Lifting of Post-Chernobyl Sheep Controls
Thursday 17 November 2011
The Food Standards Agency is seeking views on the proposal to remove all remaining controls on the movement of sheep from the restricted areas, based on the assessment that the risk to consumers from radioactivity in sheep resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear accident is now very low.
All comments and views should be sent to:
Chemical Safety Division
Food Standards Agency
3rd Floor, Aviation House
Tel: 020 7276 8728
Fax: 020 7276 8910
Responses are requested by: 8 February 2012
Who will this consultation be of most interest to?
Sheep farmers in the restricted areas of North Wales, Cumbria and West and Central Scotland. producers and retailers of lamb and mutton, and consumers of these products.
What is the subject of this consultation?
Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, controls remain on a small number of UK sheep farms following radioactive contamination deposited on certain upland areas. The Food Standards Agency has recently conducted an updated risk assessment, which shows the risk to consumers is very low. Therefore, the Agency is proposing to remove all remaining controls.
What is the purpose of this consultation?
The Agency is seeking views on the proposal to remove all remaining controls on the movement of sheep from the restricted areas, based on the assessment that the risk to consumers from radioactivity in sheep resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear accident is now very low.
The overall objective is to ensure that the proposal is risked based, proportionate and that consumer safety is not compromised.
The Food Standards Agency would welcome your comments on the proposal to remove all remaining post-Chernobyl sheep controls enforced by orders under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (known as FEPA orders). An impact assessment has been included as Annex B, and we would particularly welcome comments on any cost implications that may arise from this proposal.
Risk assessments have been carried out to assess the potential risk to consumers of sheep meat originating in the two areas where full controls remain (North Wales and Cumbria).
All formal monitoring controls have been removed in Scotland, although FEPA orders remain in place covering four farms and their removal is considered as part of this consultation.
The scope of this policy is UK wide; however, there will be no action in Northern Ireland as all remaining restrictions were removed there in 2000.
On 26 April 1986, an accident occurred at a nuclear power station at Chernobyl in the former USSR (now Ukraine), releasing a plume of radioactivity that travelled across Europe. As the plume passed over the UK, radioactivity was deposited on certain upland areas. Radiocaesium ingested by sheep grazing in these upland areas was identified as a potential food safety risk. In order to protect consumers, restrictions were placed on the movement of sheep in these areas using powers under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (known as FEPA orders).
The Food Standards Agency is responsible for maintaining these controls through a scheme known as Mark and Release. Under this scheme, sheep are prohibited from moving out of the restricted area unless they have first been monitored to assess the level of radiocaesium contamination using a live-monitoring technique. Sheep assessed to be below a limit of 1,000 Bq/kg are permitted to move out of the restricted area, and may be slaughtered and enter the food chain. Sheep assessed to be above this limit are considered to have failed and are marked with indelible paint. Marked sheep are permitted to move out of the restricted area, but may not be slaughtered for a minimum of three months.
Under the current policy, individual farms may be considered for removal from these controls (derestricted) where certain criteria are met. The precise criteria varies across the UK, but the minimum is that a full-flock survey, conducted during the summer months, when contamination is at the highest, has assessed that no sheep within the flock contain levels above the 1,000 Bq/kg limit.
Using the current policy, the number of farms under restriction has reduced substantially over the years; out of the nearly 10,000 farms originally restricted across the UK only eight farms in Cumbria and 299 in North Wales remain under full restrictions, although a number of these farms in North Wales are not currently active sheep farms. In addition, 28 farms in North Wales and one in Scotland have been released from formal controls but issued with Conditional Consents or Directions. These Conditional Consents or Directions have been issued on the basis of specific conditions pertaining to individual farms. The conditions are set on a case-by-case basis but, in general, they require that sheep are kept on clean pasture or clean feed for a period of time before they are sent for slaughter.
Unconditional Consents have been issued on 41 farms in England, seven in Wales and three in Scotland. These are farms that have met the criteria for derestriction and so have been removed from all formal controls and conditions, either pending revocation of the FEPA order or because the legislation does not easily permit their removal from the FEPA order.
The Agency has reviewed the controls that remain on the relatively small number of farms, to consider if they are still required to protect food safety. As part of this review, the use of the current limit of 1,000 Bq/kg as a measure of risk has been considered. Using a fixed limit of contamination, in effect, considers that sheep above 1,000 Bq/kg are unsafe and sheep below that level are safe. However, recent international guidance published by the International Commission on Radiological Protection has reinforced the view that protection from radioactivity should consider the actual risk to individuals (measured as the effective dose) rather than purely relying on a fixed limit of contamination. Therefore, the Agency has carried out an updated risk assessment to consider the actual risk to consumers from eating sheep meat originating in the restricted areas.
