Document Directory

25 Jan 00 - Food Safety - Health scare over milk
22 Nov 99 - Food Safety - We don't trust Blair on GM food
22 Nov 99 - Food Safety - Shoppers distrust food safety pledges
21 Nov 99 - Food Safety - French poultry fails hygiene test
31 Oct 99 - Food Safety - British spread human waste on food crops
27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Scientists call for ban on sewage feed
27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Legal action may be impossible
27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Schools take meat off menu 'to protect children'
27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Cuts hit research into food safety
27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - France is winning battle over beef ban
25 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Farm ministry rejects safety advice
25 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French meat 'poses' risk to health', says top adviser
24 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Sewage feed scandal goes Europe-wide
24 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French dig in for food fight
23 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French have fed sewage to livestock for years
23 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Fury Over France's 'Sewage-fed Livestock'
23 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French cattle 'fed on sewage'
22 Sep 99 - Food Safety - New Fears Over Dioxin Levels In European Meat
22 Sep 99 - Food Safety - Belgian warning on meat farmed near factories
17 Sep 99 - Food Safety - Pesticide traces found in some fruit
18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Farm antibiotics pose risk to human health
18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Farm use of antibiotics blamed for 'superbugs'
18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Antibiotic Danger
18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - How the cure became a killer
16 Aug 99 - Food Safety - EU braced for new health scare
15 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Nuns' holy water creates supercows

25 Jan 00 - Food Safety - Health scare over milk

By Karen Edwards, PA News

Independent ... Tuesday 25 January 2000

Independent A bug found in pasteurised milk causes Crohn's disease , a leading medical researcher said today.

Professor John Hermon-Taylor of St George's Medical School in London says the bug, an organism known as MAP (Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis) is present in everyday milk .

The pasteurisation process fails to wipe out the disease , according to Professor Hermon-Taylor.

Crohn's disease is not a killer, but causes chronic diarrhoea, daily abdominal pain, weight loss, extreme tiredness and psychological problems.

It affects an unknown number of people, believed to be up to 80,000 in the UK. It is thought there are 4,000-8,000 new cases every year. Figures are unclear because Crohn's disease is not a notifiable condition.

But it is estimated to cost the nation as much as £240 million each year in direct health care costs alone.

Professor Hermon-Taylor, who was funded by medical research charity Action Research, said: "The problems currently caused by MAP in the milk supply constitute a public health disaster of tragic proportions for which a range of remedial measures are urgently needed, and for which the government must take responsibility.

"Both through our own work and new research evidence from the USA I am absolutely certain that MAP causes a substantial proportion of Crohn's disease ."

Professor Hermon-Taylor said the answer is to test dairy herds for MAP and adopt more stringent milk pasteurisation processes.

22 Nov 99 - Food Safety - We don't trust Blair on GM food

by Simon Worthington

Evening Standard ... Monday 22 November 1999

Millions of Britons don't trust the Government on genetically modified food, new research reveals today .

Fewer than one in five trusts New Labour on its safety and nearly two-thirds think the food industry is more interested in profit than public health.

The survey of 1,333 adults and 554 children found that two in five people have changed what they buy because they are concerned about GM food and pesticides .

The study of family shopping habits by the Co-op shows that 64 per cent of people worry about the power of big supermarkets. More than 80 per cent are concerned that superstores are killing off local shops. And nearly half of people questioned trust supermarkets less now than they did a few years ago.

The findings coincide with revelations from the Co-op that British consumers are being duped into buying foreign food because of a loophole in labelling laws.

The law states that manufacturers and retailers are required only to label products as originating from a country in which they last underwent a "substantial change".

For example, French chicken, in a chicken pie baked in the UK, can legitimately be labelled "product of the UK". The Co-op is to begin labelling its products with precise country of origin information and is calling on the rest of the food industry to follow its lead.

Wendy Wrigley, of the Co-op, said: "It seems food scares, like GM, have made people extremely sceptical about the claims made by governments and the food industry.

"It is our joint responsibility to restore consumer confidence and this will only be achieved if we are honest and up front. Consumers have a right to know where their food has come from and what has been done to it."

She added: "People are beginning to question why some retailers have so much power and worry about the effect they have had on the local high street. Our study shows that while shoppers once enjoyed the convenience a superstore offered them, the more popular they've become the more of a hassle they are to use."

The research also shows that more people are choosing products on ethical grounds.

One person in three buys cruelty-free cosmetics and recycled goods and one in five buys organic foods. Daughters are most likely to want the family to shop ethically - almost 70 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 ask their parents to buy "goods produced under the right moral cirucmstances".

22 Nov 99 - Food Safety - Shoppers distrust food safety pledges

Staff Reporter

Guardian ... Monday 22 November 1999

Fewer than one in five shoppers trusts the government to tell the truth about the safety of food, according to a survey published today .

Research conducted by the Co-op supermarket chain also found that 62% of those questioned believed the food industry was more interested in profits than public safety .

Worries about issues such as genetically modified foods and pesticides had persuaded 39% to change their buying habits.

The study of family shopping habits indicated that nearly two-thirds of Britons were worried about the power of supermarkets and 84% believed superstores had killed off local shops.

Nearly half of those questioned said they trusted supermarkets less than a few years ago.

Almost half said they had bought products for ethical reasons while one in three had bought cruelty-free cosmetics and recycled goods and one in five bought organic foods.

Daughters were the most likely to want the family to shop ethically - with almost 70% of girls aged 15 to 19 asking their parents to buy ethical products.

A Co-op spokeswoman, Wendy Wrigley, said: "It seems the effect of food scares like GM foods has made people extremely sceptical about the claims made by governments and the food industry .

"It is our joint responsibility to restore consumer confidence and this will only be achieved if we are honest and up front. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and what has been done to it.

"Today's shoppers are more ethically aware than ever before."

21 Nov 99 - Food Safety - French poultry fails hygiene test

Staff Reporter

Sunday Times ... Sunday 21 November 1999

Inspectors of the European Union have called for legal action against France in a damning report on welfare and hygiene standards in French chicken and turkey farms, writes Stephen Bevan.

The report, published last week, identified serious failings in the regulation of poultry farms, with few checks and poor standards of hygiene. One in 20 chickens and turkeys consumed in Britain is imported from France.

At turkey farms, the inspectors found "severe faecal contamination on some turkey cuts", posing a potentially serious risk to health.

Other breaches included unprotected meat and boxed meat stored together; splashing from waste water used for cleaning carcasses; condensation dripping onto carcasses during slaughter; and poorly cleaned knives and gloves. Birds with lesions or contamination were passing through the production line unnoticed, the inspectors found.

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Meat Federation, said the report exposed "fundamental and serious" deficiencies . It was "imperative that the French and all other imported poultry meat is up to the same stringent quality controls required of British producers under EU rules".

Most British supermarkets sell some French chicken meat. At Somerfield, 15%- 20% of its chickens are French.

Compassion in World Farming called the evidence of poor welfare standards "shocking". Peter Stevenson, its policy director, said: "It is clear that in both the transport and slaughter of poultry there is not adequate veterinary supervision."

Somerfield said all its French chickens were produced to the "same high standards as we require of our British suppliers".

The report came as the European commission began legal proceedings against France and Germany over their refusal to lift the ban on British beef.

31 Oct 99 - Food Safety - British spread human waste on food crops

Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Stephen Grey

Sunday Times ... Sunday 31 October 1999

British farmers are spreading thousands of tons of human sewage on arable and grazing land , risking the contamination of food with bacteria and toxic metals, an investigation has revealed.

