UK government hits back at ‘scaremongering’ bTB claims

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Tuberculosis, Cattle, Beef, Livestock

Meat from TB reactor cattle goes through rigorous inspection
Meat from TB reactor cattle goes through rigorous inspection
The UK government has denied media claims that it is risking public health by selling meat from cattle that have tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) into the food chain.

The Sunday Times published a report on the weekend stating that meat from “diseased cattle” was being sold to schools, hospitals and other parts of the foodservice sector by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the story was rapidly picked up by national and international media as the latest meat scandal.

However, Defra accused the paper of “scaremongering”​ and pointed out that meat from cattle slaughtered due to bTB undergoes “rigorous” food safety checks before being passed for human consumption, so the risk to human health was “extremely low”.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) also stressed that the meat from TB reactor cattle – which have tested positive for the disease, but have not necessarily developed symptoms – posed minimal risk to human health.

A spokesperson explained that if a TB lesion was found in the lymph nodes of only one organ or part of the carcase during inspection, the affected organ or part of the carcase was removed and declared unfit for human consumption, with the rest of the carcase considered “safe to enter the food chain​”.

If TB lesions are found in the lymph nodes of more than one organ or part of the carcase, the entire caracse is declared unfit for human consumption and destroyed, the spokesperson added.

Badger cull

The Sunday Times report was prompted by an investigation by animal welfare organisation Care for the Wild, which claimed that the sale of meat from TB reactor cattle undermined Defra’s arguments that a badger cull was necessary to control bTB.

However, Defra said that it supported the badger cull because of the huge financial burden of bTB, rather than human health concerns.  

“Last year 28,000 cattle were slaughtered as a result of bovine TB, and fighting the disease cost the taxpayer £100m. If the disease is not brought under control by tackling TB in cattle and wildlife, costs to the tax payer over the next 10 years could top £1bn,”​ it said.

Defra added that it was “quite rare”​ for humans to contract bTB and that the biggest risk was posed by direct contact with infected cattle or drinking unpasteurised milk.

“Just this week, the European Food Safety Authority published a scientific opinion which stated that there is no evidence of meat-borne transmission of bovine TB in the EU,”​ it said.

Related topics: Meat

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