BSE: Feed makers ignored requests
By Boyd Champness
ANIMAL feed manufacturers simply ignored requests from farmers in the 1980s urging them to list the ingredients going into their processed feeds, the BSE inquiry heard this week.
NFU president Ben Gill said farmers wanted more information about what they were feeding their cattle.
It is suggested that meat and bonemeal (MBM) which was intensively fed to cattle during the 1970s and 80s in a bid to promote growth and boost milk production may have caused the BSE crisis. MBM was an accepted source of protein for livestock for more than 90 years, the inquiry was told.
But in his evidence to the inquiry, Mr Gill said the union had pressed MAFF several times throughout the 1980s to make manufacturers disclose their ingredients.
Mr Gill said: "The NFU does not accept the arguments of difficulty in providing precise lists of ingredients." He said that farmers did not accept that a simple declaration of the material ingredients would lose the compounder any competitive advantage if their formulations were then "stolen" by their competitors.
But, in their evidence a panel of feed manufacturers told the inquiry that ingredient confidentiality was important at the time which did give feed manufacturers a competitive edge over their rivals.
Jim Reed, director general of the UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association, added that it was not feasible to label feeds prior to an EU directive making labelling compulsory in 1992 because the appropriate software packages did not exist. The inquiry was told that some feeds had over 300 ingredients.
In addition, there was no way feed manufacturers could tell whether the MBM they received from rendering plants derived from sheep or cattle because it was simply labelled MBM when it arrived at their factories.
Mr Reed said farmers wanted additional information on feeds – not because they were concerned about feeding their livestock MBM – but for commercial reasons. He said UKASTA members, whom the association has since consulted, can not recall a single incident where a farmer requested feeds without MBM.
Dr Helen Raine, on behalf of J Bibby Agriculture, said prior to the emergence of BSE, no-one had cause to doubt the nutritional quality or safety of MBM. She said its benefits were widely supported by scientific and farming press and that she can recall farmers specifically asking for it to be included in their feeds. *