UK moves to lift BSE restrictions

Related tags European union United kingdom Uk

The British beef industry is hoping for a boost following
theannouncement of the start of a managed transition towards the
lifting of the Over Thirty Month (OTM) rule.

Yesterday's announcement by secretary of state Margaret Beckett to Parliament paves the way for the reintroduction of beef from these cattle for human consumption.

Meat from these animals has been banned since 1996, but UK BSE levels have now fallen to a level similar to those elsewhere in Europe.

"This is good news for British cattle producers, good news for the British beef industry and good news for British consumers,"​ said Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) director general Kevin Roberts.

"It signals the beginning of the end to the OTM rule."

Following the UK government's announcement in March 1996 of a suspected link between BSE and human equivalent, CJD, the EC slapped a worldwide export ban on all British beef. In June that year, the European Heads of Government agreed to the Florence Framework for the progressive removal of this ban.

The agreement outlined five pre-conditions for the resumption of exports. These were the introduction of a selective slaughter programme of "at risk" animals to speed up the eradication of BSE in the UK, improved systems of animal identification and tracing, legislation for the removal of meat and bone meal from feed mills and farms, vigorous and effective removal of specified risk materials from carcasses and the effective implementation of the Over Thirty Month slaughter scheme.

The MLC claims that British beef is now produced to some of the highest standards in the world and that consumer confidence has been restored.

"Lifting the OTM rule will send out a positive signal to the rest of the world,"​ said Roberts.

The organisation also called for the rapid dismantling of the Date Based Export Scheme, which is hindering the industry in its attempts to restart British beef exports.

"It is vital that we simultaneously remove the restrictions imposedon our beef export trade so it can operate on a level playing field with other EU member states, without delay,"​ said Roberts.

"We will continue to work closely with Defra towards getting the necessary changes made to EU legislation to achieve this."

MLC estimates that if OTM exit began in Autumn 2005, that this would result in some 260,000 cows returning to the food chain during the latter part of 2005. This would raise domestic UK beef production by some 75,000 tonnes or 11 per cent.

In 2006, the first full year, the increase in domestic production would be 635,000 cows producing 185,000 tonnes of beef or 27 per cent rise in production. This is expected to displace a significant proportion ofimports of forequarter beef into the UK, particularly from the IrishRepublic.Such a transition is vital to the long term future of the UK's beef industry. The BSE crisis that gripped the UK in the late 1990s has cast a long shadow over the sector, and public confidence in beef remains shaky.

Domestic sales of beef products declined immediately by 40 per cent following reports of a possible link between BSE and new variant CJD - a human form of BSE - in 1996, and export markets were completely lost.

However, the incidence of BSE in the UK has now fallen below the threshold for moderate rate BSE risk status. As a result, Defra is currently seeking formal recognition of this with the EU Commission and for the necessary changes to be made in EU legislation that would enable the UK industry to start exporting beef on similar terms to other EU member states, possibly by late 2005.

Related topics Regulation Cattle - beef Europe Safety