The board of the Food Standards Agency has agreed to lift monitoring controls on sheep, introduced in 1986 as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The board of the Food Standards Agency has agreed to the lifting of monitoring controls on sheep, introduced in 1986 as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Radiocaesium is able to pass easily from soil to grass and so accumulates in sheep.The 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former USSR released large quantities of radioactivity into the atmosphere, some of which (predominantly radiocaesium-137) was deposited on certain upland areas of the UK where sheep farming is the primary land-use.

Due to the particular chemical and physical properties of the peaty soil types present in these upland areas, the radiocaesium is still able to pass easily from soil to grass and so accumulates in sheep.

Of the 9,800 UK holdings (and more than 4 million sheep) originally placed under restriction, only 327 farms in North Wales and 8 farms in Cumbria, England, still remain under some form of restriction.

All mark and release controls were lifted in Northern Ireland in 2000 and in Scotland in 2010.

However, a review carried out by the FSA in 2011 has led to the conclusion that these controls are no longer proportionate to the very low risk and that removing the existing controls would not compromise consumer safety.

Chernobyl HDRFollowing a 12 week consultation with key stakeholders, the board has agreed to the FSA issuing consents, which will have the practical impact of lifting controls, allowing all farms remaining under restriction to move sheep without the need for monitoring from June 1, 2012.  

The FSA will also recommend to ministers in Wales, Westminster, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the revocation of the remaining Orders under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (known as FEPA Orders) which currently restrict the movement of sheep in designated areas of the UK. This will remove the legislation made redundant by the issuing of consents.

Sheep image courtesy Pavel Jedlicka
Chernobyl reactor No.4 courtesy Piotr Andryszczak
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