BSE advisers in row over health alert BSE Chief vet is criticised over BSE checks

Steve Connor@SteveAConnor
Friday 09 October 1998 23:02

SIR KENNETH Calman, the Government's former chief medical officer, has openly criticised the chief veterinary officer for playing down the flouting of rules designed to protect the public against BSE.

In written evidence to the BSE inquiry, Sir Kenneth said that Keith Meldrum, his counterpart in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), had informed him in October 1995 that abattoir inspectors had found four cases of spinal cord still being attached to carcasses destined for human consumption.

"The inspections were carried out to check that SBOs [Specified Bovine Offals] were being separated from the carcass in the correct manner and also that they were stored separately," Sir Kenneth states. "These findings were referred to by him [Mr Meldrum] as 'disappointing' and in my opinion in so doing he understated the importance of the information.

"Since the ban on both the human consumption or the use of SBOs, I and the Department of Health and its advisers were relying on the fact that a system of inspections to ensure this ban was observed in practice had been instituted by Maff."

Sir Kenneth, who will be questioned by the members of the inquiry on Monday, said health officials and senior government advisers on BSE had always assumed until that time that bans were both in place and effective. "Enforcement of all legislation relating to animal health fell within Maff's jurisdiction," he says.

Cases of BSE in cattle born after the feed ban indicated that SBOs were still getting into animal feed because of inadequate controls at slaughterhouses, Sir Kenneth was told in September 1995.

This raised the question of the safety of food destined for human consumption. Scientific advisers had expressed concern that SBOs were also going into the human food chain - weeks later this possibility was confirmed by Maff.

Sir Kenneth says he was "extremely concerned" about hearing that spinal cord - one of the most dangerous parts of a BSE-infected cow - was still ending up in the human food chain five years after the SBO ban had been announced to stop this.

Sir Kenneth says he told ministers that in the light of the lapses he was no longer in a position to give any assurances that specified bovine offals had not entered the human food chain.

"I informed the minister of my view and I found the attitude of those with primary responsibility for implementation, namely the farming industry and slaughterhouse owners and operators, astonishing."

After the discovery of spinal cords still attached to carcasses, the Government ordered that the backbone and heads of carcasses should be removed and not be used to make mechanically recovered meat.

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