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The BBC Sue Nelson
"The FSA has written to 30,000 farmers whose cows graze near pyres, warning them about possible dioxins in milk"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Initial assessments suggest the risks are tiny"
 real 56k

Professor Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen University
"I do not think the public should be worried about this at all"
 real 56k

Stephen Rossides, NFU
"It has an inevitable psychological impact"
 real 28k

Friday, 25 May, 2001, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Cattle pyres 'contaminate milk'
It is feared that burning carcasses may release dioxins
Milk in a small number of farms close to foot-and-mouth pyres may be tainted with potentially-dangerous chemicals.

The Food Standards Agency is continuing to test milk from farms after fears that dioxins released by the burning animals could re-enter the food chain.

However, it has stressed that bulk-bought milk such as that sold by supermarkets and dairies carries no additional risk to consumers.

The results have been published on the same day that a leading scientist warned people of the dangers of drinking tap water in areas surrounding foot-and-mouth burial sites.

Professor Peter Smith, a government advisor on BSE and vCJD, said that the risk of the transmission of the disease to humans could be increased dramatically - to one in 200,000 - if contaminated water was drunk.

Dioxin threat

High exposures to chemicals in the dioxin family have been associated with a variety of health problems, such as cancer, lowered sperm counts, behavioural problems and diabetes.

The chemicals are produced by many industrial processes which involve burning, and are even released in car exhaust fumes.

This affects only a very small number of people

John Krebbs, Food Standards Agency
They are present just about everywhere in the environment, and are not readily broken down over time.

Testers would expect to find a relatively low level of them in cow's milk, and perhaps even human breast milk.

In this case, it is suspected that the dioxins could have been released by the pyre, absorbed into grass, consumed by the cows in fields close by the pyres, then passed out in milk.

The agency began testing whole milk at farms close to the foot-and-mouth pyres, which experts warned could be releasing contamination into the surrounding countryside.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,640 - One new case on Friday
3,030,000 animals slaughtered
73,000 animals awaiting slaughter
15,000 carcasses awaiting disposal
Although final results have not yet been published, initial conclusions suggested elevated levels in farms within two kilometres of the pyres, which could lead to a slight increase in the "lifetime exposure" of drinkers to dioxins.

John Krebbs, director of the Food Standards Agency, said there was no reason for widespread concern.

"This affects only a very small number of people," he said.

"We are very clear that people have the right to know what we know, when we know it."

He said that the risk would only be confirmed by the results of more tests, to be completed within the next couple of weeks, and advised anyone worried about dioxins to drink semi-skimmed or skimmed milks, or dilute their untreated farm milk with supermarket or dairy milk.

milking machine
Milk from dozens of farms was tested
Even if the milk was bought by a commercial dairy, its mixing with large quantities of unaffected milk would mean that the overall rise would be negligible.

The Food Standards Agency warning over milk now places a question mark over both methods of disposing of animal carcasses.

Professor Smith is quoted as saying: "Next to a burial pit wouldn't be the first place I would want to live. I would want to do more tests on the site. I would want to have some idea what the risks were.

"If there were a large number of animals buried over the age of five years I would not be happy drinking the tap water near one of those burial sites."

The news comes as the total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK reached 1,640.

More cattle are expected to be buried after a new spate of 19 cases in north Yorkshire. The new outbreak has destroyed the optimism sparked by the national decline in cases.

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24 May 01 | Health
CJD claims 100th victim
23 Apr 01 | UK
Dioxins: What are they?
25 May 01 | UK
Unsettling times in Settle
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