The Food Standards Agency has welcomed today's decision, by European Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels, to introduce tests throughout Europe to detect BSE infectivity in cattle most at risk of developing the disease.

The Agency is to contact the French authorities to seek assurances within the next week on how they will implement controls to prevent beef banned in France from being exported to the UK. The Agency is to convene an expert group in December to review and assess any risks that may be associated with imported beef or beef products.

Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Agency, said: "These are sensible and proportionate measures that are consistent with those being called for by the FSA across Europe. They will enable a better assessment of whether there are any new risks from BSE that are not being met by the current controls. We welcome the fact that the European scientific committee is to consider whether further controls are necessary and that the Commission is to inspect the enforcement measures over the next few weeks.

" The Agency is writing to the French authorities to ascertain what safeguards there are to prevent beef banned in France from being exported to the UK. We have asked for a response within seven days and will consider what further action, if any, may be necessary then.

" There is no reason to advise consumers against eating legally sold EU beef in the UK although we are continually checking the situation. We welcome the Council's acceptance of the FSA's position on the need for futher labelling in relation to meat products. If consumers have concerns they can then check the country of origin of the product they are buying."

The European Agricultural Ministers have agreed that:
  • From 1st January 2001, all "at-risk" animals over 30 months of age should be tested after slaughter. The need for such tests is to be reviewed after the first test results are known.


  • From 1st July 2001, all normal (as opposed to high-risk) animals over 30 months of age which are to enter the food chain should be tested after slaughter.


  • The use of fallen stock (for example, animals that have been injured or are dying) is to be prohibited in animal feed
In addition, pending an analysis by the European Scientific Steering Committee on the risks of BSE in France, the French have undertaken not to export beef products currently prohibited for consumption in their own territory. This scientific assessment will be reported to the European Standing Veterinary Committee for their evaluation, before it is presented to the Council of Agriculture Ministers at its meeting on 21st - 22nd December.

The FSA is publishing updated information on a regular basis at www.bsereview.org.uk.

NOTES TO EDITORS

The current UK controls protecting human health are:

EU-wide specified risk material controls in force since 1 October

The complete ban on meat from cattle over thirty months entering the food chain that applies to both EU member states and home produced beef. The only exceptions being beef from the assured beef scheme and beef from 14 BSE free countries.

Ban on feeding of mammalian meat and bonemeal to all farmed livestock

There have been no substantiated cases of imported beef over thirty months old reaching UK consumers. It is illegal and the penalties are high.

Against this background and the fact that the Agency's independent scientific advisers, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) have issued no new advice, the Agency has no reason to advise against the consumption of legally-sold EU beef.

This position will be reviewed if:

The incidence of BSE in France or other countries emerges as significantly greater than presently reported; and/or failures are reported in the current controls.

Incidence of reported BSE in the UK and France

In the current year there have been 1141 cases of confirmed BSE in cattle in the UK. This compares to 99 in France.

In the current year there have been 293 cases per million cattle over 24 months old with BSE in the UK. This compares to 19 cases per million cattle over 24 months old with BSE in France.

Level of imports from France into the UK

TOTAL 5,647.3

A total of 147,000 tonnes of beef are imported into UK from all countries including France.
Not all is for human consumption.

A total of 917,000 tonnes of beef are consumed annually in the UK.

All of these are subject to the UK's over thirty month rule with the exception of meat from the 14 BSE free countries and the assured beef scheme.
No live cattle are imported from France into the UK.