Restrictions on moving older cattle to safeguard against BSE

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The Independent Online

New restrictions on moving older cattle are being introduced as an "extra safeguard" to make sure animals which might have BSE do not enter the food chain, officials said today.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the new restrictions on cattle born or reared in the UK before August 1, 1996, came after a Government probe into whether there was an illegal trade in these animals.

Recent cases have included a Cumbria cattle dealer who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for sending an over-age animal to slaughter for consumption by people.

It is illegal to slaughter pre-1996 animals, which may have been fed animal proteins, for food under rules designed to prevent the spread of BSE to humans.

In addition, regulations require parts of cattle including brain and spinal cord to be removed after slaughter and all animals aged more than 48 months are tested for BSE after they have been slaughtered.

Agriculture minister Jim Paice said the illegal activity by a few individuals made the extra restrictions necessary.

He said: "The industry has worked hard over the years to ensure British beef regained the good reputation it deserves, both at home and abroad.

"We want to maintain this reputation, so it's sensible to introduced this extra safeguard.

"It shouldn't have much impact on most cattle keepers, but it will give us additional confidence that these animals don't enter the food chain."

There are around 53,000 cattle born or reared in the UK before August 1996, out of a total population of nine million, most of which are thought to be animals kept for breeding or as pets.

Around 18,000 keepers have animals of this age, and Defra is writing to them to inform them of the changes, which mean that no cattle born or reared before August 1996 will be allowed to move from their holdings without an individual licence.

No licences will be granted to move over-age animals to markets or through dealers, in a bid to make it more difficult for owners to get the cattle illegally into the food chain.