Scientists warned last week that there was a danger the sewage could be consumed by cattle and enter the food chain. The sludge contains salmonella, E-coli, lead and mercury .

Evidence of the practice, which last year involved the use of more than 100,000 tons of raw human sewage , emerged as the government faced a new front in the beef war with Europe.

Despite Friday's ruling by the European scientific steering committee in Brussels that British beef was safe for export, German ministers threatened yesterday to defy the ruling, while one of France's most senior veterinary scientists said she still supported a ban.

Robin Cook, the foreign secretary, said the government would keep up diplomatic pressure to ensure that British beef was exported to all of Europe.

The latest revelations that British farmers have been using human sewage as a cheap alternative to fertiliser look certain to provoke demands for new controls on safety.

Swedish farmers earlier this month banned the use of human sewage sludge on arable land after concern about industrial chemicals in the sewage and the risk of bacteria entering the food chain. British organic farmers are already prohibited from using human sewage.

Gunner Lindgren, a chemist with the Swedish Consumers Corporation, said: "It should immediately be stopped across Europe and all sewage should be incinerated."

Hugh Pennington, professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, confirmed last week there was a risk of human sewage spreading across farmland and infecting produce. "Evidence suggests E-coli 0157 can survive for 100 days or more in the soil," he said.

Supermarkets have reached agreement with the water companies that the practice will end in January; but treated sewage sludge, heated to 35C, will still be used on grazing land and maize grown for silage.

Norman Low, a waste recycling expert for Water UK, the association that represents British water companies, said treated sewage sludge posed a minimal risk to the food chain. The amount of metals in the sludge was significantly below recommended safety levels: "More than 99.9% of pathogens are killed by treatment and existing research indicates these processes don't cause a risk."

While the government was bracing itself for calls for tighter controls on the use of sewage, more bad news from Europe threatened to dampen celebrations over Friday's beef ruling. At least three of Germany's federal states - Bavaria, Rhineland-Westphalia and Rhineland-Pfalz - said yesterday they would vote against British beef imports. "We have not changed our view that British meat should stay out of Germany," said Barbara Stamm, the Bavarian health minister.

Under German law, the final decision on lifiting the ban is taken by the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament which represents the states. The government in Berlin admitted it faced a struggle to get the measure through.

Professor Jeanne Brugere-Picoux, head of the animal pathology unit at the national veterinary college in Paris, which recommended the French ban, said yesterday she stuck by her decision and claimed that members of the Brussels committee that decided in Britain's favour lacked the necessary expertise.

David Byrne, the European health and food commissioner, said he was optimistic that the ban would be lifted but acknowledged it was a longer process in Germany. He revealed that the commission was pressing ahead with proposals to create common standards for food.

France and Germany now face the threat of legal action if they refuse to allow in British beef. Government sources said France was in no position to make any demands: "We have an overwhelming legal, scientific and moral case. We will not be compromising."

27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Scientists call for ban on sewage feed

Staff Reporter

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

Ministers have been told to take a firm line in Europe to outlaw the use of sewage sludge in animal feed.

This was the overwhelming concern of scientists inside and outside the Government who were canvassed for views about the safety of French food in the light of revelations that human and animal waste had been used in animal feed.

They described the practice of using sewage sludge as "repugnant and illegal" , but were reassured that heat treatment would kill any serious pathogenic micro-organisms.

A summary of the advice was published last night by Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, giving a clean bill of health to French food products on sale in this country. It is clear that officials working for the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group have been monitoring the situation in Britain, particularly in relation to chicken, meat and eggs .

Separate checks on the concentration of heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury, as well as residues of disinfectants , detergents and veterinary medicines , were also considered. Scientists concluded: "It is possible that residues of detergents and disinfectants used in the plant might occur in sewage sludge, but these compounds are of low toxicity and are unlikely to occur at levels of concern.

"In general, sewage sludge would not have been a major input into feeding stuffs and any chemical contaminants present would be further diluted by other materials."

On this basis, they advised that chemical contaminants "were unlikely to pose immediate health concerns".

The note to Mr Brown made clear that Joint Food Standards and Safety Group - the shadow Food Standards Agency - would continue to monitor the situation and alert him to any developments of public health concern.

The summary of the advice suggests that much analysis was based on advice from French officials or the European Commission. No data were included on analysis of any products tested at ports or from supermarket shelves .

It is clear, however, that senior officials have been monitoring the potential problem SINCE JUNE 10 when a Reuters report disclosed the contamination of French animal feed with waste.

The advice states that officials then received "oral assurances" from their French counterparts that these were isolated incidents and the practice had since stopped.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, said: "This report does nothing to put the British consumer's mind at rest. This is rather qualified assurance." Mr Brown earlier reiterated his disgust about revelations of the use of human and animal waste on French farms. Legal action may be impossible

27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Legal action may be impossible

Martin Fletcher

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

The European Commission admitted yesterday that it would be hard-pressed to take legal action against France, unless its scientific advisers overwhelmingly reject the French case this week. Those advisers, members of the Commission's 16-member Scientific Steering Committee, are to meet tomorrow and on Friday to prepare their recommendations.

The Commission fears that the committee will produce either majority and minority reports, or one so hedged with qualifications required to obtain consensus that it fails to provide clear answers. Then the Commission would lack a solid basis for legal action against France ."If the scientific basis is clear, it is more easy to act. If it is not clear, it is more difficult to act," Thea Emmerling, the Commission's consumer protection spokesman, said.

Conservative MEPs last night demanded that the committee's chairman, Gérard Pascal, stand down because he is French .

27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Schools take meat off menu 'to protect children'

By Elizabeth Judge

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

Schools across Britain are following the lead of those in Kent and taking French meat off the menu because they fear that children's health is at risk . In the wake of Kent County Council's decision to ban French meat products from its 600 school canteens, the authorities held emergency meetings yesterday to discuss the claims that some French cattle have been fed human and animal sewage.

Children at Devon's 368 primary and secondary schools will not be eating French meat next week. "The only French product we buy is frozen chicken, but we have decided to stop buying that," a spokesman for Devon County Council said.

She said it was not just a health issue, but a sign of support for local farmers. "We represent the rural community and we know that local farmers need our help and support. We have a duty to support local producers and the local economy."

Cheshire County Council is finding out what French meat products it uses so that it can take them off the menu when children return to school after half-term. "We think only a small amount of our meat is imported from France, but we won't be putting it on school tables. We are not taking any chances with our children's health," a spokesman said.

A spokesman for Cornwall County Council said he anticipated that pressure from parents would force schools to take French meat off the menu. "We are aware that parents will put pressure on us and we have talked to our caterers, but it is difficult to canvass parents' opinions until school resumes next week," he said.

Other authorities, including those in Buckinghamshire and Worcestershire, have left it to head teachers and governors at individual schools to decide whether or not to serve French meat. At some schools, beef is already off the menu. "We haven't served beef since the BSE crisis blew up, either in our schools or in our meals-on-wheels," a spokesman for Derbyshire County Council said.

Kent County Council took the decision to ban French meat on Monday. It has ordered its outside caterers to remove any French livestock products from its 600 schools immediately. It is also removing French meat products from council canteens.

Paul Charter, chairman of the county's education committee, said: "We cannot afford to take any possible health risks with our children ."

