- 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
- 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
- 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?"
- 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.