UK food industry watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), is set to review the Over Thirty Month (OTM) rule implemented to control the spread of BSE, which prohibits the sale of meat for human consumption from cattle aged over 30 months at slaughter.

The rule was introduced in 1996 and has had a major impact on reducing the risk to public health by significantly limiting the number of infected animals which might otherwise have entered the food chain.

The review will consider whether any changes to the rule could be made without increasing the risk to public health.

Other measures such as the Specified Risk Material (SRM) controls are to remain as they are. The SRM rule specifies that the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infectivity (including brain tissue and spinal cord) must be removed before they enter the food chain.

The FSA’s last review of BSE controls, published in December 2000, recommended that the OTM rule be reviewed in 2002 in the light of the overall decline in BSE in the UK and specifically the impact of the tightened feed controls in 1996.

Sir John Krebs, FSA chairman, said: “The FSA’s primary concern is to protect the consumer from BSE risk.

“As with all the BSE controls, this rule should be maintained for as long as it is needed to protect public health. But it is right to update our assessment and management of risk in light of the latest scientific evidence.

“We will be seeking advice from the top experts.”