These controls comply with European Council Directive 96/29/Euratom, which lays down basic safety standards for the protection of the health of workers and the general public against the dangers arising from ionizing radiation. Article 53 covers intervention in cases of lasting exposure. This states that where the Member States have identified a situation leading to lasting exposure resulting from the after effects of a radiological emergency, they shall put measures in place that are necessary for the exposure risk involved. This can include monitoring of exposure and implementing any appropriate interventions. However, Article 48 of Directive 96/29 specifies that such intervention shall be undertaken only if the reduction in detriment due to radiation is sufficient to justify the harm and costs, including social costs, of the intervention; and so the updated risk assessment has led to a review considering whether this is still the case.
Two options are presented in the attached impact assessment:
- Option 1 – Do nothing (maintain the current policy) – Movement restrictions continue under existing FEPA orders with Mark and Release monitoring controls; previously issued Consents would remain
- Option 2 – Remove all post-Chernobyl controls and associated regulation on sheep farming in the UK – FEPA orders are revoked; Mark and Release controls cease and existing Consents are removed.
Option 1 is presented as the status quo and is used as the baseline for comparison. However, the risk assessment demonstrates that these controls are no longer proportionate to the very low risk, they are ineffective in further minimising the already low doses and, thus, removing controls will not compromise consumer safety. Furthermore, the very low risk shows that intervention is no longer required to comply with Council Directive 96/29/Euratom requirements for cases of lasting exposure. Therefore, it is not considered viable to continue this option, as discussed in the impact assessment.
A range of alternative options to the current Mark and Release controls have previously been considered as part of a review in 1999 and at a workshop meeting held in August 2010 (Annexe D). These options were considered as part of this review but were subsequently not taken forward due to the very low risk demonstrated by the risk assessment, which means they cannot be clearly shown to further reduce the already low doses. Further details are provided in the impact assessment at Annexe B.
Due to the very low risks demonstrated by the risk assessment, Option 2, removing all post-Chernobyl controls and associated regulation on sheep farming in the UK, is the Agency’s preferred course of action.
The Agency proposes to remove all post-Chernobyl controls and associated regulation on sheep farming in the UK.
The current consultation is part of the Agency’s review into the post-Chernobyl controls in place on sheep in the UK. Informal consultations with farming unions, meat industry representatives and radiological experts, including an initial workshop meeting held in August 2010, have taken place and their views have been used in setting out the options presented here.
The Agency now welcomes comments from all interested parties on the proposal set out above. Interested parties are particularly invited to respond to the following questions:
Questions asked in this consultation:
Our key proposal
- Do you have any evidence that would alter the assessment that the risk to consumers is very low and that removing controls will not compromise consumer safety? Please provide evidence to support your response.
Further evidence to ensure our impact assessment is robust
- Do you agree with the estimates for the time farmers have to make themselves available during Mark and Release inspections: 2 hours per 100 sheep monitored and 1.5 hours for every 100 sheep not monitored but inspected (see paragraphs 68 to 71 of the Impact Assessment)? If you disagree please provide evidence to support your response.
- Please provide evidence of any financial implications that the removal of controls, and hence ceasing of headage payments, will have on farmers currently under restriction?
- Do you consider that there are any further costs, benefits or other implications to the farming, meat processing and retail industry that would result from the proposal to remove all remaining controls that have not been considered in the Impact Assessment? If so, please provide evidence to support your response.
- Do you agree with the assessment of costs and benefits outlined in the Impact Assessment? If you disagree, please provide evidence to support your response.
The Agency will consider the comments received in finalising the proposal and take these into account in implementing the final decision.
The Agency welcomes comments from all interested parties. Please send your response by email or post using the contact details. All responses received will be given careful consideration. We would particularly encourage responses from consumers, farmers and their representatives. A summary of all comments received and the Agency’s response to each will be published on the Agency’s website within three months following the end of the consultation period.
Responses are required by close 8 February 2012. Please state, in your response, whether you are responding as a private individual or on behalf of an organisation/company (including details of any stakeholders your organisation represents).
This consultation has been prepared in accordance with the HM Government Code of Practice on Consultation, which states that a consultation must follow better regulation best practice, including carrying out an Impact Assessment (Regulatory Impact Assessment in Scotland). The assessment is included in the consultation documents.
We are interested in what you thought of this consultation and would therefore welcome your general feedback on both the consultation package and overall consultation process. If you would like to assist us to improve the quality of future consultations, please feel free to share your thoughts with us by using the consultation feedback questionnaire.
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