27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Cuts hit research into food safety

By Tom Baldwin, Deputy Political Editor

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

Sweeping cuts in research funding for scientists investigating the safety of British food have been ordered by the Government, in spite of the continuing BSE controversy. The decision has already meant the cancellation of projects examining new strains of bacteria resistant to disease which have been created by feeding antibiotics to animals . The practice, which many scientists fear will be the next scandal to hit British farming, has been condemned in parliamentary reports which gave a warning that it could mean the return of human diseases which had been almost wiped out.

However, a decision from Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, to cut the department's research budget by £4 million has forced the cancellation of a series of scientific studies, including investigation into antibiotic resistance by the Institute for Animal Health - paid for by a £600,000 grant from the Agriculture Ministry.

Last night Tim Yeo, the Shadow Agriculture Minister, said: "This is a disastrous own goal , given the level of public concern over food safety. It will do nothing to help British farmers rebuild confidence in their products."

Barry Freeman, spokesman for the Institute for Animal Health in Berkshire, confirmed yesterday that it had cancelled research into the bovine mastitis, as well as infections of the digestive system and lungs of chickens - all treated with antibiotics.

He said: "Ministers have really had a dilemma over this. Agriculture is getting less money from the Treasury , despite everything we hear about more money being given to everyone. As a result, we have had a cut of almost 10 per cent in our funding and we are not proceeding with research into antibiotic resistance. We are reorganising our programme."

Peter Luff, chairman of the cross-party Commons Agriculture Committee, said funding cuts would be addressed in a report later this week.

27 Oct 99 - Food Safety - France is winning battle over beef ban

By David Brown

Telegrah ... Wednesday 27 October 1999

Sewage report fails to bring import ban

Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, held firm against banning imports of French meat yesterday despite being told by scientific advisers that feeding sewage to animals was "repugnant and illegal" .

A report by the Government's Joint Food Safety and Standards Group said: "Adding sewage sludge to animal feed is repugnant to consumers and illegal under Community law." It warned that "a wide range of chemicals " including dioxins and heavy metals could have contaminated the sewage sludge .

It also confirmed that in some French plants waste water from septic tanks handling human sewage was mixed with waste processing water, which would have led to human waste being incorporated into sewage sludge . This sludge was then mixed with other waste and heat-treated for inclusion in animal food.

But it added: "The group continues to advise... that there is no immediate public health risk and therefore no basis for seeking a ban of French products at either Community level, or unilaterally." Mr Brown said: "The summary of their advice confirms that there is no basis for a UK ban on French products on public health grounds. The UK fully supports action taken by the European Commission to ensure that Community rules are enforced."

The group said it would continue to monitor the situation and advised the Government to continue pressing for France and other EU countries to obey EU law. Speaking to the British Meat Manufacturers' Association, Mr Brown said that there was no future for France or Britain in a trade confrontation and that he hoped to start consultations tomorrow on stricter labelling rules to identify imported food, which would clamp down on foreign products "masquerading" as British.

25 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Farm ministry rejects safety advice

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor, And Philip Webster

Times ... Monday 25 October 1999

Scientists tell Blair to ban French meat

The Government has failed to act on warnings from public health advisers that French meat should be banned after a damning European Union report.

Independent scientists told government officials at the weekend they should put in place "a major incident plan" as they did earlier this year over the dioxin scandal in Belgium. The experts have told senior officials in Whitehall there should be a tougher response to the "illegal and unsafe" practices uncovered by an EU veterinary report about the use of human and animal waste and of meat and bone-meal in French animal feed .

The Times has learnt that senior scientists were canvassed for their views by government officials on Saturday and made clear their concerns about the possible impact on public health.

But Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, yesterday defended his actions so far and said he had been advised by his own officials and scientists there was no justification to order a ban. He announced a tightening of food labelling rules instead.

He was clearly disturbed by public comments questioning the safety of the products from one of the country's leading experts, Professor Hugh Pennington, who conducted the investigation into the E. coli outbreak in Lanarkshire, and revealed he has ordered officials urgently to seek his advice.

The revelations will increase pressure on Mr Brown to make a U-turn. Interviewed on BBC's Breakfast with Frost yesterday, he appeared to suggest that he might be swayed by new advice when he said: "At the minute the position is that there is no health risk."

Asked if his present advice was not illogical given what was known about the feeding, he said: "Nevertheless, that is the advice I received."

Max Johnston, Professor of Veterinary Public Health at the Royal Veterinary College, and a leading adviser to the European Commission on BSE, was insistent last night: "I think a major incident plan should be put in operation immediately, at least in the short term until France has proven these practices are no longer going on."

Professor Johnston, asked for his view by a government adviser on Saturday, said: "The bottom line is that if it is against the law of the land to do these things the food should come off the market immediately." He questioned why the Government was prepared to act quickly over the dioxin scare but not over the latest French scandal. He described the Government as "pretty lukewarm" and said he had been "extremely frustrated listening to Mr Brown".

Tim Yeo, the Shadow Agriculture Minister, will today urge Mr Brown to make an emergency statement in the Commons about the crisis.

Yesterday Downing Street made plain that Mr Brown had Tony Blair's support for the line he was taking. But Mr Yeo said Mr Brown was too weak to stand up for British farmers and was "putty in the hands of the Prime Minister's European agenda".

Many scientists believe the contaminated food products could trigger a BSE-style crisis and increase the number of human cases of "mad cow" disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. They are concerned by the use of meat and bone meal in animal feed , a practice banned in the United Kingdom - and linked directly to these brain diseases such as BSE and scrapie.

They also fear the risk of new outbreaks of bacterial infections such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, but there is also anxiety about increased resistance to antibiotics, the possibility of poisoning from cadmium and mercury and of incidents of tapeworm.

The minister made clear that his professional advice from scientists was that there was no risk to human health and therefore no justification to impose a ban on French food.

However, the professor believes the Government has a role to check the imports, find out where the food has come from, how it was produced and where it has gone.

The problem for the Government is that the latest food scandal from France has coincided with the controversy over British beef export and the two issues appear to have become blurred.

The Conservatives believe the Government's lack of action over this latest French food scare is being driven by political tactics to get France to accept British beef exports.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman denied the charge last night. "There is no way the Government would compromise on the health and welfare of the British public no matter how diplomatically inconvenient action might be," he said.

Yet Mr Yeo urged the Government to think again on its response. "They would be entirely justified in banning the import of French meat, particularly from chickens and pigs, because they are thought to be most at risk. There are legal grounds and scientific grounds and they should act now.

"The danger of not doing this is that consumers will decide for themselves and we might have a full-scale trade war, which we do not want."

Mr Yeo is to lead a team of colleagues to France this week to inspect French practices, farms, abattoirs and rendering plants. Details of the visit are to be kept secret, but Mr Yeo will be back in London on Thursday for a full-scale debate on the agriculture crisis.

Ministers are anxious to learn whether the EU is to start legal action against France for refusing to allow British exports. A sub-group of the scientific committee in Brussels today will review the French challenge over the safety of British beef.

France could also face legal action from the Meat and Livestock Commission and the National Farmers' Union. Both organisations plan to meet lawyers this week to discuss the viability of such a move.

The new scandal in France also throws into question its approach to BSE. The number of incidents there is small, about 21 to October this year.

25 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French meat 'poses' risk to health', says top adviser

By Gavin Cordon and John Deane, PA News

Independent ... Monday 25 October 1999

A senior Government scientific adviser today acknowledged that French meat could impose a threat to human health .

Professor Philip Thomas, the chairman of the Government's advisory committee on animal feeding stuffs, said that there was "undoubtedly" a risk that French meat could be contaminated .

