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Traces of bonemeal in flour prompt Swiss mad cow investigation

November 14, 2001 Agence France Presse
Traces of animal-based bonemeal have been found in flour destined for human consumption in Switzerland, prompting a major investigation by veterinary authorities amid fears about the spread of mad cow disease, officials said on Wednesday.

The Federal Veterinary Office said in a statement that reinforced checks introduced in summer 2001 to detect traces of meat and bonemeal in animal feed had "detected for the first time traces of bone in several samples of bran meant for animal consumption".

It added that the contaminated bran came from a mill in central or eastern Switzerland which also milled wheat for human consumption. Further checks at the mill had revealed the presence of a bone fragment in one sample taken from flour meant for human use. "Such traces should not exist because Switzerland has completely banned the use of flour of animal origin (bonemeal) in animal feed since January 1, 2001," Hans Wyss, a spokesman for the veterinary office said.

"Tests have not so far shown other elements that indicate the presence of traces of flour of animal origin," the veterinary office said, adding that it considered the risk to consumers to be very small.

Bran is separated from wheat destined for flour and is often sent to animal feed manufacturers.

Switzerland followed other European countries and outlawed the use of meat and bonemeal in animal feed on January 1, amid fears that animal residues could spread the fatal brain-wasting disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

The 65-tonne suspicious batch of flour was seized and sacks which had already been delivered were recalled as a precautionary measure, the veterinary office said.

"A major investigation is underway," it added.

Wys said 26 tonnes of animal feed had also been seized.

"The danger for the consumer is considered to be very weak," the veterinary office said. "It is nevertheless difficult to make an exact assessment of the risks."

The Swiss authorities said there were "clear signs that some wheat samples already contained some impurities at the time of delivery to the mill".

They also said cross contamination could have occurred during transport or packaging.

Wyss said the flour mill also produced animal feed until 1995 using separate machinery and silos.

Since the first case of BSE in cattle was discovered in Switzerland in 1990, there have been 398 cases of mad cow disease.


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