The UK Food Standards Agency has published a booklet for consumers that provides updated information on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

The booklet explains the new UK-wide BSE testing controls that will, from next week, replace the ban on cattle aged over thirty months from entering the food chain. 

The move to testing older cattle has come about as a result of the effectiveness of BSE control measures, which have resulted in a steep decline in BSE in the UK. Animals born before the reinforced Feed Ban became fully effective in August 1996 will remain permanently excluded from the food chain.

Since 1996, as a BSE control measure, a blanket ban has been in place in the UK on cattle aged over thirty months entering the food chain. The government recently decided that the ban can be replaced by testing these older animals born after July 1996 for BSE. Following the government's decision, legislation that replaces the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule will be put in place from 7 November. From that date, cattle aged over thirty months will once again be allowed to enter the food chain, provided they have received a negative BSE test result.

The new booklet, BSE & Beef: New Controls Explained, describes the new framework of BSE controls that will apply to older cattle. A smaller leaflet, which summarises the changes and key information, is also available and is being offered to all major retailers and butchers' associations to make it available to their customers.

"Throughout the whole process of reviewing and recommending the replacement of the Over Thirty Months Rule, the Agency has been committed to ensuring that all decision making has been open and transparent. These new leaflets are part of this continuing commitment to giving people the facts and information about BSE and the safety of British beef," said Alan Harvey, head of the BSE division at the FSA.

The main BSE public health protection measure, the Specified Risk Material control, will remain in place. This removes almost all of the risk (over 99%) if an animal were infected with BSE. The Feed Ban control will also remain in place.