Now on the menu: TB-infected steak

CATTLE WHICH have contracted tuberculosis are entering the human food chain for use in hamburgers, steaks and pro-cessed food.

The Ministry of Agriculture is allowing carcasses of cattle which test positive in TB tests to be cut up and sold to supermarkets.

It had been widely assumed among doctors that cattle found to have contracted the infectious disease would be killed and instantly incinerated.

But the Independent on Sunday has learned that Government hygiene inspectors are merely removing TB lesions - visible tuberculous growths - before allowing the rest of the animal to be sold to butchers, shops and restaurants.

Around 30 cases of bovine TB are identified among humans every year and the infection can lie dormant for decades. But it is thought that some of the 6,000 TB cases in Britain are in fact bovine TB.

The disease, which is particularly dangerous to old people, can be contracted by eating beef which has not been properly cooked or milk which has not been pasteurised.

"Cows can pass TB to humans beings. Historically the principal route has been through milk," said Dr John Grange, an associate editor of the International Journal of Tuberculosis. "I wasn't aware that tuberculin- reacting cows were put in the food chain. If the meat was cooked properly it would be OK, but if it isn't it could be a problem."

The Ministry of Agriculture's current TB testing scheme is designed to "control infection in cattle so that it cannot get into the food chain or affect those working with animals". Government hygiene inspectors are trained to spot physical signs of TB so they can order them to be cut out of carcasses.

But doctors say the only guarantee that humans will not contract the disease is to make sure that cattle which have contracted TB are not used as meat.

"I am very surprised to hear that the carcasses of animals which have tested positive are not immediately destroyed," said one disease specialist.

Consumer groups have also questioned whether the safeguards are sufficient. They want the Government to review its safety guidelines and to be more frank with the public about the risks.

"We have always said that clear, independent information is vital for consumers particularly in an area like food safety," said a spokeswoman for the National Consumer Council. "It is exceedingly worrying that people may be eating beef from TB-infected cattle as it's a disease which is a human disease as well. MAFF should urgently reassess these guidelines and examine whether this is a fool-proof safeguard."

MAFF has admitted that there is a chance that hygiene inspectors may not spot every TB lesion on the cattle. But they said that the risk of contracting TB from infected meat was "negligible" if properly cooked.

"The meat hygiene inspectors check all carcasses for consumption and that includes checking for TB," said a MAFF spokesman. "They are trained to do detailed inspections for TB. If it is obvious that the carcass is riddled with it, it will be disposed of. If the inspector is satisfied that it is a local lesion, [the infected part] is removed and stained and disposed of. Any organism that is left in the meat would be killed in the cooking anyway so the risk to human health is negligible."

Bovine tuberculosis was rife among humans at the beginning of the century. In the 1930s 40 per cent of all dairy cows were infected with bovine TB. The illness was virtually eradicated after the Second World War by government testing and slaughter. But since 1996 the incidence of TB in British cattle has almost doubled.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas