6 June 1997

Strong curbs due soon on imported beef trade

By Shelley Wright

STRICT controls on beef imports to protect public health have been recommended by the governments BSE advisory committee, SEAC.

Farm minister Jack Cunningham was expected to tell MPs yesterday (Thur) that SEAC had advised that no beef from animals over 30-months- old must be allowed into the country, and any imported beef must carry a guarantee that the head, spleen and spinal cord had been properly removed in abattoirs.

As FW went to press (Wed), MAFF officials refused to say what action the minister would take. Farmers angered by the flood of cheap beef imports into the UK have demanded a total ban.

But a SEAC member, who asked not to be named, told FW that the ideal solution would be for all member states to accept EU commission attempts to impose a EU-wide specified risk material ban. "We must drag them all up to our level," he said.

SEACs recommendations follow reports that cattle heads have been imported to the UK. The head meat is likely to have been used in processed products, including sausages or pies. "We have a law here that bans the use of heads and that must now be extended to stop any heads being imported," he said.

The possibility of cross-contamination occurring when meat was removed from the head was enormous, he added. "I cant think of anything more stupid, especially when we have a surplus of cheap forequarter beef in this country for processing."

Meat and Livestock figures show 83% of imported beef is de-boned. While SEAC did not believe there was any public health risk from de-boned beef, because all risk materials were removed, it could not be guaranteed to have come from under-30-month cattle.

With sides of bone-in beef the main worry was that spinal cord might still be attached.

"We dont want to start another conflict with the rest of Europe, but we must ensure that our public is as well protected from any BSE risk as possible," he said.

SEAC has also advised government to adopt EU commission proposals to remove some sheep offals from the human food chain. To protect the public against any possible risk from scrapie the commission wants a ban on brains, eyes, spinal cord and spleen from sheep over a year old. Lambs aged between six months and a year would have only spleens removed.

But ageing sheep would be impossible, other than by their teeth the SEAC member said. The committees advice is to remove the spleens from all sheep, and then the other risk material from any animal that had cut permanent teeth, which would be at about 15 months of age.