Doctors warn that meat is dangerous

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The Independent Online
The British Medical Association believes that too few people are aware of the dangers surrounding food preparation, and of how to avoid them. Last year, a record 1 million people were struck down by food poisoning, 200 of them fatally.

In a submission today to an inquiry into food safety by the House of Commons Agriculture Committee, the BMA says that all raw meat should be handled as if it were contaminated.

It adds: "The current state of food safety in the UK is such that all raw meat should be assumed to be contaminated with pathogenic organisms,

"The only safe approach for the food industry and the general public is to treat all raw meat as infected and adopt `universal precautions' in handling and cooking raw meat."

This week, the Government is expected to publish a White Paper, recommending the establishment of a new Food Standards Agency, in the wake of the scares surrounding BSE, salmonella and E.Coli.

The BMA calls for re-education of the public, more information on food handling and detailed cooking instructions on labels, particularly for microwave cooking.

It says it is vital that food be chilled to below 5C to prevent infection, but that too few people - food industry workers, as well as the general public - ensure that their fridges are working properly.

Doctors also want better nutritional information on packets in relation to sugar, salt, fat and fibre contents.

They say that descriptions such as "low fat" or "healthy" should be subject to stricter regulation, and that labels ought to make clear whether food contains pesticide residues or genetically modified organisms. However, they do not state whether they believe nutrition should come under the remit of the new agency.

Sandy Macara, chairman of the BMA, said yesterday: "The consumer needs help in untangling the messages about what is good for us and what the real risks are."

The BMA wants to see a new "precautionary" approach to the introduction of new practices and ingredients into the food chain.

Dr Macara said it would be a "dreadful calamity" if routine use of antibiotics in animal husbandry led to human resistance to their effects.

- Kathy Marks

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