- Worried food standards chiefs last night admitted that
meat has been passed as fit to eat while still containing potentially fatal
material, despite tight controls designed to stop BSE-contaminated material
going into food.
- Cattle and sheep carcasses containing spinal cord have
been found by government vets in spot checks on at least two abattoirs
in the last year. Another case in Northern Ireland involving a cow is still
- Spinal cord, among the most potentially infective parts
of cattle not displaying obvious signs of BSE, has also been found in
imported from Ireland in the last year.
- The food standards agency last night admitted that it
was worried by the apparent lapses but insisted that investigations to
date indicated that these were isolated incidents and that the carcasses
had since been destroyed.
- Staff are expected to be given new warnings over the
importance of cast-iron procedures for inspecting carcasses because in
the two proven cases the responsibility lay with a government meat
and a contract vet, rather than abattoir workers.
- Before the latest lapses, no meat passed as healthy had
been found with spinal cord since 1996, when the probable link between
eating BSE-infected cattle and vCJD in humans was established. Similar
anti-BSE measures now apply in sheep because of the theoretical risk they
too could be infected.
- The cases come to light just weeks before European
vets inspect Britain's anti-BSE regime.
- The Human BSE Foundation, representing the families of
victims, 83 of whom have so far died in Britain, said the incidents showed
there was no room for complacency.
- Spokesman Malcolm Tibbert said: "I have always
there was still scope for BSE-infected material to enter food and this
goes to show that any attempt to let the industry regulate itself would
be beyond belief."
- The Consumers' Association said: "We have to find
out whether these are isolated cases or evidence of a larger
- It was concerned that in some instances the abattoirs
where the failures had been discovered had not been named, especially
as consumers are regularly told by the food standards agency to check
where food is coming from.
- A food standards agency spokesman said last night:
are worried. The meat hygiene service says the presence of any SRM (the
risk materials) in healthy marked carcasses is viewed very
- Failures by inspectors could be regarded as gross
and lead to dismissal. "While there is no reason to suppose people
are becoming more laissez-faire and could not care less anymore, these
cases are a matter of concern."
- The government argues that controls are now far better
than in the mid-90s when horrified agriculture officials and Tory ministers
discovered appalling lapses.
- In January last year a member of the state veterinary
service checking standards at a Manchester abattoir run by Cruisedeal Ltd
found a piece of spinal cord more than two inches long hanging from a
beef carcass. It had been marked fit for consumption by an inspector
for the meat hygiene service, then answerable to the agriculture
but now to the food standards agency.
- The inspector was suspended pending inquiries but the
investigation team found "mitigating circumstances" at the plant
at the time and he was allowed to return to work at another plant after
a formal caution.
- The abattoir later lost its licence for other hygiene
- In Northern Ireland there have been five breaches of
anti-BSE controls in meat imported from Ireland, prompting stiff exchanges
- But in another case in September, vets working for the
Northern Ireland executive found spinal cord in a meat plant. All the
- Officials there insist the cases are not evidence of
a larger on-going problem but will not give further details while
- Last month checks by government vets at a Devon abattoir
found remains of spinal cord in a sheep carcass.
- The contract vet involved is likely to be allowed to
return to similar work. He appears to have missed the sheep out when
to the inspection line after being called away.
- The food standards agency has insisted that procedures
are changed to ensure such a mistake does not happen again.
- It is not identifying the plant "because it is the
meat hygiene service at fault, rather than the abattoir owner".
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