Company recalls meat due to breach of BSE safety rules

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bse Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

A Northern Ireland company is recalling thousands of cuts of meat
sold in the UK, France, Italy and Spain after a breach of bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) safety procedures allowed an
untested cow into the food chain.

The incident comes only months after the EU relaxed restrictions on the sale of UK meat to thecontinent on the condition that it maintained stringent testing controls. For processors, italso highlights the importance of traceability procedures and the maintaining the integrity of datathroughout the food chain.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said late on Friday that Dunbia in Northern Ireland was recalling a number of meat products after finding thata cow over the age of thirty months has entered the food chain without being tested for BSE. The incident occurred because of human error when a 54-month-old cow was wrongly identified as being less than 30 months old.

All cattle aged over 30 months must be tested for BSE and found to be negative before they canbe slaughtered for human consumption

Investigations are ongoing and other products may be affected, though the risk to human health was "extremelylow", said the FSA.

The animal was slaughtered at Dunbia Northern Ireland in Dungannon, Northern Ireland on 25 October 2006. It was wrongly identified as a different animal, which was under thirty months but had a similar identification number.

When the animal with the similar identification later arrived at the abattoir on 3 November thebreach was revealed. The FSA was informed of the incident on 6 November. Since then it has been working with industry and local authorities, to trace productsthat contained the untested meat.

An investigation found that meat and other products from the untested animal were mixed with the carcasses of other animals killed on 25 October and have been distributed in the UK and traded to Italy, France andSpain, stated the FSA.

"This is the first case of an over-thirty-month cow entering the food chain without being tested out of the over 330,000 slaughtered since the new testing system began in November2005,"​ stated the FSA.

Food Standards Agency Director of Enforcement David Statham said: 'If people have eaten any of the affected products they should not be concerned as the risk to health is extremely low. The controls in place, including the removal of spinal cord, mean that over 99% of any infectivity that would be present if the cow had BSE is removed. Restrictions on the material that cattle are fed have meant that cases of BSE in the UK have been in steep decline over recent years.

The new BSE testing system took effect on 7 November 2005, replacing the over-thirty-months rule, which had operated asa blanket ban on the sale for human consumption of meat derived from cattle aged over 30 months at slaughter.

In the UK nearly all of the products being recalled are being sold through Asda and Co-op stores. Many of the products are already past their "best before" date.

Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK were allowed to ship beef to the rest of the EU marketwhen the bloc lifted a 10-year-old ban earlier in 2006. Only live cattle born after 1 August, 1996can be exported along with beef from cattle slaughtered after 15 June 2005. The EU has maintained aban on UK for beef containing vertebral material and for beef sold on the bone.

The ban was lifted as cases of BSE dropped in the UK. Before the BSE crisis in 1986, the UK's beef exports were worth about £1bn (€1.5bn) compared to £20m (€29m) in 2004, according to Food from Britain, a consultancy.

The ban on the export of UK beef was issued in March 1996, due to the high incidence of BSE cases in the UK at the time. In 1999, the ban was amended to allow de-boned beef and beef products from the UK produced under the date-based export scheme (DBES) to be exported.

The European Commission recommended removal of the embargo proposal was made on the basis that the UK has fulfilled the conditions laid down by the Commission in its July 2005 plan to ease controls throughout the bloc as BSE cases fall.

Brain-wasting Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), popularly known as mad cow disease, can spread to humans. About 150 people in the EU fell victim to the human form of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, after eating meat from infected cattle.

In the EU, BSE incidents have been falling dramatically since control measures were put in place.In the 12 month period to the end of October 2005, a total of 482 cases of BSE were detected in cattle throughout the bloc, according to the latest figures released by the Commission. The UK had the highest incident of BSE, reporting 193 cases of the disease in cattle, followed by Spain with 86 cases, Ireland with 64, Portugal with 43, Germany with 34, France with 28, and Poland with 16. All other countries reported cases in the single digits or no cases at all.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, Ireland found 126 cases of BSE in its cattle in 2004, compared with 137 found in Spain. The UK had the highest incidence of BSE cases in the world in 2004 with 343 cases confirmed, followed by Spain, Ireland. Portugal was fourth in the BSE league, reporting 92 cases in 2004, followed by Germany with 65 cases. France reported 54 cases of BSE in the same year.

The declines show that extensive testing and controls programmes put in place are helping to bring down incidences of the disease. The BSE epidemic was first recognised in the UK in 1986. At its peak in 1992, a total of 37,280 cases were discovered in UK cattle.

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