- 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
- 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
- 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.