June 14, 2002 Financial Times (London) by Chris TigheSheep's intestines shouldno longer be used for sausage skins, the Food Standards Agency said yesterday, in a move that opponents say could spell the end of the traditional British banger.
The ban, which the FSA will now propose to the European Commission for Europe-wide implementation, is intended to lessen the theoretical risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in sheep.
The industry fears it will trigger wider worries among European consumers about the safety of British lamb. The Natural Sausage Casings Association described the decision as an "incredible blow" to the best British sausages and said it lacked scientific justification. "This offends the British sense of fairness . . . it is a travesty of natural justice."
No known cases of BSE have occurred naturally in sheep. However, the FSA says there is a theoretical risk that BSE could be present in sheep, masked by scrapie - a similar disease that occurs in sheep.
About 15 per cent of British sausages - generally at the top end of the market - have natural sheep intestine casings. About 10 per cent use pig casings. The rest have artificial, collagen casings or are skinless. An estimated 14m sheep casings are produced in the UK each year and 64 per cent exported.
Tim Weschenfelder, NSCA chairman, says sheep's casing gives a "nice crisp bite", while artificial casings are flabby. "If you end up spitting a bit of skin out, that's artificial casing."
If implemented, the ban will, says the NSCA, threaten 1,500 British jobs and force plants using sheeps intestines for sausage skins to resort to imports from the Middle East and south-east Asia, where standards are likely to be poorer. It is considering a legal challenge on the grounds of inadequate consultation.
The National Farmers' Union also expressed concerns that the FSA decision was in response to a merely theoretical risk.
The FSA, the government's independent food safety agency, declined to comment.
But a report from its BSE and Sheep Stakeholders' Group headed by Sir John Krebs, FSA chairman, says that although ongoing studies of the sheep flock indicate no sheep have tested positive for BSE, this is an evolving area of science with considerable uncertainties.
Existing EC bans on some sheep body parts entering the human food chain are estimated to eliminate a third of the theoretical risk. The FSA says that adding sheep intestines to the Specified Risk Materials list could raise this to two-thirds.
Other measures approved yesterday include telling communities likely to consume mutton and goat, such as Muslims and Afro-Caribbeans, of the higher theoretical risk from older animals.