Horror of the BSE school dinner risk;
Danger meat was 'fed to children for up to 15 years'

October 11, 2002 Daily Mail (London) by Sean Poulter
LARGE quantities of 'BSE risk' meat sludge found its way into school lunches for up to 15 years.

Some 75,000 tons of mechanically recovered meat (MRM), blasted from the bones of cattle with water jets, was used in economy foods, a study reveals.

A further 150,000 tons of meat from heads, including cheeks and lips, which was later banned as a risk, was used, often in schools and hospitals.

The scandal was exposed yesterday in a report by the Food Standards Agency, which shed new light on the risk to human health of BSE. The findings horrified families who lost loved ones to CJD, the human form of BSE. Lester Firkins, chairman of the Human BSE Foundation, a charity set up by victims' families, said: 'The fact that this stuff was getting into school dinners is repulsive.

'The average age of those people who have died is 27. We are left wondering whether school dinners was the common factor.

'No sensible parent would knowingly have allowed their children to eat that sort of food.

'You assume that what children are given at school is better than you'd get at a fast-food restaurant. That wasn't the case.

'The schools and other authorities should have made checks about the quality of the food they were using. Even today we do not know exactly what ends up on our plates.' Mr Firkins lost his son Ellis, a 25-year-old teacher, to CJD last year.

The FSA says that MRM was being fed to humans at the rate of 5,000 tons a year from 1980 to 1995, which covered the years that BSE was rife in cattle.

Head meat was routinely included in economy foods at the rate of 10,000 tons a year for the same period.

Assuming it was used at a rate of around 15 per cent of the contents, the MRM alone could equate to 4.5billion burgers over 15 years.

The study shows that in the late 1980s, every part of the carcass was used in food production.

Frozen brains were exported to France while 'rectums were cleaned and salted and exported to Germany for sausages'.

The FSA suggests that 40 per cent of MRM went into cheap mince, another 40 per cent into economy burgers and the rest to other uses such as pies, sausages and pates.

Some of the MRM, although it is likely to have been a small quantity, may even have been included in processed baby food and beef stock cubes.

The mince and burgers would have been eaten in schools or available as economy lines from supermarkets. Many of the burgers were sold at fairs and football matches.

As much as 50 per cent of cheap mince was made up from head meat, which was used heavily in schools and hospitals.

The report points out: ' Institutional buyers, such as schools and hospitals... put constant pressure on suppliers to reduce prices.

'There were only so many ways this could be achieved one of which was using bovine MRM. In addition, head meat would have been a standard ingredient.' The report comes in spite of what appeared to be a concerted attempt by the processing industry to keep details secret.

A year ago, the Government's BSE expert committee, SEAC, complained that manufacturers had stalled and blocked all attempts to get information on the use of MRM.

Eventually it asked the FSA to launch an inquiry, which involved face-to-face meetings with industry executives, many now retired.

While all the MRM and head meat carried a theoretical risk, only about 10 per cent would have come from older animals, those most likely to carry infection.

SEAC chairman, Professor Peter Smith, said last night: 'This study goes a long way to confirm what we suspected. A lot of individuals will have been exposed to this meat.' The findings will be studied by scientists at the CJD suveillance unit in Edinburgh and the use of beef 'head meat' will be further explored. It is banned in Britain and Portugal but is still used in other EU states.

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