He became the latest scientist to voice his concern following an EU report which disclosed French farmers had been feeding their livestock with foodstuffs produced from animal and human sewage .

Prof Thomas said that the French actions clearly breached EU law and could be a health risk.

"It is potentially possible that there could be contamination into the food chain through these sources. The risk may be relatively small but the risk is undoubtedly there," he told BBC Radio 4's the World at One programme.

"You don't have to have a scientific interpretation to know that it is not good risk management to be putting materials contaminated by human faeces back into the food chain ."

He said that under French law, farmers were still allowed to feed pigs and poultry with feed produced from animal sewage, although it had been banned from cattle and sheep.

However the EU report had also highlighted the danger that the meat and bonemeal material being produced at the French processing plants could have been contaminated with human waste, he said.

His warning is likely to heighten calls for the Government to impose a unilateral ban on French meat.

However Agriculture Minister Nick Brown - who was due to discuss the growing crisis with European Food Commissioner David Byrne later today - insisted there were no scientific grounds for a ban at present.

"I'm going to abide by the scientific advice that comes to Government collectively, and that advice clearly says that there is no case for imposing a ban on French livestock products on health or hygiene grounds," he told the programme.

He warned that imposing a unilateral British ban would be illegal under EU law and would undermine the Governments efforts to get the French ban on British beef lifted.

"We are legally in the right on the export of our own beef. We are legally in the right on the question of the sewage sludge," he told ITN.

"It would be very foolish for us as a country to step outside the law and embark upon the disasters we got in the John Major years."

Mr Brown insisted that he was not creating problems for the Government by boycotting French goods himself, while Government policy was to resist calls for a ban on French imports.

"It's a personal decision, I'm not saying that everybody should do the same thing," said Mr Brown. He said that it was "absolutely ridiculous" to suggest that his actions were undermining Government policy.

"It's a free country, we are all free to do what we like with our post-tax disposable income and I'm not going to spend mine purchasing French goods, all the while they are completely illegally refusing to allow us to offer our beef for sale through the date-based export scheme...

"They (the French) are unilaterally saying 'no - they are in the wrong,"' Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed defended Mr Brown's right not to purchase French goods - and said he was taking a similar stance.

"I think it's perfectly sensible and right that ministers should have their personal opinions and their personal preferences being preserved," said Mr Breed.

"I agree with him and I have certainly also decided not to purchase French products, until we get a situation where clearly the French are lifting their illegal beef ban and our farmers, whose beef now is quite clearly far superior to that being produced in France, is able to be exported to them."

Later Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo again rounded on Mr Brown, taking issue with his suggestion that there was no scientific evidence to warrant a ban on French imports .

"It is astonishing that Nick Brown has claimed that there are no scientific or health grounds for banning French meat imports. Does he really expect the British consumer to believe that there is no potential health risk out of eating meat reared on sewage ?" said Mr Yeo.

"This is further proof that Nick Brown is under direct orders from Tony Blair not to offend his pals in the French government, or do anything to undermine Mr Blair's posturing on the European scene.

"It is time Nick Brown stood up for the British farmer and stood up to Tony Blair."

24 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Sewage feed scandal goes Europe-wide

By Jo Knowsley, Countryside Correspondent, and Julian Coman

Sunday Telegraph ... Sunday 24 October 1999

At least three more European countries have been accused of adding sewage to animal feed - 24 hours after it was disclosed that French farmers were guilty of the same practice.

The use of sewage from animals and humans in feed is said to have taken place in Germany, Holland and Belgium . Pigs, cattle and poultry are thought to have been fed on it. Last night a food hygiene expert warned that the practice was "inherently dangerous" and could create a BSE-style health crisis.

Supermarkets expressed concern at the revelations. A Tesco spokesman said: "If any of these products from France or other EU countries were found to be unsafe, or the means of processing them unsafe, we would consider [banning them]."

The disclosure on Friday of a European Union report that some French meat had been produced from animals and birds reared on processed sewage caused outrage among British farmers, already angered over the French government's refusal to lift its ban on British beef.

But it now appears that the practice has occurred elsewhere in the EU, including Germany, a country which has a record of being obstructive towards British beef.

German authorities have denied the reports, but Dutch health officials have admitted finding human sewage being added during the manufacture of animal feed. It is apparently perfectly normal in Holland to add sludge from slaughterhouse water-purification systems to animal feed. At one plant, it was discovered that company lavatories were connected to the water system.

In Belgium, a regional farming report accused one waste-processing firm of using sludge to make feed. Ingredients are said to have included waste water from showers and lavatories as well as waste from abattoirs. The Belgian agriculture minister, Jaak Gabriels, has stated that the practice has ceased.

The EU banned the use of effluent in animal feed in 1991, but sludge from slaughterhouses, including faeces, is still commonly added to the remains of animals for the manufacture of meat-and-bonemeal (MBM). This was banned in Britain in 1996, but is still widely used elsewhere in Europe.

Last night Professor Hugh Pennington, who conducted the inquiry into the E coli food poisoning outbreak which claimed 21 lives in Lanarkshire three years ago, said: "This could be a re-run of the BSE problem , which started because we were recycling dead beef into beef.

"Clearly, the material these animals have been getting is potentially full of nasty bugs. It's a classic way of spreading disease by actually eating manure. Now that I know more about what's been going on, I wouldn't buy French ."

Martin Callanan, a Tory MEP, called on EU officials to investigate the use of animal feed in all member states. He said: "The European Commission has insisted on high standards for our own producers. It's about time they insisted on the same standards for producers in other parts of the Continent."

British farmers want an investigation into European farming practices. They have long complained that the rigorous health standards they follow are not adhered to by all - enabling competitors to undercut their prices.

Conservative MPs want a ban on French meat, in accordance with British farmers' demands. But yesterday, Tony Blair backed the stance of Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, who has refused to ban French meat imports and has insisted that Britain "play by the rules".

Archie Norman, the shadow minister for Europe, said Mr Brown was passing up a "golden and legitimate" opportunity to act. He said: "We're not a nation of wimps and the public expect decisive action." He called for an immediate precautionary ban on all French meat products.

The European Commission said a questionnaire on the use of sewage sludge in animal feed had been urgently sent to all member states. A spokeswoman said that France, Germany, Holland and Belgium had claimed the problem had been resolved. But she could not guarantee that sludge was not still being used .

The Commission has already sent a reminder to member countries that processing "sludge from sewage plants treating waste waters" is prohibited.

24 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French dig in for food fight

Jonathon Carr-Brown and Will Peakin

Sunday Times ... Sunday 24 October 1999

French farmers were unabashed yesterday about their standards of hygiene despite an EU order telling them to stop feeding their chicken and pigs slurry and human excrement .

Serge Roumagnac, a farmer outside the village of Caumont, northwest of Toulouse, swept aside concerns and laughed at suggestions that traditional French farming methods were not superior to Britain's high-tech, highly regulated industry.

Surveying his 50-strong heard of cows, he declared: "When people eat beef around here they know where it's come from. They would recognise its face if it still had one."

Roumagnac acknowledged the reports last week of farm waste being used in the production of French chicken and pig feed. "Yes, these things go on, but not on the scale that you have had in Britain," he said.

"You know we have always taken our produce more seriously and we have not allowed it to be industrialised in the way you have. Our slaughter methods may still be traditional in some cases, but we have not abused the food chain so the risks are not the same.

"Our food is anchored in the soil. This is what brings us together in our stand against the beef with hormones from the United States or the risks of the mad cow from Great Britain."

