reader (the Second) said:Food regulator proposes raising age for parts removal
03/06/2005 - The minimum age when the EU's butchers must remove the brain and spinal cord from cattle could be raised to 21 months from the current 12 months if the European Commission accepts a recommendation from the bloc's food safety regulator.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) made the recommendation after assessing new information from the World Organisation for Animal Health on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The European Commission will now consider the recommendation to determine whether to change the rules. The evidence indicates that 26 months is the earliest age when BSE could infect cattle, the EFSA concluded.
There is currently no scientific basis for changing the requirement that tonsils and intestines be removed from all slaughtered cattle regardless of age, the EFSA stated.
"Based on this evidence and a review of previous discussions, the panel recognised that the bovine central nervous system is unlikely to become infectious until an infected animal is considerably older than 12 months," the EFSA said in its report on the issue. "However, this would reflect uptake of the BSE agent via the gut only," the agency said. "Other modes of prion uptake, for example via the oral mucosa and neural spread, cannot be completely excluded and theoretically might significantly shorten the incubation time. However, there are no observational data at present to support this. As for tonsil and intestine, there is no scientific basis to raise the age limit for their removal."
The average age of cattle infected with BSE in the EU has increased to 108 months from 86 months during 2001 to 2004, most likely due to effective control measures, the regulator said.
Four out of a total number of 6,520 BSE cases found during the period were aged less than 35 months. A total of 41 million animals were tested during the period.
In 2001 two animals aged 28 months and 29 months were found to have BSE. In 2002 the minimum age was 32 months. In 2003 the minimum age was 36 months. In 2004 the minimum was 42 months.
The three youngest animals were killed during an emergency slaughter, whereas the remainder of BSE cases in young cattle included all groups of animals targeted for testing or preventative slaughter.
"If the BSE cases in very young animals are not taken into account and the mean age at which BSE is detected in the field is taken as the denominator, then a cut-off at 30 months would represent a considerable but not an absolute safety margin with respect to detectable BSE infectivity," the regulator said. "Present BSE surveillance appears to be equally effective in the EU member states. Nevertheless, there could be important differences between EU member states according to differences in culling rates and other factors like stage in the epidemic."
Between the 28 July 1989, when restrictions on the transport of specified live cattle from the UK started and 29 June 2000, the date when certain tissues presenting a BSE risk were prohibited, all decisions adopted in the EU were based on "safeguard clauses" contained in veterinary directives.
Under the Amsterdam Treaty, all the current safeguards are due to be replaced by a primary legislation passed by the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission.
The UK set out much tougher rules than the EU's in 1998 after the first major outbreak of the disease occurred in that country. The EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) is responsible for the bloc's inspection programme.
All member states currently test all cattle over 30 months of age destined for human consumption. The bones of cattle, sheep and goats must not be used for the production of mechanically recovered meat.
The UK prohibits the sale for human consumption of meat from cattle aged over 30 months. The only exception is meat from animals belonging to herds under the UK's assurance scheme, which designates farms with low BSE risk and which may be slaughtered at up to 42 months for human consumption.
The UK age limit does not apply to imported meat from certain countries considered to be of low BSE-free.
BSE belongs to the group of diseases that also include the brain-wasting disease of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in man and scrapie in sheep and goats. These diseases lead to a degeneration of brain tissue which takes on a typical spongy appearance. Scientists believe that BSE causes variant CJD in humans, by consumption of contaminated beef products from infected cattle. The particular variant form of the human disease has caused 148 deaths in the last 10 years, almost all in the UK.
A list of all EU legislation on BSE is available by clicking here.
BSE Specified Risk Material in the EU as of November 2004
The EU's current legislation on BSE defines specified risk material (parts that must be removed) as follows;
Cattle born, reared and slaughtered in the UK All ages
* The tonsils and intestine from the duodenum to the rectum; and the mesentery;
Over 6 months
* The entire head (excluding the tongue, but including the brain, the eyes, trigeminal ganglia), thymus, spleen and spinal cord.
Over 30 months
* The vertebral column, excluding the vertebrae of the tail, the spinous and transverse processes of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and the median sacral crest, the wings of the sacrum, but including the dorsal root ganglia. - in the UK this only applies to Beef Assurance Scheme animals, all other cattle over 30 months of age are excluded from the food chain.
Cattle all member states except UK All ages
* The tonsils, the intestines, from the duodenum to the rectum, and the mesentery;
Over 12 months
* Skull excluding the mandible but including the brains and eyes, and spinal cord.
Cattle (in all member states except UK and Sweden) Over 12 months
* Vertebral column, excluding the vertebrae of the tail the spinous and transverse processes of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, the median sacral crest and the wings of the sacrum, but including the dorsal root ganglia .
Sheep and goats (applies to UK and all other member states) All ages
* The spleen and the ileum
Over 12 months (or permanent incisor erupted)
* Skull including the brains and eyes, tonsils, spinal cord.
This table is provided by the UK's Food Standards Agency.