vCJD cluster blamed on butchery methods

23 March 2001

vCJD cluster blamed on butchery methods

By Isabel Davies

BUTCHERS have dismissed a report which points the finger at traditional butchery methods as the most likely cause of a cluster of Creuzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD) cases in Leicester.

A spokesman for the Guild of Q Butchers, which acts as promotional body for the industry, said the report was full of "ifs and buts" and could not be taken seriously.

"We think that this report is full of conjecture and supposition and is based entirely on circumstantial evidence," he said.

The report, which is the result of an investigation by Leicestershire Health Authority, claims it is biologically plausible that meat contaminated by high-risk Specified Risk Material was the cause of four deaths out of the five in the area.

It suggests there had been potential for cross-contamination of meat handled by a small number of butchers who processed the whole carcass including the brain.

Philip Monk, consultant for public health for LHA, said: "The people who had vCJD were exposed to the BSE agents through the consumption of beef which had been processed from butchers where there was a risk of cross-contamination of bovine brain material during the boning and cutting process in those butchers premises where the skull was split to remove the brain."

The report suggests the risk of contamination was increased by the use of a pithing rod into the brain in some small abattoirs to stop animals kicking out when slaughtered. Some abattoirs also used a cloth to clean carcasses rather high-powered hoses to prevent the meat from going "sour". All practices were part of legitimate butchery craft and perfectly legal.

It is also suggested that in Leicestershire there would have been a large pool of potentially BSE infected animals because it is predominantly a dairy farming area so animals were more 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. "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 on BSE. But a spokesman added that on a national basis, it was unlikely to explain how other people had developed CJD. &#42

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