The loss of a bovine brain stem sample from an Essex abattoir has highlighted a flaw in the BSE testing system imposed by the Meat Hygiene Service.

Essex farmer Paul Woodford had taken an injured 29-month-old animal to Humphreys abattoir, Chelmsford to be killed for his own consumption under a casualty status permit, obtained from a local vet.

But a brain stem sample – taken from the beast on the advice of Meath Hygiene Service officials – was lost by courier firm TNT and Mr Woodford is now faced with having to pay the cost of disposing of the carcass, rather than being allowed to take it home.

TNT – which operates under agreement with the MHS – picked up the sample from the abattoir, and was to deliver it to a laboratory in Runcorn, Cheshire for analysis. But it was lost in transit.

The courier firm informed Mr Woodford – via the abattoir – that the sample was not in the allocated bay at its Basildon branch and could not be accounted for.

Mr Woodford is now left responsible for disposal of the carcass at his own expense. “The problem is that there is no opportunity for a second test when a sample is lost, which could have serious repercussions in the case of a BSE animal.

“We have no way of knowing whether or not the carcass is infected.”

According to Craig Kirby, MHS veterinary adviser, the responsibility of getting a sample from the abattoir to the lab is that of the abattoir operator and not the MHS.

“In animals under 30 months, we do not specify how sampling is to be delivered to the lab. We have an agreement with TNT couriers for other materials, but not this specific situation,” said Mr Kirby.

Staff at the Basildon branch of TNT were not prepared to comment on the case.