UK: B Is For BSE And Risk Control Measures

Last Updated: 15 February 2010
Article by Jessica Burt and Dana Coey

The acronym BSE stands for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

The rate of BSE cases in cattle being reported now is significantly lower than in 1988, when the disease was first made notifiable, and the number of new cases continues to decline yet further.

The affects of the BSE and other crisis caused a review of legislation and regulatory bodies. EU Food Safety Regulation 178/2002 (the Regulation) set down the general principles and requirements of food safety that apply today. It included risk analysis procedures and elements of the precautionary principle, the establishment of the European Food Safety Authority, the requirement of "traceability" for food producers and that any safety notifications are provided to the Rapid Alert System for notification across Europe. Traceability provides the ability to track and trace the history of all the ingredients of a food product right the way through from primary production to the point of final sale of the product.

The Regulation allocated specific responsibilities to all food business operators at all stages of the food production chain to withdraw or recall any unsafe product. In appraising whether a given foodstuff can be considered unsafe, such factors as the likely effect of the product on health, in the light of normal conditions of use and/or the particular health sensitivities of the group of consumers at which the product is aimed, are taken into account. If an unsafe foodstuff forms part of a batch or production consignment, the entire quantity is presumed to be unsafe.

Food safety incidents, such as BSE, as well as those involving dioxins in animal feedstuffs, unfit poultry meat, and the foot and mouth epidemic have highlighted the importance of food traceability issues for those involved at all stages of the food chain. These, together with the increased globalisation of food supply sourcing and distribution, the more rapid spread of contamination and disease resulting from this globalisation, and the growing threat of bio-terrorism, mean alerts and traceability issues are more relevant than ever.

The Regulation in action was shown in December 2008 with the complete product recall of all Irish pork placed on the market from 1 September onwards following discovery of the presence of up to 200 times the legal limit of dioxins in Irish pork products.

The recall was carried out even though it was accepted by the Irish Food Standards Agency that any possible risk to consumer health was extremely low. The estimated cost to the pork industry was €100,000,000. However, public confidence in Irish pork does not appear to have been affected long term.

The EU embargo on UK exports of live cattle, beef and beef products enacted in March 1996 (with certain derogations introduced in 1999), due to the high incidence of BSE cases in the UK at the time, was only lifted in April 2006. UK Defra experiments show that doses of infected tissue as low as 1 mg can infect a calf so there is a need for everyone involved in the feed chain to maintain the very high level of compliance seen to date.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 10/02/2010.

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