BSE Testing Age Increase to 48 Months

UK - It is expected that the European Parliament will soon approve a change of legislation, to put in place the announcement that has already been made by the European Commission, for increasing the age at which cattle for the food chain must be brain stem sampled and tested for BSE from 30 months to 48 months, according to a Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) bulletin.
calendar icon 27 October 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

The scientific evidence produced by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency, from risk assessments, both indicated that increasing the age to 60 months would have very little impact on the risk to consumers. LMC put forward this option but this science has been overlooked for European expediency of unjustified ‘safety’. It is expected that the change will be operative from early 2009.

Effect on Cattle Prices

Producers might reasonably expect that prices for clean cattle over 30 months and up to 48 months should improve as a consequence of this change. However, Government (DEFRA) has announced that it is now going to charge meat plants for the cost of doing the test (previously it was free) and it is therefore likely that this extra cost will be passed on to producers. Furthermore the removal of Specific Risk Material (SRM) from cattle over 30 months will still be required, and there is a cost of doing that. Retailers have not yet amended their specifications which remain at “clean cattle under 30 months” although there is likely to be a transition to a new age specification with time. There is thus likely to be a two-tier price structure with one price for clean cattle under 30 months, and a lower price for clean cattle between 30 and 48 months that may be at the same rate as older cull cows.

This will indeed be disappointing for two reasons. Firstly, unbred clean cattle have a higher meat yield and higher quality meat than older bred cows. Secondly, a very low cost extensive system using traditional breeds slaughtered at 36-42 months could have been a means of restoring profitability to hill suckler herds.

Retail Trade

An additional consequence is that retail butchers might still be restricted in handling 30 to 48 months old cattle if the European Commission requires them to continue to be approved for the removal of the vertebral column. Although the age limit for this is expected to move upwards at some stage, the TSE regulation states that vertebral column must be removed from carcases over 30 months before retail sale. It is to be hoped that the EC does not impose a restrictive approval process on the trade, as a result of the legislative changes to the brain stem testing age increase.

New Pilot Collection and Disposal Service

Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has announced a new initiative to pilot a free service for the collection and removal of aborted materials as part of her Brucellosis Initiative. The new pilot service will offer farmers added support and encourage them to report abortions that are detected on farms to help reduce the spread of Brucellosis in Northern Ireland. The service is available from now until 31 March 2009 or until the £50,000, which has been set aside to administer the pilot, runs out.

To avail of this service, herdkeepers, on detection or suspicion of an abortion, must report the incident to their local Divisional Veterinary Office (DVO), who will log their report and advise them how to contact an authorised collector. They will be able to dispose of aborted or still born calves, those that die within 24 hours of birth, the placenta and any bedding or manure contaminated by the placenta fluids, although some conditions will apply.

DARD have informed LMC that they have written to all herdkeepers to inform them of the new service and to explain how it will work. More information can be obtained from local DVO’s or the DARD website at

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

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