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From: TSS ()
Date: September 15, 2005 at 12:47 pm PST

Date: September 15, 2005 Time: 10:45

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.

Notes for Editors

1. In July 2004, the FSA advised Ministers that a move to replace the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule by BSE testing would be justified on the basis of the food-borne risk to consumers and proportionality in relation to the cost of maintaining the current rule. The Agency further advised that, given the importance of the effective implementation of BSE testing, Ministers should not change the OTM rule until an independent group had advised that all the necessary arrangements for testing have been put in place. Much uncertainty still surrounds the science of BSE and vCJD. However, the FSA risk assessment was based on pessimistic assumptions and has been subject to rigorous independent peer review. It was endorsed by the Government's scientific advisors on BSE (the Spongiform
Encephalopathy Advisory Committee).

2. In December 2004, the UK Government announced the start of a managed transition towards the lifting of the OTM rule and its replacement with a system of robust testing of cattle for BSE. The Government also announced that the final switch-over would not happen until the FSA had advised that the testing system was robust.

3. On 15 August 2005, the Food Standards Agency Board advised Ministers that an effective system to test cattle aged over 30 months (OTM) for BSE before they enter the food chain had been successfully designed and trialled. The Board took into account (a) the report from their independent group to advise on the proposed testing regime; (b) feedback from the European Union's Food and Veterinary Office inspection in June of the UK's BSE controls; and (c) the outcome of public consultations.

4. The Board also identified a number of prerequisites which would need to be met prior to OTM rule change. These addressed the need to ensure sufficient abattoir capacity and appropriate supervision by the Meat Hygiene Service as BSE testing commenced; the issuing of new guidance about the rules on emergency slaughter of animals; and the strengthening of legislation to prevent over age animals entering the food chain. These are all being taken forward.

5. Brain samples will be taken from cattle after slaughter and sent by abattoirs to an LGC laboratory in Great Britain (at Runcorn, Teddington or Edinburgh) or to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs laboratory in Northern Ireland. Results can be available early on the day after slaughter. All those cattle that will become eligible for human consumption following rule change are already being tested after slaughter under the Over Thirty Months Scheme.

6. The terms of reference of the FSA's independent group were 'to make recommendations to the Food Standards Agency on a robust regimen. In so doing, to agree: (a) the components of a robust, reliable and effective regimen for BSE testing of OTM cattle slaughtered for human consumption; and (b) the approach to assessing the performance of the testing regimen; to then review those recommendations in light of a trial of the testing system, and to report to the Food Standards Agency'. Members of the group were: Professor Patrick Wall (Chairman); Sue Dibb; Peter Jinman; Professor Peter Lind; Mrs Barbara Saunders; and Dr Geoff Spriegel.

7. In line with the risk assessment, when the OTM rule is replaced for domestic production, it will also cease to apply to imported beef from cattle of all ages.

8. For cattle born before 1 August 1996, Defra are discussing with the Commission a voluntary compensation scheme (the Older Cattle Disposal Scheme (OCDS)) which is expected to run for three years and will succeed the current Over Thirty Months Scheme (OTMS). Until then the OTMS will remain in place. Only cattle born before August 1996 will be eligible for the OCDS which is not expected to come into force until late December at the earliest.

9. The UK will need a specific proposal from the European Commission and the agreement of the other EU member states before it can export beef from cattle born after July 1996 on the same basis as the rest of the EU. The Commission are unlikely to make a proposal before November.

10. BSE was first identified in the UK in 1986. More than 183,000 cases have been confirmed in the UK to date, of which more than 95% were detected before 2000. The epidemic peaked at an annual total of more than 37,000 clinical cases in 1992 and the number of new clinical cases is currently at the lowest level since recording began. There were 90 clinical and 253 cases detected through testing in 2004, the vast majority in cattle born before August 1996. The UK's reinforced feed controls which banned mammalian meat and bone meal from feed for all farmed livestock, effective from 1 August 1996, have led to a particularly sharp fall in BSE cases in cattle born after July 1996.

11. This decision has been made by the UK Government, the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government.

