EFSA issues two opinions concerning the evaluation of BSE risk in the United Kingdom: BSE risk is moderate and comparable to that of other European Union Member States

The Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published today two opinions related to the evaluation of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) risk in the United Kingdom (UK). The Panel concludes that the UK will reach the threshold that will enable it to be considered as a “moderate BSE risk”1 country, according to the definition of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), at a date no later than December 2004. The Panel also concluded that for UK cattle born after 31 July 1996 – a cattle population which already meets the OIE threshold for “moderate BSE risk” - the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule can be replaced by the same protective measures presently adopted in Member States with an OIE “moderate BSE risk”. However, cattle born before 1 August 1996, which have a higher BSE incidence, should be kept out of the food and feed chains.

The European Commission requested a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and its Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) regarding the application of the United Kingdom (UK) to be considered as a “moderate BSE risk” according to the standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE ) and based on modelling assumptions and calculations submitted.

The BIOHAZ Panel concluded that the modelling methodology used to calculate the absolute incidence is statistically sound and that on the basis of appropriate statistical projections (ie at the upper 95% confidence level), the UK’s cattle population can be considered, based on OIE standards, as “moderate BSE risk” as from a date no later than December 2004. Already, the UK is clearly of OIE “moderate BSE risk” with respect to its cattle born after 31 July 1996.

The BIOHAZ Panel was further asked to consider the science relating to the proposed amendments to the UK Date Based Export Scheme (DBES) and the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule. In particular the European Commission asked the panel to estimate, with regards to BSE, the extra risk to human health which would occur if the UK Date Based Export Scheme (DBES) were amended to: (a) remove the upper age limit (30 months) for eligible cattle; (b) remove the dam survival rule (i.e. requirement that the dam has lived for 6 months after the birth of the eligible animal) and; (c) remove the lower age limit (6 months) for eligible cattle.

Based on the statistical modelling carried out as part of the review of the OTM rule in the UK, as well as the most up-to-date scientific evidence regarding the possibility of maternal transmission of BSE, the BIOHAZ panel concluded that the removal of the OTM rule would result in a higher probability of BSE-infected animals entering the food and feed chains. However, the panel advised that this risk would be addressed by the EU measures required for countries of equivalent BSE status. In order not to increase risk of BSE, all cattle born before 1 August 1996 should be kept out of the food and feed chains due to the higher incidence of BSE in this population. For cattle born after 31 July 1996, the OTM can be replaced by the same protective measures presently adopted in Member States having an OIE “moderate BSE risk”. The removal of both the dam survival rule and the lower age limit (6 months) for eligible cattle will not add any further increase in the risk of BSE for human health. Under the above mentioned conditions, the consumer risk in relation to UK cattle is in a comparable range with the BSE risk to which European Union (EU) consumers are currently exposed by consumption of bovine meat, meat products and preparations from other EU sources.

The Panel further advised that if the OTM rule is to be removed, it is of high importance for epidemiological reasons that it be replaced by a comprehensive testing program identical to that existing in other EU Member States.

Media contacts