, which was adopted on 29th June this year. The consultation exercise announced today covers only the introduction from 1st October of EU rules for the removal and disposal of SRM from cattle, sheep and goats. They were considered by SEAC at its meeting on 11th May this year, and are included in a SEAC News Release of 8th June this year which reported on discussions at the May meeting.

2. SRM controls have been in force in the UK under national legislation, since November 1989 for cattle; and since September 1996 for sheep and goats. A review of BSE controls was first announced by the Prime Minister in March this year. Further details were announced by the Food Standards Agency on 2nd May this year (Press Notice 2000/0006). Two meetings of a BSE stakeholders group have been held (24th May and 18th July). A draft report of the review is now being produced, and will be published in early September. The draft report will be available for discussion at two further stakeholder group meetings, to be held in London in mid-September and early November. A further meeting will be held in the North of England in early October, for interested individuals and organisations who are not represented on the stakeholders' group. The draft report will also be considered by the Board of the Food Standards Agency at its meeting in Belfast on 21st September this year. It is planned that the final report will be considered by the Board at its November meeting.

3. When the Decision is implemented, the following material designated as SRM under the current UK controls will no longer be classed as SRM:
  • thymus and intestine of cattle aged 6 months or under;

  • whole heads of sheep and goats aged 12 months or under; and

  • the heads - except the skull, including brain and eyes - of sheep and goats aged over 12 months.
4. The Decision definition goes further than the current national controls in designating vertebral column (including dorsal root ganglia) of cattle aged over 30 months as SRM (vertebral column has never been regarded as SRM in the UK). This change will have little practical effect. With one exception, the sale of meat from such animals for human consumption is already prohibited and the entire carcase of virtually all such animals is destroyed under the Over Thirty Months Scheme (OTMS). The exception relates to the small number of cattle that are registered under the Beef Assurance Scheme (BAS). The meat from these animals may be sold for human consumption aged up to 42 months at slaughter. The BAS was introduced with SEAC agreement, and after consultation with the European Commission. There is provision in the Commission Decision to seek an amendment to exclude BAS animals from the vertebral column and dorsal root ganglia requirements. This exemption is currently being sought.

5. "Pithing" is the masceration - or mashing - of the brain by a rod introduced through a hole in the skull, made by a captive bolt gun. The practice is carried out in some slaughterhouses to prevent injury to slaughtermen from involuntary kicking by stunned animals, which might otherwise occur.

6. Consultations will be carried out separately on parallel legislation covering Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

7. Copies of the consultation paper can be obtained from Martin Roberts, Food Standards Agency, PO Box 31037, Room 536, Ergon House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3WG. (Telephone 020 7238-6489). Responses should be received by 15th September this year. The consultation paper is also on the Food Standards Agency website, http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk.