BSE move may allow older cattle to be sold

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The Independent Online

Plans to repeal a ban on cattle over 30 months entering the food chain have been condemned by the main support group for people suffering from the human form of BSE.

The Food Standards Agency will decide on Thursday whether to end the "over 30 month" (OTM) scheme, by which older cattle are destroyed rather than used for beef. The measure, introduced in 1996, costs £360m annually in administration and lost sales to British farmers.

A report to the agency said that removing the restriction would increase the risk to human health "only slightly". By its most pessimistic estimates it would cause an extra one or two infections of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which can be caused by BSE, in the next five years. The report says it would be cheaper to introduce animal testing for BSE, which would cost about £60m per year.

Although ending the OTM scheme would bring 155,000 tonnes of beef to the market, farmers want to use it to displace foreign imports, not to lower the price of beef.

The proposal was condemned by Frances Hall, secretary of the Human BSE Foundation. "I think everybody in the foundation would agree that they shouldn't relax the rules until they have totally eradicated BSE," she said.

"If these suggestions mean an extra two cases - that might sound fine, if it's somebody else's family, somebody else's child. What if it's your own? But it all seems to come down to money."