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Monday, 1 January, 2001, 12:29 GMT
New rules to cut BSE risk
French cows
Cattle over 30 months old are covered by the new test
A new BSE testing programme is being introduced which should cut the risk of processed beef imports to the UK being contaminated with the deadly disease.

From 1 January all cattle over 30 months in the European Union will be tested for BSE if it is intended for human consumption.

The programme will have limited impact on farmers in the UK where nearly all cattle this age are already slaughtered.

However, it should reduce the risk of imported processed meat products containing infected material.


The risk has come down by orders of magnitude. We can't say it is zero, but it is very small

Professor Peter Smith
SEAC acting chairman
Fresh beef imports will not be affected as these are already limited to cattle under 30 months.

A government expert has warned the new tests will not guarantee food is 100% safe.

Professor Peter Smith, acting chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Thousands of infected animals were going into the food chain in the late 1980s and early 1990s and it is estimated that there is now only about one animal going into the food chain a year.

"The risk has come down by orders of magnitude. We can't say it is zero, but it is very small."

Animal incinerator
Older UK cattle are already slaughtered
The rules were agreed in December following the rapid rise in BSE cases reported in France and new infections in Spain and Germany.

The new procedure is expected to give a clearer picture of the spread of BSE on the Continent where France reported 111 cases last year.

Even greater numbers are expected to emerge in Portugal.

The Food Standards Agency has welcomed the testing programme.

However, a spokeswoman warned Today listeners to remain cautious and only buy meat from reputable outlets.

The agency is campaigning for country of origin labels to be compulsory on all EU beef products.

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