The scientific report said there was no longer any need to test healthy livestock in Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain to be 95% sure they are not affected by BSE, as there have been very few cases of BSE detected in these countries in recent years.
Testing of animals at risk – as is currently done – would be sufficient to meet this level of certainty, EFSA reported. These include animals showing clinical signs of BSE before slaughter, livestock undergoing emergency slaughter and fallen stock over 48 months of age and animals vets suspect could develop the disease. This comes on the backdrop of very few cases of BSE detected in these countries over the last years.
Its recommendation is based on a mathematic model developed by the UK’s Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AVHLA), tasked by EFSA with determining a sample size of cattle to be tested for BSE. This follows a request for advice from the European Commission.
Its request followed a sustained decline in the total number of detected BSE cases in these countries and the other nine European Union (EU) member states from 2,157 cases in 2001 to 27 cases in 2011.
That year, 409,609 healthy slaughter cattle older than six years were tested in the UK and 165,855 in the Netherlands. According to the model developed by EFSA’s contractor, this level of testing is not now necessary.
Looking at Austria, Finland, Italy, Poland and Sweden, for instance, the UK agency concluded that a small number of tests on healthy slaughtered animals older than 72 months of age was still needed “to meet [..] a confidence level of 95%” that animals were free of BSE, the report continued.
But the sample size could be significantly smaller than is the case now, without any impact on the reliability of BSE detection procedures. In Austria, 32,141 healthy slaughter cattle older than six could be tested, it recommended, down from 104,147 in 2011, for example.