17 November 1995

Public health first – MAFF

CONTROLS are in place to protect the public from any remote risk from cattle incubating the brain disease BSE, MAFF officials stressed this week.

"Protection of public health is the ministrys highest priority and the precautionary measures in place are designed to protect the public from any remote theoretical risk from BSE," MAFF said.

The statement followed a Granada TV World in Action programme, also reported in the national Press, which claimed that hundreds of BSE-infected cows are being eaten by the public each week. That was because scientists calculated that two cows with BSE are being eaten for every one case diagnosed.

Speaking on the programme, MAFF chief vet Keith Meldrum said there are animals going into the food chain that could be incubating the disease. That is why MAFF has controls in place to ensure any infectivity is removed and that the risk to man is minimised, he said.

In a statement MAFF said its controls on specified bovine offals (SBOs) will "deal with any cattle which may be incubating BSE".

Tissues removed

These tissues, including the brain and spinal cord, which research has shown can contain the BSE agent, are removed from all cattle over six months of age and destroyed.

Last week, farm minister Douglas Hogg met slaughterhouse leaders to remind them of the importance of SBO controls, after MAFF vets found four carcasses with pieces of spinal cord still attached after dressing. The tissues were removed before the carcasses left the premises and did not enter the food chain. But Mr Hogg warned the slaughtermen that MAFF would not tolerate any oversight.

"I said I would only be satisfied with 100% compliance with the rules and informed them that the Meat Hygiene Service would enforce controls most rigorously.

"Where sufficient evidence is available prosecutions will be taken and prosecutions are already under consideration in some cases," Mr Hogg said.

Liz Mason