Study on TBrisk in British beef

28 April 2000

Study on TBrisk in British beef

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 MAFF has surprised food groups by asking vets rather than the new Food Standards Agency to carry out the study.

MAFF makes about £5m a year from selling "salvage" carcasses into the human food chain. The carcasses are from cattle compulsorily slaughtered after being diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis. Although infected lesions are removed from the carcasses, there are fears that invisible "micro-lesions" remain and could infect people handling the meat.

Farmers are worried that MAFFs policy of selling infected beef could lead to another catastrophe for the industry. A spokesman from the Public Health Laboratory, which monitors infectious diseases, said, "Although there is no evidence of bovine TB infecting people through this route of transmission, there is a theoretical risk that it could be caught from meat if it is not cooked properly."

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, warned: "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."

MAFF has asked the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to carry out the risk assessment and is still negotiating the contract. When asked why vets rather than the Food Standards Agency was being commissioned, a MAFF spokesman said: "Bovine TB is a veterinary issue – what scientists would you expect to do it? It is seen as a veterinary matter because meat hygiene is under veterinary legislation."

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