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From: TSS ()
Date: November 7, 2005 at 6:58 am PST

Date: November 07, 2005 Time: 10:15

From today the rule which has stopped older cattle from entering the human food chain since March 1996 has been lifted and replaced with a BSE testing regime.

The end of the Over Thirty Month (OTM) Rule follows acceptance by the Government in September of advice from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that a robust testing regime has been developed. Cattle born before 1 August 1996 will continue to be excluded from the food chain.

Lord Bach, Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food said,

"The replacement of the OTM rule marks a significant step in the year-on year decline of the BSE epidemic to record low levels. This is a measure that we've worked very hard to achieve over the last nine years.

"Today's announcement represents a welcome boost for the food industry and our beef farmers who will now be able to enter their older cattle into the food chain.

Abattoirs must ensure that all cattle aged over thirty months entering the food chain receive a negative BSE test result. Everyone involved in processing these cattle, including farmers and abattoir and cutting plant staff has a critical role to play.

We are continuing to work hard in Brussels to ensure that the EU export ban is lifted as soon as possible."

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 (MHS). Only OTM cattle that receive a negative test result for BSE under the new system will be sold for human consumption.

Abattoirs, which can start slaughtering older cattle from today, have been required to meet strict standards endorsed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). These include a two day assessment and entering into a legally binding agreement with the MHS on operational procedures.


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 have all been taken forward.

5. On 15 September 2005, the Government accepted the FSA advice that the proposed BSE testing system for older cattle should replace the OTM rule.

6. 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.

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 is 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 mid January at the earliest.

9. 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.

10. To date 9 abattoirs in the UK have gained approval for slaughtering older cattle for human consumption. a much larger number of abattoirs than this have expressed interest in eventually participating in the trade.

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