The Food Standards Agency, Britain's food health watchdog, has thrown its weight behind a complete ban on animal feeding practices which feed animal products back to animals.

The Food Standards Agency, Britain's food health watchdog, has thrown its weight behind a complete ban on animal feeding practices which feed animal products back to animals.

It has called for the move as one of a number of safety measures recommended to prevent a repeat of the BSE disaster and would mean extending the current ban on feeding recycled remains of cattle, sheep and goats to all other animals including poultry and fish.

The FSA has also advised ministers to reject calls from farmers to allow meat and bone meal to be fed to poultry. All recycling of animal blood, gelatine and tallow in animal feed should also be stopped, the agency said.

The recommendations are contained in a draft review of the current BSE controls ordered by the Government from the FSA, the new food health watchdog.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs said: "The evidence is that the current UK controls, which are based on the precautionary approach, are working. But, because of so much uncertainty, the review suggests that current controls be retained and in some areas tightened.

"The review is still subject to further consultation and discussion by the FSA board. Even after the review is concluded, the Food Standards Agency will continue to reassess the situation to ensure the public is afforded the highest levels of protection."

The report says "intra-species recycling" - a euphemism for cannibalism - could theoretically amplify a new spongiform encephalopathy disease such as BSE in a species.

The report also makes recommendations on new research. It says as a matter of "great urgency" there is a need to develop a rapid screening method to test sheep for BSE.

Sheep have suffered from a similar disease, scrapie, for about 200 years but there is no evidence that this is harmful to humans.

However, BSE is thought to be derived from scrapie, and scientists have shown that under laboratory conditions it can infect sheep as well as cattle.

New research should also be conducted to assess the possibility that cattle and sheep may carry BSE without showing symptoms, said the FSA.

Scientists recently demonstrated the theoretical possibility that a sub-clinical form of BSE exists.

The report also calls for a study to establish once and for all whether BSE can be transmitted in milk, and tests on sheep intestines used for sausage casings.

The report said that for the time being the rule which compelled farmers to slaughter and destroy all cattle over 30 months old should remain in force, but envisaged its eventual abolition if certain conditions were met.

A decision to announce the year of birth of animals that need not enter the over-30 month scheme should be taken no earlier than January 2002, said the report.

The FSA pointed out that the problems of cross contamination of animal feed were likely to occur in other countries. It urged the EU Commission to take action, especially in countries with a known risk of BSE.

The Co-op supermarket has also called for a Europe-wide ban on the feeding of animal waste to farm animals. Bosses claim consumers find the practice "abhorrent" and are calling for a change in the law.

At the height of the BSE crisis, the last government banned the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) to cattle but stopped short of outlawing all animal by-products.

But while most British farmers continue to support a voluntary ban on such products going into animal feed, producers elsewhere in Europe routinely use tallow, blood and feather meal to feed their animals, with much of the resulting meat ending up on British plates.

Co-op spokeswoman Wendy Wrigley said: "This type of feeding practice is tantamount to cannibalism and must be stamped out if governments want to eliminate potential safety risks and restore consumer confidence in meat.

"In the wake of the BSE crisis, which we now know can be largely blamed on animal waste being fed back to farm animals, we and our customers are dismayed at the way the regulations still pick and choose between acceptable and unacceptable feed ingredients like blood and bone meal.

"The obvious solution for animal waste is to ban the lot whilst ensuring the new rules apply evenly throughout the EU."