Advice from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that Defra's proposed robust BSE testing system for older cattle should replace the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule was accepted today by the Government.
New legislation to replace the OTM rule by BSE testing can now be introduced. However, not all restrictions on the slaughter of British cattle will be lifted.
The OTM rule currently imposes an automatic ban on all older cattle from entering the human food chain. The new system will allow UK cattle born after 31 July 1996 to be slaughtered and sold for human consumption.
However, older UK cattle born before 1 August 1996 will continue to be excluded from the food chain and there will be a new legal offence of sending cattle born before August 1996 to abattoirs producing meat for human consumption.
Abattoirs wanting to slaughter OTM cattle must meet strict standards endorsed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Independent Group set up to advise the Agency. These include a two day trial and entering into a legally binding agreement with the Meat Hygiene Service on operational procedures.
The main public health protection measure - the removal of specified risk material (SRM) - which is estimated to remove over 99% of infectivity in cattle -will continue to be rigorously enforced by the Meat Hygiene Service. Only OTM cattle that receive a negative test result for BSE under the new system will be sold for human consumption.
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett said:
"Protection of public health remains the Government's priority. It is imperative that abattoirs and cutting plants that decide to process beef from older cattle operate tight controls and follow all agreed procedures. Defra will be working closely with the Meat Hygiene Service to ensure that the testing system is applied rigorously.
It is excellent news that we will soon be able to increase our supplies of home-produced beef.
We will also be working in Brussels to ensure that beef from UK cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 can be exported as soon as possible".
The new testing system is expected to replace the OTM rule on [7 November 2005]. Changes in export restrictions are not expected to come into effect before early 2006.