DEFRA has branded revelations over sales of TB-infected meat to the public as irresponsible scaremongering.

The Sunday Times claimed that people are at risk of contracting bovine TB after it revealed that each year DEFRA makes £10m from selling meat from 28,000 diseased cattle to caterers and food processors.

But a statement by the department said the article was irresponsible scaremongering because the Food Standards Agency had confirmed there were no known cases of humans contracting TB from eating meat.

“All meat from cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB must undergo rigorous food safety checks before the meat is passed as fit for consumption. As a result, the risk is extremely low, regardless of whether or how the meat is cooked,” the statement said.

NFU vice president Adam Quinney also dismissed any need for concern. “DEFRA applies strict guidelines for processing meat which has tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.

“These EU-wide regulations that we apply are based upon internationally agreed guidelines and are the same as those followed by many countries around the world including Ireland,” said Mr Quinney.

“The Food Standards Agency inspects this process and ensures these products are fit to eat.”

The safety checks carried out by the FSA focus on the level of infection found.

An FSA spokeswoman explained that where an inspection of a carcass reveals TB lesions in more than one organ or region it is declared unfit for human consumption and destroyed.

If the lymph nodes in only one organ or part of the carcass are infected, that area is removed and the rest is considered safe to enter the food chain.

“Meat which passes the post-mortem inspection is fit for human consumption and does not need additional labelling,” the spokeswoman added.

Adam Quinney said that the infected meat story highlighted the scale of the bovine TB crisis and its impact on the industry.

“Bovine TB is one of the largest threats facing our beef and dairy farmers. The public are now beginning to see the size of the problem with more than 38,000 cattle slaughtered in Great Britain last year as a result of bovine TB.

“Increased cattle controls, additional pre-movement testing and stricter on-farm biosecurity measures have all been introduced to help us tackle this terrible disease but unless we tackle all its sources at the same time the threat posed by bovine TB will continue to grow.”

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