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Meat Back on Menu for Animal Feed 20 Years After BSE Crisis

Meat could once again be fed to animals under plans to relax rules introduced to prevent the transmission of BSE more than 20 years after the emergence of "mad cow disease" caused a public health and political crisis.

The European Commission has published proposals to reduce the cost of guarding against BSE and its human form, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has claimed the lives of 169 British people.

In a consultation document, Brussels said any changes would be based on sound science but acknowledged it was "impossible" to remove all risk of the disease entering the food chain.

Since 1986, 181,114 cattle have been confirmed with BSE, resulting in the culling of four million cattle, but in recent years it has been in sharp decline. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of annual cases in Britain fell from 53 to nine.

The European Commission said it wished to downgrade rules because of the disease's decline, and so it could concentrate on other conditions such as a salmonella and antimicrobial resistance that posed a greater threat to human health. Among the proposals floated by Brussels include relaxing a wide ban on the feeding of meat to animals and ending the requirement for mass slaughter in herds with infected cows.

The plans are set out in a document circulated to EU states, TSE Roadmap 2 - named after Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, the group of brain diseases that includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).