BSE: OFFICIAL ENQUIRY - UK (04)
A ProMED-mail post
[The official inquiry has reopened. Here is the account of why cases
continued inspite of the SBO regulations. The website for the
transcript is given at the end - Mod.MHJ]
Source: Electronic Telegraph, by David Brown, Wed 23 Sep 1998, edited
Emergency BSE controls designed to prevent people and animals
[from] eating infected beef and offal were flouted for years by the
meat industry, according to a former senior Government vet who
investigated working practices in abattoirs. A statutory ban on
Specified Bovine Offals [SBO] - -- the term for the highest risk
materials including brain, spleen and spinal cord -- from the human
and animal food chain was treated "as a joke" by some in the meat
industry, Andrew Fleetwood, a former Ministry of Agriculture expert
in animal diseases, claims in a statement to the BSE inquiry.
Yet these controls, which were introduced in 1989, together with a ban
on using rendered ruminant animal protein in animal food, were
regarded by the Government as its "first line of defence" against the
spread of BSE, which has since been linked to the deaths of 27 people
from a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The former vet says that instead of removing and staining SBOs for
destruction to prevent them being eaten by mistake, some abattoirs
allowed them to leave the premises either attached to carcasses or in
unmarked batches of waste destined to be processed into meat and bone
meal. The importance of these controls was reinforced in the light of
experiments in 1996-97 indicating that rendering processes for animal
waste were not potent enough to kill the BSE agent.
Mr Fleetwood, who will be questioned at the inquiry in London today,
tells how one meat industry consultant warned MAFF in June 1995, nine
months before the beef crisis broke, that "unscrupulous abattoirs had
cheated and would continue to cheat the SBO legislation and that it
was little better than a joke in certain quarters of the industry." On
the basis of his own inquiries and knowledge, that "there was likely
to be deliberate evasion of the SBO controls in the industry".
He also tells how, by late 1995, ministers and senior MAFF staff,
including Keith Meldrum, the chief veterinary officer, were becoming
"greatly concerned" that the SBO restrictions were not working
properly despite efforts to tighten them. They were also worried about
lack of enforcement by the Meat Hygiene Service.
He said he was "puzzled" why "widespread and serious breaches" of the
SBO controls had not been picked up earlier in spot checks by
Government vets. Mr Fleetwood said: "My suspicion was that staff from
the State Veterinary Service inspecting slaughterhouses were often
quite junior and easily browbeaten by the slaughterhouse managers. I
also had doubts about the extent to which these visits were truly
unannounced, as they were supposed to be."
He was concerned about incidents where offals were not stained
properly - -- sometimes because the wrong kind of dye was used. An
older type of black dye could perish and disappear after 48 hours,
making it impossible to identify which offals had been marked. But
when the ministry, at his instigation, prescribed a more efficient
blue dye -- known as Patent Blue V -- some abattoirs did not use it.
Despite tighter surveillance further breaches of the regulations
continued to come to light, which he set out in a report to the
Government in October 1995. The report said: "This showed a
continuing high failure rate at slaughterhouses which I found very
disappointing. Although I was largely satisfied with the way in which
the SVS staff were carrying out surveillance, I was concerned about
the attitude of the industry and also the effectiveness of
enforcement by the Meat Hygiene Service."
Mr Fleetwood left MAFF in 1996 to take up a post in research and
development in the pharmaceutical industry.
CJD Surveillance Unit:
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
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