Pork feed raises BSE fears

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The Independent Online
THE GHOST of the 'mad cow disease' scare has been raised in the meat industry by reports that pork could become part of the staple diet of British cows, pigs and poultry.

According to the Meat Trades Journal, a Stoke-based company, Gilberts Animal Byproducts, hopes that incorporating pig meat into animals' feed could increase their protein content.

Ministry of Agriculture rules outlaw the feeding of ruminants to ruminants. This means that animals such as sheep and cattle, cannot eat food with pieces of sheep or cattle in it. This sort of 'circular feeding' is acknowledged to have been a key factor in the spread of mad cow disease - bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

However, sheep and cattle can legally eat food made from non-ruminant protein - such as pig meat. Pigs and poultry can also eat pig meat, although the meat trade would frown upon such feeding methods. John Pointon, Gilberts' managing director, said he was feeding pig-based meal to local racehorses 'and they are running very well on it'.

However, a statement by the Ministry of Agriculture's chief veterinary officer, Keith Meldrum, said the company had assured officials that it had not produced the pig-based animal feed nor had it been eaten by racehorses.

Mr Pointon refused to discuss the article and said: 'Well - I don't have anything to say, and if you write anything that's wrong you are going to get sued. I don't want any publicity at the moment.'

Mr Meldrum said: 'There is a presentational matter here. I have no doubt there would be a public reaction to this. The public perception was that animals should not be made to eat feed they are 'not designed to eat'. I do not believe there is any meat compounder who will use this material.' Nonetheless, Gilberts has already aroused the interest of Oldacres, a feedstuffs subsidiary of Unigate, which confirmed that it had tested the pig-based animal feed's nutritional value. It was roughly equal to today's commonest animal feeds. The testing was done chemically, not by giving the material to animals.

One source said the feeling within the meat industry was that companies trying to gain a sales advantage from such products were fostering 'a marketing disaster waiting to happen'. A second source, said his colleagues agreed this was 'a bloody stupid thing to be doing'.

A spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Commisssion said: 'More and more in decision-making, the implications of image and impact on sales are considered on an equal footing with the scientific knowledge of what is going on.'

According to the Meat Trades Journal, Mr Pointon said that his company would be the first in the UK to be able to offer major users of meat and bonemeal a guarantee that its product contained no bovine ingredients.

He is reported as saying: 'We have been working closely with two local independent feed compounders for the last three months. As a result we have now perfected a protein meal which is rendered under high temperatures.'

John Fuller, director of the National Federation of Meat Traders, issued a statement after hearing of the possibility of a pig protein meal. 'We express firm opposition to the feeding of animal byproducts to other animals by way of foodstuffs,' he said. 'With the adverse circumstances of BSE in cattle thought to be the result of contaminated material from sheep, any move such as that proposed by a renderer to use pig byproducts as cattle feed is most unwelcome and can do nothing but harm to the meat industry whatever the technical arguments may be for its merits.'

The agriculture ministry's advisory body on spongiform encephalopathies, the Tyrrell Committee, will discuss the use of porcine protein in animal feed next month. 'The committee does not consider, at the moment, that this is a disease risk,' Mr Meldrum said. 'We will not know until after the next meeting whether they wish to confirm their earlier advice or want to go further.'

Pigs have developed porcine spongiform encephalopathy after being injected with infected material, but there have been no reported cases of them developing the disease after eating contaminated food.