Health ministers have rejected the Food Standards Agency’s risk assessment on changing the OTMS rule. They said the agency had not addressed emerging new information on BSE and CJD.
The DoH had been expected to make a decision last autumn, but health minister Melanie Johnson was unhappy with the FSA advice. The agency has been asked to reconsider its recommendation to replace the rule with testing of older beef in the light of any new data.
However, the DoH has not made clear what the new data might be, although the recent US outbreak of BSE is thought to have been an influence.
A decision from the DoH had been expected last autumn, and the industry is now beginning to worry that the refusal could delay the reintroduction of OTM beef until spring 2005.
The National Beef Association said it hoped the FSA could act quickly.
Robert Robinson, NBA chairman, said: “The FSA has said the return of beef from older cattle which have tested negative for BSE presents a less than 3% chance of triggering a CJD case every 60 years.
“Recent information suggests the risk may be even more infinitesimal and the original analysis has already been accepted by the French FSA, who agreed there is no greater risk from British cattle than similarly aged cattle born and reared in France.”
He said the government continued to spend £250m a year to destroy OTMS carcases - which given the FSA’s recommendation was increasingly difficult to justify.