The Food Standards Agency today announced immediate steps to check BSE enforcement controls in the UK as part of an action plan to improve consumer protection and confidence.

The Government has accepted Agency advice on the need to press the European Commission for the compulsory labelling of country of origin of all meat products, including processed meat products.

From midnight tonight enforcement authorities will be asked to step up spot checks on beef imported into the UK and investigate any consignments where the documentation may be inadequate. Local authorities are also being instructed to provide monthly returns on their enforcement activity.

The Government has also accepted Agency advice on the need to consider tightening regulations governing imported beef and the enforcement of the over thirty month rule, especially in relation to meat products. The Agency will be examining this.

Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said: "The most significant measures for consumer protection in relation to imports are the over thirty month rule and the specified risk material rules that reduce the risk of BSE infected beef from entering the food chain.

"We have made it clear in our review of the BSE controls that the over thirty month rules are difficult to police on imports, especially in relation to meat products.

"Local authorities have the main enforcement responsibility and these new measures will require them to step up their activities and report monthly on their activity. In addition, enforcement activity will be vigorously audited by the FSA as part of its continuing monitoring of standards throughout the UK."

"In addition, the Agency will examine carefully the enforcement regulations for imported beef that is over thirty months old and those for meat products."

The Agency wrote to the French authorities yesterday (22nd November) to find out what safeguards will be put in place to prevent beef banned in France being exported to the UK. The Agency has offered to go to France within the next seven days as part of the process.

The Agency is convening an expert group in early December to review and update its assessment of any risks that may be associated with imported beef or beef products.

The Agency's draft review of BSE controls highlighted the difficulties of enforcing the over thirty month rule on imported beef and, especially, beef products. The Agency has also called for better labelling of country of origin.