Government probes cattle TB threat

28 April 2000

Government probes cattle TB threat

By Trevor Lawson

THE government is launching a risk assessment of British beef amid growing concern that it could pose a tuberculosis risk to people.

But the Ministry of Agriculture has surprised food groups by asking vets rather than the new Food Standards Agency to carry out the study.

MAFF makes about 1.5 million a year from selling carcasses from cattle slaughtered after being diagnosed with bovine TB into the human food chain.

Although infected lesions are removed from the carcasses, there are fears that invisible “micro-lesions” remain and could infect people handling the meat.

The Food Standards Agency confirmed that MAFF has informed it about the initiative, but has not consulted it on how the research should be implemented.

Tim Lang, Professor of food policy for Thames Valley University, said: “Its a good thing that the study is being done. Thats to be welcomed.

“But we need to make sure that it is done properly and the Department of Health has a full input into the terms of reference for this study.”

Farmers are worried that MAFFs policy of selling infected beef could lead to another catastrophe for the industry.

The Public Health Laboratory, which monitors infectious diseases, said there was no evidence of bovine TB infecting people through this route of transmission.

But a spokesman for the laboratory added: “There is a theoretical risk that it could be caught from meat if it is not cooked properly.”

MAFF has asked the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to carry out the risk assessment and is still negotiating the contract.

A ministry spokesman said vets rather than the Food Standards Agency were being commissioned because Bovine TB is seen as veterinary issue.

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