His views are not shared by Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture minister, who will next week embark on a fact-finding mission to prove that French standards of hygiene and food production are light years behind the UK.

The Tories are determined to show that France's ban on British beef is hypocritical and intend to collect photographic evidence from shops, farms and slaughterhouses that standards in France fall short of UK and EU standards.

Archie Norman, shadow spokesman on Europe and chairman of the supermarket giant Asda, said last week's sewage scandal alone showed the diversity of standards. "If a British farmer had been discovered feeding animals with sewage- based products , 1,000 bureaucrats would have descended on him and the farm would have been closed instantly."

British food campaigners claim a trip to any French butcher or abattoir will show up practices illegal in the UK.

French beef is still displayed at markets with spinal tissue and brains , livestock carcasses are not inspected by qualified vets before going to market, and pigs can still be fed on pig bone marrow .

Animal welfare campaigners point out that France still rears 2m veal calves a year in crates in which the cattle cannot turn around - a practice banned in Britain in 1990; 51% of pregnant French sows are reared in similar crates - also banned in Britain; and French geese are force-fed to produce foie gras.

The use of chemicals is also far more widespread in France, with farmers annually dumping 85,000 tonnes of pesticide compared with Britain's average of 27,000 tonnes, according to the Pesticide Trust.

There is also growing evidence that France has lower standards of farm hygiene. A recent visit by British growers to the Chailly en Biere region to look at lettuce production saw labourers picking up crates with no concern for cigarette ash falling on the product.

A member of the group said: "If a supermarket technologist had seen that, the man would have been dismissed on the spot and the farm's orders cancelled."

The group was also astonished to learn that French supermarkets did not insist on seeing pesticide records . In Britain these are seen annually by supermarkets and subject to spot checks.

Despite evidence that much French food would be illegal in Britain , Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, refuses to break European law by unilaterally banning French food.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he described the practice of feeding chickens sewage as "horrible" - but stressed that it was important to keep the law on Britain's side: "The European commission are doing the right thing. They have examined the issue and are insisting the French comply with the rules the rest of us comply with."

23 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French have fed sewage to livestock for years

By Martin Fletcher, Valerie Elliott, and Philip Webster

Times ... Saturday 23 October 1999

The food war between Britain and France escalated last night with a disclosure that French farmers had fed livestock with sewage sludge including animal parts and human excrement for years.

A report from the European Commission denounced the French conduct as unacceptable , and said that the authorities had failed to take any action against those responsible or to recover the potentially contaminated feedstuffs. It gave Paris just 15 days to produce an "action plan" for putting its house in order.

Britain was resisting calls for a ban on all French meat products even though industry and opposition spokesmen demanded firmer action and their immediate withdrawal from supermarkets. British producers, furious at the apparent hypocrisy of the continuing French ban on British beef, threatened to intensify the row by demanding retaliation. The effects on public health of human and animal waste entering the food chain could be enormous, causing serious food poisoning and increased resistance to antibiotics . Most of the animal feed is used for French pig and chicken production. According to latest trade figures, Britain imports 95,000 tonnes of chickens from France and many are sold fresh in supermarkets as well as being used for ready-made foods and pies. Britain also imports 24,700 tonnes of pork, but beef and lamb imports are small. They would also be used in imported pâtés, pies and ready-made meals.

Last night a number of supermarket chains made urgent checks with the Ministry of Agriculture on whether French meat and poultry products were safe to leave on shelves. The Government told the French that it would be in their interests to lift the beef ban swiftly. Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, told his French counterpart that he would "categorically" reject calls for a unilateral ban on French agricultural produce because "we play by the rules and we would hope that all our European partners would do the same". His unspoken message was clearly that a decision to lift the beef ban was required if France was to prevent a massive rejection of its produce in Britain. Tim Yeo, the Conservative agriculture spokesman, called on the Government to ban French meat and animal products. He condemned the "utter hypocrisy of the French Government".

European Commission officials found that plants producing animal feed included sewage sludge in the ingredients and added that it was "not fully clear" if or how the French authorities separated human waste beforehand . The report was the result of an "urgent mission" made by suspicious commission inspectors to France this summer. It reveals how animal feed plants have been recycling almost everything they can salvage from slaughterhouses, right down to the run-off that collects in septic tanks. That can include human and animal excrement, waste water used for cleaning and disinfecting lorries, motor oil and chemicals . At one point, French authorities were obliged to assure the inspectors that sludge from municipal sewage plants was never used. "Certain plants in the French rendering industry have used for years prohibited substances such as sludge from the biological treatment of the wastewater or water from septic tanks," the report says. Most waste was heat-treated to kill bacteria, but that process was unable to remove chemicals and heavy metals.

The report says that "no further action was taken by the competent authorities against the plants, even where companies had recycled clearly prohibited material ". France claims that the processing plants have all now stopped recycling sewage sludge, but Paris is still arguing about how "sludge" should be defined.

Derek Armstrong, a veterinary scientist for the Meat and Livestock Commission, said that French products should be identified to check whether they came from plants mentioned in the report.

23 Oct 99 - Food Safety - Fury Over France's 'Sewage-fed Livestock'

Press Association

Guardian ... Saturday 23 October 1999

British farmers reacted angrily after an EU report found French rivals were feeding livestock with food containing animal and probably human waste .

European Commission officials found plants producing animal feed included sewage sludge in the ingredients and added it was "not fully clear" if or how the French authorities separated the human waste beforehand.

The report came amid existing fury at the Paris government for refusing to allow imports of British beef and increasing number of UK stores are banning French products from their shelves .

The inspectors told French authorities they have a fortnight to deliver a plan outlining improvements in controls "to ensure prohibited substances are not used as ingredients in animal feed production."

National Farmers' Union president Ben Gill said: "We are outraged such an unsafe and illegal practice should have been carried out in France.

"It is downright hypocritical for the French authorities to ban British beef. It really is time the pot stopped calling the kettle 'noir'."

Shadow agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo called on the Government to ban French meat and animal products being imported to Britain on health grounds.

He added: "This demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of the French government. While banning British beef they are allowing their own public to consume meat that has been reared using animal feed that could contain human waste."

Downing Street also showed its frustration at the French by drawing parallels with the beef ban.

A spokesman for No 10 said: "It's time the French implemented European law and started selling British beef."

23 Oct 99 - Food Safety - French cattle 'fed on sewage'

By David Brown and Robert Shrimsley

Telegraph ... Saturday 23 October 1999

The Government refused to ban imports of French meat last night despite an official Brussels report showing that it may have been produced from animals and birds reared on processed sewage .

Nick Brown, agriculture minister, infuriated farmers and politicians by stressing the Government's resolve "to play by the rules". Unilateral action would "undermine the principles on which Europe and the single market are based", he said.

"I am advised by the joint food standards and safety group that there is no immediate justification on safety grounds to engage in withdrawal of products." Urging the rest of the EU to stick to the rules as well, he warned the French that their ban on British beef was provoking an upsurge of antagonism and leading supermarkets to stop selling French products.

The Brussels report by a team of EU Commission vets confirmed that French farmers have been illegally feeding their livestock with food containing sewage from animals and humans . Most of the waste would have been fed to pigs and poultry, but some may have been fed to cattle.

"It is time to for the pot to stop calling the kettle noir," the National Farmers' Union said. The report said the worst offences had probably stopped, but gave the French two weeks to prove that it had acted to end entirely the use of sewage waste in feed. It added: "Certain plants in the French rendering industry have for years used prohibited substances such as sludge from the biological treatment of the waste water or water from septic tanks from their own establishments or, possibly, from their suppliers.

