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Thursday, 28 October, 1999, 14:21 GMT
The UK Government's beef ban analysis

Food Row Fears
The UK Government has issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the French scientific arguments backing their ban of British Beef.

The analysis of the report by the Agence Francaise de Securite Sanitaire des Aliments (AFSSA) was sent to national and regional newspapers across Europe.

AFFSA:The decline of BSE in the UK has slowed down recently, and is slower than predicted by computer models.

UK Government: The decline in the last year has been quicker than in the previous year -confirmations of BSE for 1999 are likely to be down 27% on last year, compared with a decline of 23.5% between 1997 and 1998.

The EU's Scientific Steering Committee said in May that the decline is "in line with all models". It predicted that the tail-end of an epidemic is always very difficult and a slow-down compared with the mid 1990s was always predicted.

AFSSA: The slow-down in the decline suggests the possibility of new routes of infection hitherto undiscovered.

UK Government: The decline is in line with predictions. Therefore there is nothing to suggest the existence of new routes, despite the epidemic having been intensively studied. If there are new routes that would call into question France's own anti-BSE policies.

AFSSA: The number of cases in the UK remains worryingly high, at 650 cases per million cattle over two years, compared with less than two in France.

UK Government: This is not a new issue and is misleading when talking about exports. The BSE cases in the UK are in animals which would not qualify for human consumption at all, still less for export, because they are aged over 30 months.

They were born mainly in 1993-1994 and reflect the position then, not now.

The UK has not had a case in an animal under 30 months since 1996, the year controls on feed were strengthened.

In contrast, the cases appearing in France are appearing in animals which are able to enter the human food chain.

AFSSA: Meat could be exported from the pre-clinical cases - cattle infected but not yet showing symptoms. The removal of certain tissues from the carcass is not a foolproof defence because knowledge of the distribution of the BSE agent in the body is incomplete.

UK Government: This is not a new issue. The rules of the export scheme are designed to prevent meat from pre-clinical cases from being exported, by cutting of all known routes of infection. The distribution and infectivity of the BSE agent has been tested in experiments and the UK's anti-BSE measures are based on those results.

There is no new evidence to suggest a pattern of distribution and infectivity different from that demonstrated.

If there were, that would call into question France's own anti-BSE polices. France does not ban as a wide a range of tissues as the UK, nor does it ban older animals which, if they are infected with BSE, are likely to have higher levels of infectivity.

AFSSA: It is too soon to know whether the absence of cases since 1995 shows that the UK's measures are effective, because animals have not had time to develop the disease. Symptoms appear on average at 54-60 months.

UK Government: This is not a new issue. As time goes on the continuing absence of cases in cattle born after the cut-off date for the date-based export scheme (August 1996) strengthens rather than weakens, the case that the scheme provides effective safeguards. Indeed, there have been no cases in cattle born later than 1995. In any case, cattle eligible for export must be less than 30 months old, ie born after April 1997.

AFSSA: Tests should soon be able to provide data on the level of infection in cattle born in 1996 and 1997.

UK Government: This is not a new issue. The EU approved the export scheme on the basis this it provided effective safeguards without needing to resort to tests.

The UK is working hard to develop tests, and co-operating with the Commission in trying them out for the early detection of cases. We can imagine in the future using tests instead of applying some of the current criteria of the export scheme, but no case for using tests in addition to the current criteria.

AFSSA: The UK's traceability arrangements must be shown to be effective.

UK Government: This is not a new issue. An EU decision was taken after Commission had inspected the UK's systems and satisfied itself as to their reliability. The Commission will continue to monitor all our safeguards regularly - a team visited the UK in early October.

AFSSA: The guarantee relating to maternal transmission (export meat must come from animals whose mothers lived at least another six months and did not develop BSE) is only based on a declaration from the farmer.

UK Government: This is not true. It is based on thorough official checks. The Commission inspection report sets this out clearly.

AFSSA: The traceability system does not extend as far as processed products made in the UK from British beef. No information is available on how production of such products is organised in the UK.

UK Government: This is not relevant because no processed products can be exported yet. No processing plant will be approved for the export of the UK beef product until the Commission has inspected and approved the UK's traceability systems.

In any case, the system that would be used is similar to that already in use for the export of products made in the UK from imported beef, including potentially French beef. The same system cannot be reliable for tracing French beef but not reliable for tracing British beef.

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28 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Food experts in the spotlight

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