19 August 1997

Slurry spread ban call

SLURRY spreading on farm land should be reviewed immediately by government in the light of the growing problem of pathogens such as E coli O157, according to Prof Hugh Pennington.

Further research into the life cycle of the organism was essential, said Prof Pennington, director of medical microbiology at Aberdeen University.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers in Bournemouth, he conceded that the whole issue of spreading slurry and injecting sewage sludge needed to be addressed properly.

E coli O157 was a versatile pathogen which was traditionally found through faecal contamination of meat, milk, cheese, vegetables, yoghurt and water. Scotland had now overtaken Canada as the worst affected nation, but Japan and the USA have also had large outbreaks in recent years, said Prof Pennington.

His call for more research was backed by David Statham, chairman of a European environmental health committee into the problems of E coli O157.

Mr Statham said MAFFs Code of Good Agricultural Practice for Soil which allowed farmyard manure, abattoir waste and sewage sludge to be spread on land, could lead to direct or indirect food contamination.

The prevalence of E coli O157 should lead to the abolition of the sale of untreated milk and the launch of a high profile public education programme, said Mr Statham.

He also criticised the lack of reporting of E coli O157 in other European nations. Some, such as Germany, have no surveillance system, while others blame the UK for importing the disease into their countries.

MAFF is proposing to revise its codes of good agricultural practice, and junior farm minister Jeff Rooker announced the launch of a joint MAFF/Department of Health risk communications unit. It is being set up as part of the Food Standards Agency and is expected to play a key role in providing information to the public on food safety.

&#8226 Details of brands of foods tested for chemicals by MAFF scientists will be available for the first time in November.

Slurry spreading is under the microscope for food safety standards.