BSE meat controls fail for third time this year

February 15, 2002 Financial Times (London) by John Mason
Controls to prevent meat possibly infected with BSE from entering the food chain have failed for the third time this year, the government admitted yesterday.

Two offspring of infected animals were illegally sold and the meat - most of which has now been eaten - was bought by shops.

The Food Standards Agency, the food safety watchdog, said the risk to human health was low since the animal parts most likely to be infected were removed in abattoirs. But it expressed growing concern at the failure of the safety regulations. The two incidents follow a similar case last month, when meat from the offspring of an infected animal was also sold and entered the food chain.

Sir John Krebs, the chairman, raised the issue at the agency's board meeting and wrote to Elliot Morley, the animal health minister. Sir John wrote a similar letter to Mr Morley after last month's case but has yet to receive a reply.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it would tighten procedures and was considering legal action in both cases. Mr Morley said: "It is regrettable that a further two instances have come to light. We are urgently checking to see whether there are any more cases."

The two animals were sold by farmers for slaughter despite restriction orders being served upon them. Some of the meat from one carcase remains at the abattoir. All the meat from the other was consumed.

The offspring of infected animals are slaughtered routinely to avoid the meat entering the food chain because of concerns the disease could be transmitted from mother to calf. This was a condition imposed by the European Union in allowing the resumption of British beef exports.

However, the foot-and-mouth crisis meant delays crept in. As at February 4, 400 calves were waiting to be slaughtered.

There have been 13 confirmed cases of BSE in animals born after the introduction of the meat and bone meal ban in August 1996. However, the three cases this year have been the first in which the controls have broken down and meat entered the food chain.

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