"It is still not fully clear if and how the French authorities controlled the segregation between human waste and industrial waste in the waste water disposal system and the subsequent recycling by the rendering plants. The segregation between human waste and industrial waste in the waste water disposal system was not always present ."

Mr Brown accepted that the French had failed to uphold EU standards followed stringently by Britain. He backed EU action against France. He also wrote to Jean Glavany, his French counterpart, pleading with him to reconsider the French ban on British beef, which also breaches EU law. As the Tesco, Asda and Somerfield supermarket chains joined the boycott of French products , he said he wanted to underline the strength of feeling in Britain.

Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture minister, said he was disgusted that the Government had not imposed an immediate ban on all imported French meat and animal products on health grounds. "The ban should be enforced until the full truth of the French sewage scandal has been revealed and the outstanding safety issues are resolved." He demanded: "Do ministers expect British consumers to eat meat reared on human waste?"

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales, said: "We are outraged that such an unsafe and illegal practice should have been going on."

22 Sep 99 - Food Safety - New Fears Over Dioxin Levels In European Meat

Staff eporter

Independent ... Wednesday 22 September 1999

The European Commission warned yesterday that tests on Belgian meat showing high levels of cancer-causing dioxins may indicate widespread industrial pollution of farms.

The warning raised questions about the safety of meat in Britain which, like most European Union countries, has no systematic check on farms close to industrial polluters.

The alarm was raised after tests on Belgian beef revealed that samples containing more than the maximum permitted quantities of dioxin had been poisoned by industrial sources, rather than the contamination that devastated Belgian agriculture earlier this year. Another food safety scandal broke with the admission that sewage sludge was used in Belgian animal feed until June this year.

Similar revelations from France, Germany and the Netherlands have provoked alarm over the material entering the food chain , including items exported to Britain. The latest concerns over dioxin emerged from test results on 1,000 Belgian beef samples, 10 of which contained more than the permitted 200 nanograms of dioxin per gram of fat.

A spokesman for the European Commission said: "All positive samples are from animals raised near industrial plants. We are concerned about the 1 per cent, but this is not a Belgian problem. It is related to everywhere in the world where you have industrial complexes and incinerators. Up to now there has been no requirement to measure dioxin in food. We do not have the data."

Yesterday the European Commission said it was powerless to intervene to stop the poisoning, which it blamed on pollution from industrial plants next to farms. It is planning to drop current safeguards against Belgian beef on the basis that the continuing dioxin poisoning comes from a routine source .

The issue is likely to be discussed at a meeting of agriculture ministers on Monday, with pressure for a new regime of Europe-wide checks likely.

British officials say there is no systematic inspection of meat produced in farms near industrial sites, although there are spot checks on all produce.

At Monday's meeting David Byrne, the health commissioner, will press the 15 EU farm ministers to impose a stricter definition of what can enter the food chain amid concern over the use of sewage sludge.

The Belgian government confirmed reports that sewage and animal waste sludge had been mixed into animal fodder for years . The practice wasstopped in June. "Often, we didn't realise what kind of filth was mixed into fodder," said the Farm Minister, Jaak Gabriels. "It is incredible how people used to be duped."

Mr Byrne will seek to tighten the definition of sludge to keep polluting elements out of the food chain.

22 Sep 99 - Food Safety - Belgian warning on meat farmed near factories

Stephen Bates in Brussels

Guardian ... Wednesday 22 September 1999

Belgium yesterday warned the European Union that tests carried out on meat for export as a result of the country's animal feed contamination scare earlier in the summer show that livestock reared on farms near industrial plants carry significantly higher levels of dioxin contamination .

The results of tests presented to the EU's scientific and veterinary committee at a meeting in Brussels yesterday showed that out of 1,000 samples tested, one per cent exceeded the recommended limit of 200 nanogrammes of dioxin per gramme of fat and that all were from farms near factories.

The discovery, which bears out complaints about levels of dioxin emissions from Belgian incinerator plants levelled previously by Greenpeace activists, has widespread potential implications for farms near industrial areas across Europe.

David Byrne, the new Irish EU health commissioner, is to raise the issue at a meeting of agriculture ministers next week.

Belgium's food crisis in May, which helped bring down the government, caused consumer panic following the revelation that animal feed had been contaminated by potentially cancer-causing dioxins at a food plant in Flanders which allegedly mixed motor oil with fats used to bind the feed together.

The country was ordered to test all meat intended for export and closed down hundreds of farms found to have used the tainted animal feed earlier this year. Consequently the tests were carried out on meat from farms which had not used contaminated feed.

A report into inspection standards in the Belgian meat processing industry carried out by Price Waterhouse for the government earlier this year was finally made public yesterday warning of considerable weaknesses in the supervision of farms and slaughterhouses.

Belgians' crisis of confidence in the safety of their food was increased yesterday by further revelations that sewerage sludge had been mixed into fodder just as across the border in France.

Jaak Gabriels, Belgium's agriculture minister, claimed to be shocked by a television report showing sludge from toilets and showers as well as water from slaughterhouses and cleaning products had found their way into the food chain.

"We did not realise what filth was mixed into fodder. It is incredible how people have been duped. These practices which existed in the past will not exist in the future. Measures have been taken," he said.

Similar admissions from the French government last month concerning feed processing plants and a gelatine factory in Brittany and southern France, have prompted a European Commission inspection and a report which will be sent to Paris this week. The use of such sludge material was banned in Europe in 1991.

17 Sep 99 - Food Safety - Pesticide traces found in some fruit

By A Correspondent

Times ... Friday 17 September 1999

ood campaigners have called for new safety checks after some fruit and vegetables sold in British supermarkets were found to contain chemical levels above the recommended limits .

A government report said that traces of chemicals - some suspected of causing cancer - were found in 1.3 per cent of foodstuffs in samples tested in large supermarkets.

The report from the Working Party on Pesticide Residues shows that more than 98 per cent of foods tested last year had residues below the legal maximum residue limit.

Pears were found to contain chlormequat , a growth regulator used in The Netherlands and Belgium but not approved for use in this country. There was evidence of the illegal use of the fungicide iprodione and other chemicals in lettuce. Lindane, suspected of causing breast cancer, appeared in chocolate.

Experts said the results of research showed that there was no cause for concern, even for babies and toddlers.

The Consumers' Association, however, insisted that the findings of the pesticide report were unacceptable . A spokesman said: "The Government must take action to make sure levels are reduced."

Friends of the Earth, the environmental pressure group, said that additional pesticide inspections were needed . A spokesman said: "There are concerns that pesticide residues can be dangerous, even in tiny amounts. We need a rigorous system of checks and inspections to ensure that when an apple or a tomato hits our plate we can eat it with full confidence."

18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Farm antibiotics pose risk to human health

James Meikle

Guardian ... Wednesday 18 August 1999

Food safety advisers warn of 'calamitous' effects of overusing drugsMore about GM food The farming industry was told yesterday to wake up to the "calamitous consequences " of overusing antibiotics on farms. The government's food safety advisers said there was conclusive evidence that the practice was helping to create superbugs that threatened human health.

The advisory committee on the microbiological safety of food demanded big reductions not only in the use of drugs to speed growth of farm animals, but also in their routine prescription for whole herds or flocks to prevent disease.

It criticised poor monitoring of how organisms move through the food chain and develop resistance to drugs intended to cure human infections. Checks on medicated feeds on farms were also insufficient.

