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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Meat industry attacked over CJD
carcass
Experts want to know what meat cuts were used
The UK food industry has been accused of withholding information crucial to calculating the vCJD risk to UK consumers dating from the 1980s.

Humans are thought to develop the fatal and untreatable brain disease vCJD after eating meat from cows infected with BSE.


It has been frustrating - this is important information to have

Professor Peter Smith
Chairman of Seac
A leading government committee is trying to work out how much meat potentially contaminated with BSE could have entered human food supplies.

It fears that some of the meat ended up in school dinners - but because of a lack of information from the companies, it cannot yet determine if this is true.

Now the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is launching a new probe to try to extract information from the industry.

The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac) has spent five years asking food companies how much "mechanically recovered meat" (MRM) was used in the past, as they think this type carries the most risk.

Industry 'reluctant'

However, Seac says it has been "continually thwarted" in its efforts to extract information from the industry.

A cow suspected of having BSE is incinerated
Large numbers of cattle have been incinerated
Three top Seac scientists were so frustrated by their attempts that they launched an unprecedented outburst on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Professor John Collinge, from Seac said: "We have asked repeatedly for this information.

"The government has asked on more that one occasion to get this information.

"Both have been given feedback that there is reluctance from the industry to provide full information about this."

The committee's chairman, Professor Peter Smith, added: "It has been frustrating - this is important information to have.

"It's potentially an important route by which the human population was exposed to the BSE agent."

Pressure-blasted

MRM is meat residue which is left on the carcass after all the prime cuts have been removed.

Arthur Beyless
Arthur Beyless: Wants answers from the government and industry
Tim Lang, Professor of Food Safety at Thames Valley University, said MRM was a symbol of the UK's policy of cheap food production.

"Can we really afford a situation where we have rubbish masquerading as food, that then gives us a disease, to go on?" he said.

Interviews refused

Three leading food companies declined interviews with Today.

In a statement, the British Meat Manufacturers' Association said: "We are working with the Food Standards Agency in order to provide them with information on British manufacturing standards and practices.

"In turn we are keeping our members informed in relation to MRM and other issues."

Peter Scott, chairman of the British Meat Federation, told BBC News Online that his organisation had not been approached by Seac.

But he added: "We are entirely happy to co-operate with Seac and the government agency."

The meat industry has said that it simply is not true that it is not willing to hand over the information. It says in many cases records were not kept.


We have known for six years that they have been using delaying tactics and are not willing to give anything away

Annie McVey
Annie McVey, whose daughter died from the illness, said she had no faith in the food industry.

She said: "We have known for six years that they have been using delaying tactics and are not willing to give anything away.

"If the whole aim is to raise consumer confidence, they are going about it the wrong way."

And Arthur Beyless, believes his daughter Pamela died of vCJD, because of government and industry secrecy.

He said: "What are they covering up?

"If they are covering up then it shows that they are guilty of something. Let's have it out in the open."

100 victims

So far, 100 people are believed to have died as a result of eating BSE infected meat.

No-one can precisely predict how large the scale of vCJD will be, as no-one knows how long the disease remains undetected in humans before symptoms emerge.

But the latest estimates say the death toll could be as high at 100,000.

The new investigation by the FSA will start this month, with officers interviewing people who worked in the industry during the 1980s and early 1990s.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"The Food Standards Agency are taking a more pro-active approach"
Meat traders' spokesman Graham Bidston
"Butchers would not probably use MRM in their products"

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09 Aug 01 | UK
Q&A: vCJD risk in meat
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