Protests against imports of meat from 30-month-old animals worry traders Imports of allegedly unsafe beef from relatively old cattle are the latest media scare story, but this twist in the BSE tale is provoking accusations by traders of a lack of understanding of the livestock and meat industry among consumer protection lobbyists, politicians and journalists. As The Grocer went to press, the government and Food Standards Agency were rejecting calls for a ban on imports of beef from France following the apparent rise in the incidence of BSE there. However, ministers and the FSA reacted defensively when it was pointed out importers were legally entitled to bring in from France beef from cattle aged over 30 months. Beasts above this age are banned from the food chain in the UK, as they are thought to be BSE risks, and a huge programme of subsidised culling has taken five million of them off the market since 1996. The issue is complicated, because although the beef can be imported legally its sale into the food market here is prohibited. Protestors claim the distinction is meaningless in practice, and say this beef is finding its way into meat products and catering sector meals. Cattle producers, dealers and some processors are increasingly alarmed by this controversy, as they fear it will create consumer prejudice against some of the top quality beef and could put political obstacles in the way of regulatory reform. The Over Thirty Month Scheme was originally intended to cull beasts, especially dairy cattle, that might have contracted BSE at the peak of the epidemic in the early 1990s, perhaps by eating meat and bone meal. Imports of beef from similar animals are the focus of the current protests. However, some of the best beef comes from slow growing cattle reared and fattened in extensive production systems. These animals, whether in the UK, on the continent or in third countries, are known to carry minimal risk of BSE precisely because they are relatively old at slaughter due to their pasture-based feed regimes. {{MEAT }}