22 December 2000

Name-&-shame import threat

By Shelley Wright

and Johann Tasker

MEAT processors face calls to be named and shamed if they refuse to prove that any imported beef they handle is from younger animals at a lower risk from BSE.

The suggestion was made as a senior government adviser warned that consumers may be eating pies and burgers made of imported older beef at risk from BSE.

British and foreign fresh beef over 30-months-old – which is most at risk from BSE – is banned in Britain. But the rule does not apply to processed products from older foreign beef, raising fears that at-risk meat is entering the food chain.

Scottish NFU president, Jim Walker, said processors should be legally obliged to provide documentary evidence on the age of imported beef.

"I have written to Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, suggesting that a list of any meat plants refusing to give inspectors documentary evidence about the age of the beef they are handling should be published."

Mr Walker said he had no evidence of any processors refusing to provide information. But the protocols to tighten inspections had only been in place for a fortnight, so it was early days, he added.

The only way consumers could guarantee that beef had come from cattle under 30 months old, was by choosing British or Scottish products. Ministers should hasten compulsory country-of-origin labelling laws, said Mr Walker.

His call for action came as Harriet Kimbell of the governments BSE advisory committee said the loophole was placing consumers in danger. "There is meat in this country that is over 30 months old and sold quite legally. It is an anomaly. We should not be eating meat over 30 months old."

But the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the were no grounds for banning imports of French beef, despite a growing number of BSE cases in France. Prof Kimbell was not at odds with the agency, but was reiterating a point it had already made, said an FSA spokesman.

"We have recommended that the over-30 months scheme is tightened, for as it currently stands it is difficult to enforce and does not apply to certain meat products."