The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is consulting on replacing one of the BSE controls - the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule - with BSE testing.
Responses are being sought to the written consultation, which will last for 12 weeks. The consultation follows a programme of stakeholder meetings, risk assessment, and a public meeting on 7 March 2003 to discuss issues raised in the review.
The OTM rule prohibits, in the UK, the sale of meat for human consumption from cattle aged over 30 months at slaughter.
Fewer than 100 BSE cases have developed clinical disease at or under 30 months out of almost 180,000 BSE cases in the UK. Cattle with BSE also present a higher risk in the 12 months prior to the onset of clinical disease, which occurs at an average age of five years.
The FSA review has been considering whether the OTM rule should be replaced by BSE testing, which is the measure taken in other EU countries, to provide acceptable levels of public protection.
Sir John Krebs, chair of the FSA, said:"There has already been extensive and vigorous discussion during the review process of the Over Thirty Months rule. We are keen to ensure that this consultation process continues to be open and thorough, and we welcome responses to this written consultation over the next twelve weeks."
The main BSE control, which removes specified risk material (SRM) - the part of an animal most likely to contain BSE infectivity - remains. The SRM control removes at least 95 per cent of infectivity from an animal infected with BSE.
Similarly, a third BSE control, which bans feeding meat-and-bone meal to all farm animals, will remain in place.
A stakeholder group, advised by independent scientists and epidemiologists, has recommended two options should be considered for replacing the OTM rule. These are, replacing the OTM rule by BSE testing of all OTM animals slaughtered for human consumption, or allowing all animals born after 1 August 1996 into the food supply, after BSE testing and SRM controls have been applied.