Activities To Protect The Food Supply In the UK

In July 1988, with about 2000 cattle cases confirmed, and in response to a just completed epidemiological investigation implicating MBM (6), the UK made BSE a notifiable disease. Euthanasia of affected cattle became mandatory, and their carcasses were banned from use in feed supplements. A few months later the carcass ban was expanded to include offal from sheep and cattle, although strict enforcement was not achieved. In 1989 the Specified Bovine Offal (SBO) ban prohibited the use of brain, spinal cord, tonsil, thymus, spleen, and intestinal tissues of cattle origin in foods intended for human consumption and fertilizer manufacturing.

Beginning in 1991 controls on MBM went through a number of iterations, starting with prohibitions from use in ruminant feeds, and eventually resulting in a ban from all agricultural use. In August 1996 mammalian MBM was made illegal to possess or use in any part of the food chain including on-farm, in transit, or at feed mills. A surveillance system was imposed including statistical sampling of protein supplements for the presence of ruminant and porcine proteins, and sheep and goat heads, spinal cords, and spleens were banned from rendered use.

Special programs for calf processing were initiated to prevent male calves less than 20 days old from being used for human food. Data showing that cattle did not harbor significant amounts of abnormal prion protein until later in life led to the "Over Thirty Month scheme" (OTM, OTMS), which prohibited the slaughter of cattle over 30 months of age for human food. Beef cattle from BSE-free herds, and reared on grass, are considered at very low risk of the disease and can be exempted and slaughtered for human consumption up to 42 months of age.

In 1997, the selective cull program was initiated, requiring all cattle born on farms six months before and after a confirmed case of BSE to be removed from the herd, euthanized, and handled as if they are infected. No replacements are allowed onto the farm until all such animals have been removed. Additional restrictions required all meat from cattle more than 6 months of age to be deboned as a precaution to prevent any nervous tissue or bone marrow from being consumed.

By-products from slaughtering cattle approved for use as human food are considered "clean" and approved for use in horticultural applications, pet food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, or they can be buried in landfills. All other byproducts are considered "dirty" and are stained to prevent accidental use, incinerated at 1000°C for sufficient time to result in a protein-free ash, and then disposed of in landfills. No rendered ruminant products can be used for agricultural purposes.

The number of new cases of BSE has fallen from its peak in 1992 of 900 to 1000 confirmed diagnoses per week, to less than 200 per week in 1998. The UK expects to eradicate the disease between the years 2001 and 2005 (1,9,27).

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