19 January 2001
BSE gaffe embarrasses food agency

By Shelley Wright

FOOD safety officials were forced to apologise after issuing a potentially devastating statement suggesting that anti-BSE measures are ineffective.

The Food Standards Agency Scotland issued a statement after an animal for human consumption was found to be the offspring of a cow with BSE.

All meat from the animal was recovered apart from the kidneys – organs which have never been found to contain the BSE agent in any animal.

Government and its BSE advisers have always insisted that existing controls ensure the removal of every potentially infective part of a cattle carcass.

But the food agency blundered when a note accompanying the statement said: “By removing these parts of the animal, 95% of infectivity is removed.”

The suggestion that 5% of infective material was not removed set alarm bells ringing at the Meat and Livestock Commission.

An MLC spokesman said: “We have never heard of this figure before.”

He added: “We can find no previous reference in any of the literature to suggest that SRM controls are not 100% effective.”

The National Farmers Union of Scotland contacted the food agency, demanding immediate clarification on the matter.

A spokesman for the union said: “As far as we are concerned, SRM removal ensures that every bit of potentially infective material is removed.”

The Scottish Executive and MAFF refused to comment, insisting that food safety matters were now entirely the responsibility of the food agency.

After repeated calls to the food agency in Aberdeen, an official finally admitted the figure was an error. SRM controls were fully effective, he conceded.

Asked whether the agency would issue a further press statement to highlight the mistake, the official said it would “depend on how many calls we get”.