Some UK Cattlemen
Hid Possible BSE-Risk
Cattle With False IDs
By Simon De Bruxelles
Cattle 'clockers' taking risky cows to market...
Hundreds of over-age cattle that should have been destroyed under strict measures to prevent the spread of BSE may have entered the food chain after being given false "identities".
Police and trading standards officers believe that they have smashed a significant ring of cattle "clockers", which has been selling animals older than the 30-month limit for human consumption.
Three West Country cattle dealers were raided on Wednesday and 130 sacks of documents seized. Investigators say that since there is so much evidence, the full extent of the fraud may not be known for weeks.
The rogue dealers are believed to have used forged "passports" and ear tags taken from younger animals to mislead abattoirs and health inspectors.
The fact that the cattle should have been incinerated under BSE regulations enabled the gang to buy them for next to nothing from desperate farmers. After being given their new identities, they were then sold at the market rate for younger cattle.
Although the National Farmers' Union claims that the risk of anyone contracting the human form of BSE is "insignificant", it is concerned that other EU countries, especially France and Germany, could use the fraud as an excuse to reject imports of British beef.
The investigation began when Meat Hygiene Service officials checked the teeth of several animals sent for slaughter. At 30 months, cattle should have only two incisors in the lower jaw, but inspectors found animals with as many as eight teeth. A surveillance operation was launched and police, trading standards and veterinary officials raided the three farms.
Because of the length of time involved, it will be impossible to establish exactly how many over-age cattle entered the food chain and whether any were infected with BSE.
Experts have predicted that there will be 3,000 cases of BSE in Britain this year, all in animals aged over 30 months. By law, new calves are fitted with ear tags and issued with passports linked to a computer system and their movements are tracked. Farmers are paid £560 compensation for each animal slaughtered over 30 months of age, far less than the value of younger cattle.
The dealers are believed to have raided hunt kennels for passports and ear tags belonging to dead cattle fed to foxhounds.
Anthony Gibson, the National Farmers' Union South West regional director, described the risk to human health as insignificant, but he added: "Activities such as this are potentially very damaging to public confidence in the BSE regulations. The public has to be certain that these regulations are applied to the very last letter. On the other hand, the fact that this matter has been detected means that the precautions are actually working."
A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman refused to discuss details of the investigation but said that it proved cattle identification was taken seriously and that slaughterhouse checks worked.