28 April 1998
Farmers wanted more information on feed, BSE inquiry will hear
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 will hear this week.
National Farmers Union president Ben Gill is to say farmers wanted more information about what they were feeding their cattle.
Its believed that meat and bone meal (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 is a by-product of boiling down sheep and cattle parts and was an accepted source of protein for livestock for more than 90 years, the inquiry was told yesterday (27 April).
But in his written evidence to the inquiry this week, Mr Gill will say the union had pressed the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) several times throughout the 1980s to make manufacturers disclose their ingredients.
Mr Gill asserts: “The NFU does not accept the arguments of difficulty in providing precise list of ingredients . . . Farmers did not accept that a simple declaration of the material ingredients would expose the compounder (feed manufacturer) to risk of their formulations being `stolen by their competitors.”
But earlier in the week, a panel of feed-manufacturers told the inquiry that ingredient confidentiality was important at the time – giving 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 the 1992 EU directive making labelling compulsory 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.