By Peter Crichton

MEAT and bonemeal – including pig products, and banned in the UK – could be fed abroad to pigs intended for the UK market.

Recent MAFF amendments to animal by-products legislation are intended to put into effect food minister Jeff Rookers pledge 14 months ago that “ground-up pigs would no longer be fed to pigs”.

Based on advice received from Spongiform Ecephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), apart from catering waste, no pigmeat derivatives will be allowed to be included in pig rations after 1 April this year.

This means that pig offal which up to now had been sterilised and fed to waste unit pigs will come under this ban.

Although pig offal is subject to the same Meat Hygiene Service inspection procedures as all other pigmeat and parts of it go for human consumption, with the ban on same-species feeding, there will no longer be a market in the UK for the remainder.

Abattoir operators will be faced with extra offal disposal costs for a product passed for human consumption but not good enough to be fed to pigs.

No doubt these extra costs will be passed back to hard-pressed pig producers.

Serious safety issues will arise as far as imports are concerned. Currently none of the other major EU pig producing countries have a mandatory ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to pigs.

As a result, a market for UK offal will be available in Europe and there will be nothing to stop it being rendered down into meat and bonemeal and added to rations for pigs destined for the UK market.

UK consumers will have access to meat and bonemeal-fed pigmeat on supermarket shelves which MAFF have deemed illegal based on SEAC food safety advice.

Once this loophole becomes common knowledge, consumer groups are expected to call for Government clarification of this issue. If the SEAC advice is followed, all imported same-species-fed pigmeat should be off the shelves.

But if the Government backtrack on this point, then correctly sterilised pig offal should continue to be recycled by onward feeding to pigs.

Meanwhile, following on from the new labelling requirements for GM foods announced this week, pig producers action groups may call for any imported pigmeat that may have been fed on meat and bone meal to be labelled according to the SEAC “health warning”.