Fears Raised Of
Mad Cow/BSE In Chicken

By Gaia Vince

Fears that the infectious prion proteins that cause BSE could be present in chicken fillets have been raised after bovine protein was found in breast fillets tested by the Irish Food Safety Authority (FSAI).
The tests on the Dutch imports follow a report by the UK Food Standards Agency in December 2001 that undeclared pig proteins had been used to "bulk up" chicken from Holland and Belgium.
The FSAI also found undeclared hydrolysed collagen in 26 per cent of the chicken fillets. Species-specific DNA tests on 30 chicken samples then revealed that 17 contained bovine DNA, porcine DNA or both. As yet, the authorities have been unable to trace the source of the undeclared bovine material.
Peter Smith, chairman of SEAC, the UK government's advisory body on BSE and its human form vCJD, told New Scientist: "If the source of the bovine material was fit for human consumption under EU regulations, then these findings pose no significant health risk. The problem is we don't know."
It is not illegal to add proteins to chicken, provided the additives are included in labelling of the meat. Protein additives are often extracted from old animals, which are not suitable for sale as meat, or from body parts such as skin, bones and ligaments. But this process does not destroy prions, the infectious proteins that cause BSE.
Meat or milk
Wayne Anderson, chief food scientist at FSAI, told the Guardian newspaper that there is a theoretical risk of BSE contamination. "The presence of bovine proteins in chicken is disgusting. What if it's material not controlled under the EU's specified risk material restrictions?" he says.
However, FSAI's director, Alan Reilly, was anxious to play down the risk. He told New Scientist: "There may be many explanations for the bovine material, but we won't know until the Dutch authorities come back and tell us.
"It is possible the bovine DNA signal is due to casein, a protein found in milk, which is often added to chicken and not linked to BSE," he says. "And the collagen protein could be from chicken skin." But Reilly confirmed that bovine DNA had been found in all the samples containing collagen.
Yvonne Huigen, a spokesperson from the Inspectorate for Health Protection in the Netherlands, says Dutch officials are trying to identify the source of the bovine additive. However she said there was no reason to restrict chicken exports: "At the moment we are dealing with a labelling problem, it is not a health problem."
In a separate move, scientists advising the UK Food Standards Agency called on Thursday for an EU-wide ban on the 15 per cent of sausages that are made with sheep intestines, in a bid to reduce a theoretical risk of contracting BSE from sheep.


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