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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 06:50 GMT 07:50 UK
BSE 'old meat' ban may end
Consumers could benefit from an increased supply
Proposals to allow older cattle back into the human food chain, ending a ban imposed during the BSE crisis, are expected to be unveiled by the government's food advisers.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says the practice of destroying older cattle to protect meat-eaters from BSE, at a cost of nearly 400m a year, is no longer necessary.

It is expected to suggest on Monday the much cheaper alternative of testing slaughtered cattle for BSE, which mainly affects older animals.

Since 1996, six and half million cattle aged above 30 months have been bought and disposed of by the government, at a cost to the taxpayer of more 3bn.

It is essential consumer confidence is maintained
MLC spokesman Guy Attenborough

If the proposal is accepted an extra 23,000 tonnes of British beef could go on sale, bringing down the price of the meat.

The proposals are expected to go before the FSA board meeting on Thursday.

The final decision would be made by ministers.

Minute risk

The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) says this would release an extra 800,000 cattle and 232,000 tonnes of meat onto the market next year - a 35% rise.

Independent scientists say the extra risk to consumers would be minute.

Cow and calf
An extra 800,000 cattle could go to market next year
BSE has been linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a disease that causes paralysis and death in humans.

But the number of recorded cases has dropped from 37,000 in 1992 and 1993 to just 309 so far this year.

MLC spokesman Guy Attenborough said any testing regime should have "a robust trial run to enable the systems and the procedures to be examined and adjusted if necessary".

"It is essential consumer confidence is maintained."

Farmer concerns

National Farmers' Union spokesman Stephen Rossides said consumer confidence surveys showed there was little concern about BSE, with a good understanding of how effective the controls are.

"Provided this is presented properly by the Food Standards Agency, I think consumer confidence will be maintained," he told BBC's Breakfast programme.

The move showed how effective BSE controls had been in lowering the number of cases in the UK, Mr Rossides said.

However, the move needed to be accompanied by changes to exports to avoid a glut of meat on the market.

"We have concerns about this extra volume of beef coming on to the market, with prices falling, against a background of still very strong constraints on our exports."

The union also wanted testing procedures to be fully in place "so that it absolutely works perfectly from day one," he said.

While BSE had not been eradicated, Mr Rossides said the UK was in "the last stages of this very difficult episode".

Warning over BSE infections
15 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Call for national CJD tests
01 Dec 02  |  Health
BSE linked to further CJD cases
28 Nov 02  |  Health
BSE cases 'underestimated'
09 Oct 02  |  Science/Nature
BSE epidemic 'twice as large'
09 Oct 02  |  Health


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