Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments Nineteenth Report


Further information from the Food Standards Agency

1.  This note provides further information following a request from the Committee in relation to paragraph 7.2.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (No.2) (Amendment) Regulations 2008.

2.  Until May 2006, bovine vertebral column (VC) was classified as Specified Risk Material (SRM) in UK cattle aged over 30 months. This age limit was reduced to 24 months in May 2006 because of the need to harmonise controls with the rest of the EU in order get the export ban lifted. At the time the UK argued strongly for a 30 month age limit to be applied throughout the EU. The Government's Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (SEAC)'s statement on BSE exposure risk from vertebral column made on 21 April 2005 was used to support the argument. SEAC concluded at the time that the difference in risk classifying VC as SRM at 30 months as opposed to 12 months (the age limit applicable in other Member States at the time) was very small verging on negligible. Unfortunately the 30 month proposal did not attract enough support from other Member States at the time. Since then the incidence of BSE has continued to decline. Furthermore, in April 2007, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Biohazard Panel concluded that on the basis of current scientific knowledge, likely detectable infectivity in the central nervous system of cattle appears to be about three quarters of the incubation period and that it can be predicted that the infectivity would be sub-detectable or still absent in cattle aged 33 months. This provided evidence to support a change in the age at which bovine vertebral column is classified as SRM, the European Commission, Council and Parliament considered the proposal, following their considerations, the Commission adopted and published the proposal. The Community Regulation was amended and amending Regulation came into force on 26 April 2008.

3.  The overall BSE risk in the UK has continued to fall since 1999 and prevalence of BSE in cattle entering the food supply is now estimated to be very low. The ban on UK beef bones for food manufacturing was retained mainly because of a concern about a possible risk from bone marrow following consideration by the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee of a single finding of infectivity in 1998. However, further testing carried out since then, using a more sensitive method, has found no further evidence of infectivity in bone marrow. Nevertheless, if infectivity does occasionally occur in beef bones, the risk will be extremely low and, with the other measures in place, the ban on UK bones in manufacturing will have little or no effect in reducing any risk, especially when imported bones of similar risk may be substituted.

May 2008

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008