Food watchdog claims BSE lamb controls are adequate

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The Independent Online

The food Standards Agency said on Tuesday it has no plans to tighten the safeguards protecting the consumer against the risk of BSE in lamb in response to outspoken criticism of the FSA's policy by a former scientific adviser to the Government.

An FSA spokesman said there was no new scientific evidence to undermine the existing safeguards and that the agency would not therefore be extending the ban on the consumption of certain sheep offal to include other tissues that could be at risk of BSE.

However, in an article in The Independent yesterday, Richard Kimberlin said existing safeguards on sheep offal were inadequate, illogical and inconsistent, because they did not go far enough in protecting consumers from the possibility that BSE had passed from cattle into sheep.

Dr Kimberlin, a former member of the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac), accused the FSA of playing a potentially dangerous "waiting game" that flew in the face of the precautionary principle by waiting until BSE was found in sheep before extending the existing ban on sheep offal.

Dr Kimberlin wrote: "If the decision to improve the protection of consumers rests on knowing there is a risk, it could be too late because it might be many years before the spread of BSE is detected in sheep. Would it not be wise to assume that BSE is present in sheep and to improve the control measures now?"

The FSA and Seac are hoping to have clearer evidence of whether sheep are infected with BSE by the autumn when the results of an experiment to search for the cattle disease in about 150 sheep that died of brain disease 10 years ago are finally analysed.

Professor Peter Smith, the chairman of Seac, said the existing ban on sheep brain, spinal cord and spleen ­ but not intestines and lymph nodes ­ was part of a risk-reduction exercise rather than a risk-elimination measure.

"If BSE were ever to be found in sheep the truth is we would have to extend the offal ban, and extend it beyond the list suggested by Richard. The question is where do you draw the line on the precautionary principle," Professor Smith said. "If you removed most tissues on a precautionary basis then it is a question of what you will be left with," he said.

Preliminary results from an experiment where the brains of nearly 200 sheep that died recently are being tested for BSE have so far failed to detect signs of the disease. But this is a tiny fraction of the national flock of 20 million breeding adults.