Food safety body dismisses Upton's claims about CJD risks in milk

May 11, 2002 The Irish Times by Joe Humphreys
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has rejected as "without scientific basis" a claim by outgoing Labour Party TD Dr Mary Upton that Irish milk could hold the risk of people being infected with the human form of BSE.

The Labour Party spokeswoman on food safety and consumer affairs, who is a scientist, urged the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Walsh, to consider "as a matter of urgency" banning the sale of milk from cattle born before 1996.

The FSAI said research in the UK, at EU level and by the authority itself, showed there was no valid link between BSE infection and milk. The president of the ICMSA, Mr Pat O'Rourke, accused Dr Upton of "needless scaremongering".

The Minister said her comments "serve only to create unwarranted concern among milk consumers."

Dr Upton had said: "The prohibition on the sale of milk from these older cows would give consumers increased protection from vCJD. I would urge the Minister to take this proposal on board."

She cited a recent FSAI report which estimated that 400 pre-1996 cows in a national cattle population of two million were "incubating" BSE, and that 70 per cent of these would be dairy cows. "This implies we are consuming milk and milk products from approximately 300 cows in the later stages of BSE," she said.

Clarifying her position later, Dr Upton - a former lecturer in microbiology at UCD - said the only research on a possible link between BSE infection and milk had been done in laboratory tests on mice. Given such a dearth of information, she said a milk ban should be considered as a precautionary measure.

The FSAI's director of consumer protection, Mr Pat O'Mahony, said the 400 older cows believed to be incubating BSE would not be in the "latter stages" of the disease.

The authority's report had concluded there was no food safety benefit from culling older cattle, as any cases of BSE infection would be picked up at slaughtering stage under recently introduced screening procedures. He added: "there would be no additional protection from banning milk."

Dr Muiris Houston, Irish Times Medical Correspondent adds: There is no scientific or medical evidence of a link between BSE and the consumption of milk.

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