FSA to advise change on BSE testing
Published:  12 December, 2012

The FSA Board will advise the government to stop testing healthy cattle for BSE, after agreeing that the practice was no longer necessary.

The agreement at the Food Standard Agency (FSA) board meeting yesterday followed a Defra consultation on stopping the routine testing of healthy cattle over 72 months for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) which arose after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) deemed that surveillance testing of ‘at-risk animals’ meets the international standards, and the EU proposed changes to the BSE testing regime. The move is set to save abattoirs thousands of pounds.

However, the board decided to undertake a six-monthly report on surveillance controls in order to ensure that the exisiting controls are being carried out and stressed the importance of continuing the ban of feeding animal protein to farmed animals, and the removal of specified risk material (SRM) at slaughter. Fallen cattle  will continue to be tested as a matter of course.

FSA chairman Jeff Rooker said: “The FSA is here to protect the public and, with no new BSE cases in cattle slaughtered for their meat for more than three years, we believe the decision to stop this particular testing requirement is a proportionate measure. However, this is not a green light for the industry to cut corners, so it is imperative the other controls, including the other surveillance measures, are maintained vigilantly.

“If Ministers agree to stop testing in January, the FSA has been asked to produce a report after six months, detailing the results of BSE monitoring and the enforcement of the feed and SRM controls to ensure confidence in the continued effectiveness of the BSE controls. Further reports will be published annually.”

In addition to discussing the BSE controls, the board meeting dealt with other issues. Andrew Rhodes presented the annual FSA operational report, saying that FSA costs were at their lowest, with staff lowest ever and highest-ever compliance. He commended the commitment of food business operators – and the meat industry in particular – for the improved compliance over the past three years. “That is down to our efforts and their efforts together,” he said, adding that 83% of all meat establishments achieved broad compliance, a big rise from 64% in 2009.

There was also an improvement in the FHRS uptake, which Rhodes said was partly due to a partnership that had allowed the FSA to integrate local authorities into the national scheme: this has risen from 112 in England and 17 in Northern Ireland to 295 in England and 25 in Northern Ireland. Andrew Rhodes said that the FHRS is having an effect in pushing up compliance.
However, the FSA noted that the meat industry feedback survey, which showed a plateauing of the delivery of services from the FSA, had had a low uptake. The response rate was only 24%, although it had risen by 7% and showed a higher response rate from Scottish businesses. It said that the low response rate had limited the data set and  Rhodes questioned whether it was large enough to provide sufficient data, admitting that some of the difficulty might have been a result of the controversial full-cost recovery discussions.

He said: “We are a regulator, so there are tensions in there and we’re not setting out to get good customer satisfaction. But we are setting out to have a good working relationship with the meat industry, because that is productive.”

Lord Rooker raised the point that it would be a shame if Scottish data was lost to future FSA operational reports, due to the establishment of a new body in Scotland, and suggested collaboration with the body that is to be set up in order to retain a consistent body of information for the whole of the UK.

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