Beef producers are increasing pressure on the Department of Health to give the green light for meat from cattle over 30 months (OTM) old to be allowed back into the food chain.
Peter Barr, chairman of the Meat & Livestock Commission, claimed that up to 175,000t of imports a year could be replaced by British beef from OTM cattle. Other European Union states allow OTM cattle to enter the food chain, provided they have tested as being BSE-free.
The OTM restrictions were imposed eight years ago to curb the incidence of the killer disease variant CJD, which is associated with eating BSE- infected beef.
Last month the Food Standards Agency (FSA) gave its qualified backing to the re-introduction of OTM meat, provided the current ban was replaced by robust and independently approved methods for testing.
"The European Food Safety Authority, the French Food safety Agency and the World Animal Health Organisation have endorsed this advice, so what are we waiting for?" said Barr.
Meanwhile, carcases of cattle under 30 months old continue to be screened for specified risk material (SRM), such as spinal cord, which could carry infection. Under BSE controls such material must be removed at the abattoir. In June the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) reported finding SRM in 21 forequarters and three hindquarters of fresh beef from Poland. The FSA claimed that SRM controls remove over 99% of potential infectivity.
The FSA is also overseeing an inquiry into recent failures by the MHS to test some casualty cattle aged between 24 and 30 months for BSE before they entered the food chain. The group is expected to report to the FSA in September.
EU to streamline labelling by 2010
More labelling changes are likely to hit manufacturers as a result of a European Commission (EC) review of all food labelling legislation with a view to streamlining it by 2010. The EC plans to produce a discussion document setting out its ideas by early next year.
The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has already called for greater clarity of labelling. It also wants the EC to consider the introduction of full ingredient listing on alcoholic drinks and clearer rules on product origin labelling, particularly with regard to meat.
In addition, it is seeking a review of exemptions to the listing of additives on ingredient declarations, particularly those used solely as processing aids.
The FSA has invited comment on labelling issues by August 20.