Committee chairman Doug Georgala said that although there was "not a case for panic today and stopping eating" there was a "fear for the future based on solid scientific evidence". But there was time for farmers, vets and drug companies to change their ways, and some farms already showed how improvements in caring for livestock, including feed, ventilation and housing, could cut the need for antibiotics.

His committee was particularly concerned about the agricultural use of fluoroquinolones, synthetic antibiotics also useful for treating human infections such as E coli, salmonella and typhoid.

"The arrival of new antibiotics in the market place is likely to be rarer than in the past," Prof Georgala said. "Therefore preserving the efficacy of what we have, both for human and animal welfare, is very important."

The committee backed a recent EU ban on some growth promoters and said others should be kept under review, especially as equivalents for human medicine were developed.

The government had already told doctors it was unacceptable to prescribe antibiotics for some conditions in the unfounded hope they might do some good. It should now take the same approach with vets and farmers.

There should be a robust system to find out exactly how many antibiotics were administered and why, more research on the extent of antibiotic resistance and tougher licensing procedures for veterinary products.

Norman Simmons, a microbiological consultant on the committee, compared the state of knowledge about antibiotic resistance to a man who fell out of a window of the Empire State building. "As he passed each window he said 'so far, so good'. I am sure we are out of the window but I am not sure how far we are above ground."

Joyce Quin, junior agriculture minister, said the report would be carefully considered.

It was welcomed by the Soil Association, which has campaigned hard on the issue. Its policy adviser Richard Young said: "The real question is what the government is going to do. The politicians are all on holiday and keeping their heads down. They hope everyone will have forgotten about it by the time they come back."

Roger Cook, of the National Office for Animal Health, representing animal drug companies, said they were already taking measures to reduce antibiotic use. Authorities should take account of that before introducing more regulation.

18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Farm use of antibiotics blamed for 'superbugs'

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 18 August 1999

The growth of drug-resistant "superbugs", such as E-coli and salmonella can be blamed directly on the use of antibiotics on farm animals , Government advisers said yesterday. They said it could undermine the medical advances of the past 50 years.

In the first official report on the transfer of antibiotic resistance for 30 years, the advisers cautioned consumers against panic, as some drugs were still effective against resistant strains. But they urged ministers to curb the agricultural use of antibiotics.

The report, by the advisory committee on the microbial safety of food, said that Sweden, which bans antibiotics in farming, had shown that good farming practices worked.

Up to half the use of antibiotics was in agriculture, the committee said. Nearly every antibiotic used on humans has been used to treat farm animals. They are used routinely as growth promoters in broiler chicken houses and in pig farms to counteract the effects of intensive farming. This has caused an increase in the number of cases of food poisoning infections such as salmonella, E-coli and campylobacter.

The committee's 300-page report rejected claims from drug companies that the link between superbugs and antibiotics in farming had not been proved. Prof Douglas Georgala, the chairman, said that, for example, 98 per cent of the strains of the superbug salmonella typhimurium, involved in 2,000 of Britain's 30,000 cases of food poisoning a year, were resistant to at least one antibiotic.

He said: "This is a clear sign that we are reaching the point where action is needed in food and agriculture, as in the medical field, to ratchet back the use of antibiotics. We are so dependent on them for operative treatment, transplants, vigorous surgery, accidents and infections and to deal with infections in immuno-suppressed people, such as those suffering from HIV, that the world would be a bleak place without them."

He said that, since the first explosion in the development of antibiotics 40 years ago, the discovery of new ones was extremely rare. "We should treasure those that we have, for humans and for animals."

The committee called for the use of antibiotics in human medicine "only when they are of proven value". Last year the committee told ministers that animal growth promoters for which there was a medical equivalent in use should be banned . This led to a ban last month on the farm use of four antibiotics: bacitracin zinc, spiramycin, tylosin phosphate, and virginiamycin.

The committee's report called for much tougher rules on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters and for greater attention to antibiotic resistance. Where there was no medical equivalent, or where medical use was rare, as in the case of avilamycin, bambermycin, monensin sodium and salinomycin, it found that there was not sufficient evidence to justify an immediate ban. However, if these substances should be developed for clinical use, their use as growth promoters should be phased out first.

Peter Rudman, animal health and welfare adviser for the National Farmers' Union, said that many of the recommendations in the report were being adopted by the industry and the union was working to reduce the use of antibiotics.

The Soil Association, the organic farming body, said that the problem was potentially "greater than BSE". It demanded a ban on a the previously little-used antibiotic growth promoter avilamycin, which creates resistance to an important new drug, Ziracin, on trial in hospitals.

18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Antibiotic Danger

Stff Reporter

Telegraph ... Wednesday 18 August 1999

Drug companies are always trying to sell farmers products that will make their chickens or pigs grow faster or their cows produce more milk.

Antibiotics come high on the list of these products, which in America also include hormones . Among the most popular of the antibiotic growth-promoters was avoparcin, which was allowed from 1972 until until April 1, 1997 as a way of suppressing disease and hence promoting growth, in broiler chickens, turkeys, pigs, lamb and cattle as well as for improving milk production in dairy cows.

Avoparcin is a similar drug to vancomycin, an antibiotic used in humans. It had been believed that the growth of vancomycin resistant bugs, some of the hospital superbugs, came from the medical use of antibiotics. But research after an outbreak of multi-drug-resistant infection in an Oxford hospital in 1993 found the same type of resistant bacteria in meat and effluent from a local pig farm.

A study in Holland showed that 14 per cent of the human population in an intensive farming area were carriers of vancomycin-resistant bacteria, according to a report by the organic body, the Soil Association.

18 Aug 99 - Food Safety - How the cure became a killer

By Aisling Irwin

Telegraph ... Wednesday 18 August 1999

Antibiotic resistance is already killing people in Britain, experts agree, but the scope of the danger is only just emerging.

It may be an ear infection which lasts twice as long because it does not succumb to the first choice of antibiotic. Or it may be a weak, elderly lady in hospital, who dies of a virulent "superbug" before doctors find a drug which will fight it.

Yesterday's report is the first official confirmation that overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is one of the reasons for the problem . If a chicken or other farm animal has been treated with an antibiotic, it may harbour resistant bugs as a result. These can pass to humans by direct contact with infected animals or by eating contaminated meat, eggs or milk.

Eating food containing antibiotic residues exposes humans to a constant low level of drugs which can encourage resistance. Once inside the human, the bug may cause the same disease as it did in the farm animal. Even if the bug is not harmful to humans it may nevertheless pass its resistance on to other strains of bacteria which are harmful.

This would not matter if the resistance was to antibiotics that are not used for humans. Unfortunately the majority of antibiotics used in livestock production are the same as, or related to, those prescribed for humans.

Resistance is already causing deaths . Dr David Livermore, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring and Reference Laboratory at the Public Health Laboratory Service, said: "Certainly there will be cases where, had the organism been sensitive to the first antibiotic the doctor tried, the patient might have lived."

Although the rise of resistant bacteria is being monitored, putting figures to these deaths is impossible as it can be hard to prove that the infection in a patient with a serious underlying disease was actually the cause of death. It is also hard to estimate the extent to which an illness - such as infection after an operation - is prolonged by resistance.

In the early Nineties the bug Enterococci faecium, which can cause infections of wounds and the urinary tract as well as septicaemia in the seriously ill, was resistant to the powerful antibiotic vancomycin in two per cent of cases of bloodstream infections. Now the figure is 20 per cent and will probably stay at that level, as most resistant bugs reach an equilibrium with their non-resistant counterparts.

