16 September 1999
TB-threat may halt cattle slaughter
by Johann Tasker
THE slaughter of tuberculosis-infected cattle at abattoirs could be halted because of fears that staff are in danger of contracting the disease.
Health inspectors are concerned that rules regarding the slaughter of TB-infected cattle are inadequate and could threaten human health.
But farmers have warned that a clampdown on the practice would be devastating because abattoirs are the only outlet for cattle from TB-infected herds.
A Health and Safety Executive spokeswoman declined to comment on the exact safety aspects being scrutinised by inspectors.
But HSE representatives will meet with MAFF officials next month to highlight their worries, she confirmed.
The move comes less than a fortnight after the HSE stopped MAFF agency staff from conducting post-mortems on TB-infected badgers.
Health inspectors said veterinary workers should have been provided with breathing apparatus and “down draft” tables to suck away contaminated air.
Abattoir workers, who slaughter TB-infected cattle alongside healthy animals, receive no special protective equipment to minimise any contamination risk.
Unison, which represents abattoir workers, told Farmers Weekly it had “very real concerns” about the health risks from slaughtering TB-infected cattle.
“This an area where not enough has been done in terms of research and risk assessment,” said a Unison spokeswoman.
“There are obvious possibilities of ingestion and inhalation.”
More than 3000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered last year after being suspected of being infected with the TB, according to official figures.
Unison wants workers who slaughter the animals to carry medical cards informing doctors they may be prone to diseases not common among other people.
But food safety advisor Dr Richard North said there was no danger of airborne infection with TB unless lesions in cattle carcasses were accidentally sliced open.
“It has never demonstrably been a problem within abattoir workers,” he said.
Brian Jennings, chairman of the National Farmers Union TB committee, said producers would suffer if TB-infected cattle were banned from slaughter-houses.
“There could potentially be quite a back-log of infected cattle stacking up on farms because no abattoir would be prepared to take them.”
Infected animals should be removed from farms as soon as possible to reduce the risk of the disease spreading to the rest of the herd, he said.