EU faces pressure on bone - in beef

The British beef industry is to press the European Commission to pave the way for a return to beef being sold on the bone from animals aged up to 30 months throughout Europe, rather than just Britain alone.

This follows publication of the much-awaited European Food Safety Authority Opinion, which states that BSE infectivity would either not be detectable or not present in the vertebral column in cattle up to and including 30 months.

It has held meetings with Defra, Seerad and the Food Standards Agency, as it believes the government and industry has to go to Europe with a united approach.

The Scottish beef industry is calling for a consensus view, with all European member states raising the limit to 30 months. "We have to have everyone in harmony. The TSE roadmap calls for consensus, so it is better to take a European approach," said Alistair Donaldson, executive manager of the Scottish Meat Wholesalers Association. "There is no significant advantage in taking a UK-only approach."

He said the UK beef sector was now trying to find via the UECBV, the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union, the industry and government positions in other member states on moving the age limit to 30 months.

Donaldson also believes that the case for raising the age limit has to be based on science rather than economics if it is to be won.

NFU livestock board chairman Thomas Binns was disappointed the EFSA statement didn't go further. "There is no improvement on the positive position of April 2005, when we got the green light to restart exports. The rules in place have to be proportionate to the risk and we shouldn't be afraid of relaxing them when new science indicates it is safe to do so."

He said that, ideally, the science-based opinion should be used to lift restrictions throughout Europe. But if it means Britain can move ahead first, because its BSE controls are more advanced, then it should do so on its own.

The FSA said it was committed to a co-operative approach with both the EC and UK industry. "The UK will continue to press hard for the adoption of an age limit of 30 months, in line with our own independent expert committee (SEAC) assessment of the risk, which was that there was negligible risk benefit in moving from 30 months to 24 months."

Those hoping that Europe will agree to move the age limit to 30 months in the next few weeks or months are likely to be disappointed, as the European Parliament goes on summer recess from 15 June. It will deal with such items from 15 September, meaning that the age limit will be not raised until the end of the year.