Doctors have a fine balancing act to master. For any given infection they must judge whether to continue prescribing an antibiotic which they know will fail in a percentage of cases, or switch to a new one, thus accelerating the rise of resistance against it.

The greatest risks lie with vulnerable patients in hospitals. A healthy patient in hospital for, say, a hip replacement is at little risk. But one whose defences are already compromised, for example by treatment for leukaemia, is vulnerable to the superbugs which can flourish there.

Dr Livermore said: "So far we can usually find something that remains active but there are some hospital superbugs where one really is scratching the back of the cupboard."

Strains of enterococcus are now emerging which are resistant to every available drug. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), is already the cause of major problems on wards and has been contracted by some outpatients, though it can generally be thwarted with vancomycin.

Resistance pops up by accident when bacteria reproduce. A bacterium is a single cell and it multiplies by splitting in two. Mistakes are made in the copying of genetic material during this process, leading to mutations which confer new characteristics.

Occasionally such a characteristic will take the form of protection against the onslaught of an antibiotic. That resistant bug will be the only one to survive and reproduce. It can happen with terrific speed: a single resistant E-coli can produce several billion resistant progeny overnight. This process is known as vertical transmission because the resistance is passed on to offspring.

There is also horizontal transmission: bacteria are versatile, capable of absorbing genes from each other in various ways. They can even insert tubes into each other through which genes can pass.

There will always be a race between humans manufacturing new antibiotics and bugs evolving to resist them, but doctors fear that there will be few new drugs over the next few years. A new antibiotic costs more than £300 million to bring to market and takes between seven and 10 years to develop.

Novel ideas include bacteriophages - viruses which can attack bacteria. These will probably be of limited application since they are hard to deliver to the problem area but they may be of use when it comes to wound infections.

Another approach is to boost the patient's own defences against infection, but Dr Livermore is pessimistic about immediate success. He said: "The body's own responses to infection are complex and various and you meddle with them at your peril. It seems you are as likely to do harm as good."

16 Aug 99 - Food Safety - EU braced for new health scare

Stephen Bates in Brussels

Guardian ... Monday 16 August 1999

The EU is braced for new health scare after France admits sewage was used in animal feed The French government admitted at the weekend that some of its animal-feed processing plants have been using untreated sewage, residues from septic tanks and effluent from animal carcasses in the preparation of feed for pigs and poultry.

The admission has left consumer organisations wondering what ingredients farmers and feed processing plants would consider inappropriate to feed to livestock, and has sent the European commission in Brussles scurrying to consider whether loopholes in hygiene legislation need to be tightened.

Although the use of effluent has been banned in EU animal feed since 1991, some other substances, including motor oil, appear to have slipped through the regulations.

A statement from the French economic ministry admitted that plants had been found using sewage this year, but insisted that such "malfunctioning" had been stopped by an official intervention. "Compliance with the regulations is now assured in this sector," the statement said.

It is thought that at least five slaughterhouses and one gelatin production plant may have been involved.

The admission shows signs of starting a new public health scare in Europe, in the wake of Belgium's dioxin crisis and Britain's BSE epidemic, after reports on German television and in the French media.

A German supermarket chain was said to be withdrawing French chicken from its shelves, and Belgian farmers were calling for French meat to be stopped at the border.

The European commission demanded an urgent response from France.

In a letter the deputy director general of the its agriculture directorate, Joachim Heine, wrote: "I have received alarming information concerning the use of sewerage outfalls in animal feed, giving rise to a major risk to public health from that practice."

The allegations were first aired in the French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchané, in June. It named three factories, at Graulhet near Toulouse and at Concarneau and Isse in Brittany, which were cited in a document prepared for the department for consumer affairs, competition and the prevention of fraud.

The report listed the use of untreated water from septic tanks, sewage sludge, blood and discharges from slaughtered animals, and water used for washing lorries. "The menu merits a detour. Bon appetit!" the magazine commented dryly in the manner of a gastronomic guidebook.

At that stage the French authorities took no notice. Their current reaction - and that of the commission - was prompted by a German television documentary last week which included footage shot inside one of the factories.

The programme makers interviewed Dr Franz Daschner of the environmental medicine department at Freiburg university, who warned that use of such material could spread bacteria, antibiotics and chemicals. "This could endanger all organic systems, including the brain, heart, muscles and nerves ," he said.

15 Aug 99 - Food Safety - Nuns' holy water creates supercows

Antony Barnett, Public Affairs Editor

Guardian ... Sunday 15 August 1999

Hormones from the urine of menopausal Italian nuns have been injected into British cows in a controversial practice aimed at breeding genetically superior cattle.

The urine of menopausal women is rich in the hormone gonadotrophin , which stimulates ovaries to produce eggs. The hormone has already been used in fertility treatment for women and is now part of a contentious 'embryonic transfer' fertility technique to increase the genetic quality of herds.

Cows with high quality genes are injected with the hormone which makes them produce several eggs instead of one. These are harvested and fertilised with bull semen. The embryos are implanted into normal cows who give birth to supercalves. The practice has been condemned as 'cruel and ethically unacceptable' by Compassion in World Farming. A spokeswoman said: 'The process is unnatural. The cows have to be anaesthetised because embryos are forced through their cervix which is closed.'

The practice, carried out by a handful of specialist vets in Britain, is used on only the best quality cows and can be highly profitable for farmers. Embryos sell for between £200 and a £1,000. Until the BSE epidemic, Britain, with one of the best pedigree herds in the world, had a thriving trade in exporting embryos.

Harry Coulthard, a vet and director of Cattletech who helped the urine-derived product obtain a licence in the UK, said: 'It is very effective at superovulating cows, but it is used sparingly as it is more expensive than other hormones which produce the same results.'

The hormone trades under the name Pergovet and a 2cc vial costs about £6. Experts claim 14 or 15 such containers need to be used on one cow. Coulthard denies it causes unnecessary suffering in animals: 'This is an established technique and well-respected internationally. It is certainly better for animal welfare to export embryos instead of live cattle.'

The process of extracting the hormone from urine was developed in the Fifties by Italian drug firm Serono, then part-owned by the Vatican. A Serono spokeswoman said today urine is collected from menopausal women all around the world.

Trevor Steel, vice president of the US company AB Technology, which specialises in embryo technology in farm animals and globally distributes Pergovet, said: 'The reason nuns' urine was used is not because they lead chaste and pure lives but because convents were offered a convenient method of collecting large enough quantities from a group of menopausal older women.'

Other hormones used in embryonic transfer are extracted from sheep pituitary glands . Today's revelations come as use of hormones in cattle is coming under closer scrutiny.

*The Observer revealed last week the use of pituitary hormones from brains of slaughtered animals have been blamed by some scientists for sparking the BSE epidemic .

The Soil Association, which represents the UK organic farming industry, is opposed to hormones. It also claims farm animals are being pumped so full of antibiotics that drug-resistant diseases can be passed on to humans. The association calculated that more than 400 tonnes of antibiotics are used on farm animals in Britain .

There is also widespread criticism of growth hormones used in the US on cattle to boost beef and milk yields. These are banned in Europe but at the centre of an international trade war between the EU and the US. American biotech companies such as Monsanto believe these hormones are safe for export to Europe.

There is also concern that British farmers may be injecting their animals with illegally imported antibiotics and hormones . They avoid veterinary controls by bringing in the drugs from other parts of Europe, particularly Ireland.