Slaughter method raises BSE fear

Slaughter method raises BSE fear

May 23, 2001 The Guardian by James Meikle

The food standards agency is investigating the way millions of cattle and sheep are slaughtered amid suspicions that it increases the risk of humans catching BSE.

It has commissioned research into the possible danger that infective parts of the brain and central nervous system are dispersed via the bloodstream into tissues used in food. This may take three years.

Studies by vets at Bristol University and elsewhere have demonstrated that conventional methods of killing, using bolts fired into the skulls of animals, scatter nervous tissue into the blood. In cattle, these have been found in lungs, and in sheep in jugular veins.

The next stage of research will help tell whether existing controls on removing potentially infective brain and offal from cattle go far enough.

Sheep have been infected experimentally in laboratories and the evidence points to the disease being able to affect far more organs and tissues than in cattle, forcing the government to draw up contingency plans, including mass culls, in case BSE is found in flocks.

Separate research by the government's veterinary agency has also suggested that sheep spleens can show signs of BSE infectivity in animals 10 months old, well before outward clinical signs are evident. In addition, the disease under the microscope looks indistinguishable from scrapie, a condition that seems to have no health impact for humans.

Most cattle are killed by bolts, but there are other options. Although most sheep are slaughtered after being stunned electrically, as many as one in six still may be killed by bolts.

Dr Haluk Anil, from Bristol, said: "The work does not go far enough. We need to see whether this material might end up in the edible parts." His team's latest work on sheep suggests that infected material could pass through the lungs and heart into the vessels supplying blood to the edible parts of carcasses.

A spokesman for the food standards agency said the research would take two to three years to complete.

The practice of pithing - thrusting a rod through the hole in the cattle's skull made by the stunning bolt - has already been banned by the EC because of fears it might help spread contaminated material. It was widely used in the UK to stop animals kicking out and endangering abattoir workers.

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