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FSA safeguards to oversee new BSE testing regime
Thursday, 15 September 2005

Ref: 2005/0600

Following today’s announcement that the Government is to replace the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule with BSE testing, Ministers have also agreed a number of pre-conditions set by the Food Standards Agency to ensure continued consumer protection during implementation.

These include specially trained vets from the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) being required to visit every abattoir approved for testing during the first two days of operations with regular follow-ups, new laws making it illegal for farmers to send cattle born before August 1996(1) to slaughter for food, and an independent audit of the BSE testing system reporting six months following the rule change.
In addition, the Agency is establishing a Review Group, to oversee implementation of BSE testing in the UK. This group, which will include representatives of all those involved in testing and independent consumer representation, will monitor and report publicly to the Agency Board on the testing scheme.

FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton said: 'We welcome the acceptance by Ministers of the Board’s specific pre-conditions for the introduction of BSE testing. Through the whole of this process our aim has been to ensure that the new system is subject to rigorous, and transparent, scrutiny and that the testing system continues to protect public health.'

Notes to editors
The Government announcement follows FSA advice that it is acceptable on public health grounds to replace the OTM rule with a robust BSE testing regime for cattle older than 30 months. The OTM rule was introduced in 1996 and has banned cattle over 30 months of age from sale for food in the UK.
The OTM testing Implementation Review Group will meet at monthly intervals, reporting to the Board of the FSA. The Group will be chaired by the FSA and will involve DEFRA, the Department of Health and the devolved administrations, as well as representatives of both consumers and the meat industry.

(1) Experts believe that BSE was spread among cattle in animal feed that contained other animal protein. The Feed Ban, which became fully effective in the UK from August 1996, prohibits the feeding of mammalian meat-and-bone meal to all farm animals and prevents animals from being exposed to BSE. A new law will ensure that all animals born before the reinforced Feed Ban, in August 1996, will continue to be excluded from the food chain. The Feed Ban will also continue to be enforced.

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Over Thirty Months Rule review

The Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule is the BSE control set up in 1996 that automatically bans older cattle from entering the human food chain. It is one of the two main food safety controls in relation to BSE we operate in the UK – the other being Specified Risk Material (SRM) controls.

On 1 December 2004 Ministers announced the start of a managed transition towards the lifting of the OTM Rule following advice from the Food Standards Agency that the current control measures are no longer proportionate to the risk.
On 15 August 2005 the Agency’s Board agreed to advise Ministers that an effective system to test OTM cattle for BSE before they enter the food chain has now been developed. Ministers will decide the next steps.

The primary BSE control, the removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM), which removes more than 99% of any infectivity that may be present, will remain in place.

About the OTM Rule Review
The Agency had reviewed the Rule to see whether a ban on sale for consumption of OTM meat was still appropriate in the light of the decline in the BSE epidemic.
It was assisted in the review by two committees:- a joint SEAC/FSA risk assessment group and a core stakeholder group representing a range of stakeholders including the farming and meat industries and consumers.

FSA Board advise Ministers that reliable BSE testing system has now been developed
Read the press release

Government to change BSE controls
Read the full press release issued by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on 1 December 2004

OTM Rule Review timeline
Wednesday, 20 July 2005
Find out what happened when in relation to the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule. More

OTM Rule – your questions answered
Monday, 18 July 2005
The OTM rule is one of the three main controls that prevent BSE from cattle getting into food. The rule does not allow cattle over thirty months old to enter the food supply. This is because BSE has mostly been found in cattle over thirty months old. More

OTM meeting 2 July 2002
Wednesday, 16 October 2002
The meeting was held at Congress House in london. More

Extension of 2003 OTM risk assessment
Wednesday, 25 August 2004
Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, London. More

Stakeholder group
Wednesday, 16 October 2002
The role of the stakeholder group is to advise the Agency on the appropriate risk management measures in the light of the risk assessment provided by the Risk Assessment Group (RAG), taking into account practicalities of enforcement of any replacement rule and the costs and benefits. More

OTM Testing Stakeholder Meeting: 7 December 2004
Wednesday, 19 January 2005
New Connaught Rooms, Great Queen Street, London More

OTM Rule Review Consultation


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