Experts advise limited ban on lamb


An EU committee has recommended a ban on lamb and goat meat on the bone which is more than 12 months old. While most fresh lamb is sold when under 12 months old, rack of lamb may be banned. The Department of Agriculture said it would take time to evaluate the risk and extent of a ban, if any.

The recommendation is another serious blow to EU farming. But latest findings of the EU's Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) were warranted based on possible risk to consumers, according to an Irish member of the committee, Prof Michael Gibney of Trinity College nutrition and dietetics unit.

The SSC said yesterday: "Intestines of bovines, sheep and goats of all ages and the lungs, vertebral column and dorsal root ganglia (nervous tissue near the spinal cord) of these animals older than 12 months should be added to the list of what is known as specified risk materials (SRMs)."

It added: "These materials should be excluded from the food and feed chain if they do not originate from a BSE-free country."

But Prof Gibney said the SSC has simply issued recommendations on what should be classified as risk material in livestock. It was now up to the Commission and member-states to determine the extent of a possible ban.

The SSC examined new research this week but has yet to evaluate British research on BSE links with bone and bone marrow. It came up with a new list of SRMs which the Commission and member-states will examine. "The problem is that if you infect a lamb deliberately with a brain of a cow that has suffered from BSE, the lamb, prior to that being perfectly healthy, has a one in six chance of developing their version of BSE," he said. The disease scrapie in sheep is similar to BSE but has shown no evidence of cross-infection.

The decision applied Europe-wide. It would be up to politicians to sort out any geographical variations. The committee would also examine how to classify areas of high and medium BSE risk, and BSE-free regions. Prof Gibney added: "We were asked to say what we thought would constitute a risk. We weren't asked to say what the risk is."

The recommendation follows a study of existing restrictions on the use of offal and bone material. EU Commission officials said the proposals did not specify which cuts of sheep meat would be affected. If the views of the committee were endorsed by veterinary experts, it was likely that a ban would cover rack of lamb.

The recommendation was made independently of the Government's advice that T-bone steaks and other cuts of beef on the bone should no longer be sold here.

Prof Gibney backed the move to inform the public of the risks but said it was up to the Government to decide on any bans. The vertebral column of cattle is "capable of infecting and since BSE can be transmitted to sheep, we would expect the same there, in older animals now."

But he believed the risk was small. "I think that ought to be taken into account by the decision-makers . . . You have to inform the public."