Abattoirs flout mad-cow rules

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Four abattoirs have been fined sums of less than pounds 10,000 for failing to apply safety rules introduced to curb the spread of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed in a report that rules are still being broken in spite of efforts to eradicate the disease, which claimed its thirteenth victim with the death of Vicky Lowther, 19, from Carlisle.

Gavin Strang, Labour's agriculture spokesman, said: "The levels of the fines seems to be inadequate when you take into account the size of the business involved." Evidence of continuing failures will increase pressure for responsibility for food safety to be taken out of the hands of Maff, which acts as both sponsor and policeman for the agriculture industry.

Ms Lowther died from the new strain of CJD linked to "mad cow" disease. The Maff report said at least one more case has been notified in Britain, and another in France. It is thought Ms Lowther contracted CJD from eating meat, possibly from beef burgers.

The report shows there were 16 breaches of regulations in January, 18 in February, 10 in March, four in April, three in June, four in July, five in August, one in September, and three in October, the last month for which the figures are available.

The agriculture minister Tim Boswell told MPs in an answer to a written question that there have been four prosecutions this year of breaches involving specified bovine offal (SBO): an abattoir called Bakers was fined pounds 3,000 and ordered to pay pounds 2,000 costs for failure to stain, and failure to separate SBO; another abattoir run by a man called Kellow was fined pounds 1,500 and ordered to pay pounds 1,050 for similar offences; Stillmans (Somerset) was fined pounds 7,500 and ordered to pay pounds 3,000 costs for similar offences; and Blackpool Abattoir was fined pounds 3,000 and ordered to pay pounds 1,818 in costs. The report insists that in spite of the breaches, the standard of control has been high.