21 March 2001
Butchers ‘caused vCJD cluster’
By Isabel Davies
AN official investigation by Leicestershire Health Authority has blamed a cluster of deaths from the human form of mad-cow disease on butchery practices.
Meat contaminated by Specified Risk Materials plausibly caused four out of the five deaths in the area, said a report published on Wednesday (21 March).
There was potential for cross-contamination of meat handled by a small number of butchers who processed the whole carcass including the brain, it said.
Philip Monk, LHA public health consultant, said: “The people who had vCJD were exposed to the BSE agents through the consumption of beef.”
Beef was processed from butchers where, he said, there was a risk of cross-contamination of bovine brain material during the boning and cutting processes.
The report suggests the risk of contamination was increased by the practice of pithing – sticking a rod into an animals brain after slaughter to stop it kicking out.
Some small abattoirs during the 1980s also used a cloth to clean carcasses rather high-powered hoses to prevent the meat from going “sour”.
At the time, practices were part of butchery craft and perfectly legal.
Dr Monk is also suggested that in Leicestershire there would have been a large pool of potentially BSE-infected animals because it is a dairy-farming area.
Animals were likely to have been fed rations containing meat and bonemeal.
A spokesman from the Meat and Livestock Commission stressed that the report talked about practices which had now been phased out.
“The practices referred to in this report are historic and ceased in 1989. There is no need for consumers to have concerns.”
The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders described the report as a useful contribution to the evidence already available on BSE.
But a spokesman added that the report was unlikely to explain how almost 100 people who have developed CJD nationally were exposed to the BSE agent.
A spokesman for the Guild of Quality Butchers, which acts as a promotional body for the butchery industry, said the report was full of “ifs and buts”.
It could not be taken seriously, he said.
“We think that this report is full of conjecture and supposition and is based entirely on circumstantial evidence,” he added.