Document Directory

22 Jul 00 - Food Safety - EU 'food police' to enforce new safety scheme
22 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Food sellers face beefed up EU regulations on hygiene
20 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Frozen burgers 'full of fat'
20 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Food outlets criticised over falling hygiene standards
09 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Ministry sells beef from cows with TB
23 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Fish 'dying because of dithering over ban'
20 Jun 00 - Food Safety - More checks on healthy food ads claims
18 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Organic food: the facts they don't want you to know
13 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Brown backs US on hormone beef
07 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Now wash your hands
19 May 00 - Food Safety - Britain steps out of line on incinerators
19 May 00 - Food Safety - EPA Links Dioxin to Cancer
18 May 00 - Food Safety - Incinerator cancer threat revealed
18 May 00 - Food Safety - Pressure builds on Meacher as waste strategy is held up again
18 May 00 - Food Safety - False E. coli test cost thousands, says chain store
17 May 00 - Food Safety - Scotchgard to halt production of sprays
11 May 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl blight still not over
11 May 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl fallout still affecting upland farms
07 May 00 - Food Safety - Anti-depressants get into water system
02 May 00 - Food Safety - Deadly heart disease found at salmon farms
23 Apr 00 - Food Safety - Paris 'speakeasy' restaurant defies EU food bans
03 Apr 00 - Food Safety - Food agency 'must not reveal trade secrets'

22 Jul 00 - Food Safety - EU 'food police' to enforce new safety scheme

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 22 July 2000

All food sellers, ranging from supermarkets to hot- dog stand operators, will have to carry an official registration number under new European Union food safety regulations.

A compulsory registration scheme affecting more than half a million small businesses, due to be implemented within four years, means that no traders will be licensed to sell food unless they meet strict hygiene requirements .

They will also have to keep detailed records of all the ingredients they use in their foods, including their place of origin. A new breed of "food police ," overseen by veterinary and environmental health officers, will be employed to ensure that the rules are obeyed.

The measures, which go beyond anything imposed on British food businesses before and could cost the food industry millions , cover virtually everyone selling food, including restaurants, ice-cream booths, farm shops and tearooms.

David Byrne, the EU's health and consumer protection commissioner, said in London yesterday that the measures were designed to harmonise and simplify a mass of existing legislation in the EU.

Even the smallest food businesses would have to follow hazard analysis procedures now employed by major food processing companies. Caterers and other food sellers would have to ensure full traceability of "all food and ingredients".

To that end, the registration of food companies will be made compulsory . Hot-dog sellers and similar small food traders could risk losing their licence to work if inspectors find breaches of the rules. This could include infringements such as handling money and food "without wearing protective gloves".

The new measures would impose minimum standards throughout the EU and countries would be free to implement them according to national circumstances. Mr Byrne could not say how much the new licensing procedure would cost small businesses and what penalties would be imposed in Britain on traders breaching the new rules. He could not answer questions about how the new regulations would affect the Women's Institute or other catering volunteers at village hall functions or garden fetes for charity events.

But Geoffrey Martin, head of the EU Commission's office in London, said there had been complaints in the past of "heavy-handed" application of EU rules by British civil servants. He said: "We hope these past excesses will not be repeated."

The plans were attacked by the Federation of Small Businesses in London. The federation, which has 150,000 members, said it would fight them. It said many traders might "give up" rather than try to cope with extra red tape. "Officials in Britain are proud of their record in enforcing EU regulations. There is no doubt they will be enforced here even if they are not enforced to the same degree elsewhere."

Stephen Alambritis, spokesman for the federation, added: "These measures will put tremendous pressure on the independent food sector. People will just give up as the pile of red tape gets higher and higher ."

The Food Standards Agency in London said: "Anything which improves consumer safety is to be welcomed. All food businesses will have to keep records to improve the traceability of food." The Food and Drink Federation, representing Britain's £53 billion-a-year food processing industry, said the new regulations would bring small businesses into line with major manufacturers and suppliers.

22 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Food sellers face beefed up EU regulations on hygiene

Guardian ... Saturday 22 July 2000

Britain's 520,000 food outlets, from supermarkets to the smallest sandwich bar or burger van, will have to prove they know basic hygiene rules under a tougher food safety regime demanded by the European commission.

New businesses will face extra bills of between £200 and £1,000 to gain a licence to trade while existing operators will be also checked to ensure they meet the standards before being formally registered by local environmental health officers.

The government's food standards agency, which is already introducing compulsory licensing for 12,000 butchers this autumn, will draw up plans to spread the system throughout the food industry under a shake up of EU rules demanded by health and consumer protection commissioner David Byrne.

The new regime may not be enforced until 2004 but Britain's food regulators welcomed its main proposals, which include extra duties on even the smallest retailers to check for bacterial contamination, and maintain proper freezing and cooking equipment.

The requirements seem certain to provoke strong reactions from the food industry who fought off extra levies to help fund inspection procedures when the agency was being established.

But the meat industry will welcome other rule changes which will reduce the need for vets to be present during slaughter in abattoirs and allow trained meat inspectors to be there instead. This should cut costs.

Mr Byrne brushed aside suggestions he was adding red tape to the food business and insisted individual member states would be given some flexibility on the way they introduced new rules. "We have learned our lesson from the food crises of the 90s... Food operators large and small will find this simplified and transparent set of rules easier to apply.

"They give them greater responsibility for making sure food is safe, while leaving them more freedom and flexibility in deciding how to achieve that in their own premises."

Outlets and owners would face penalties of up to £5,000 or imprisonment if they neglected their responsibilities.

20 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Frozen burgers 'full of fat'

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor

Times ... Thursday 20 July 2000

A survey of frozen burgers has confirmed what many people already suspect: most are full of fat and salt. Even after cooking , some burgers are 50 per cent pure fat - the equivalent of six teaspoons.

Out of 41 best-selling brands, two thirds contained less than 90 per cent meat and two had 60 per cent ; only one was 99.5 per cent beef.

The findings, published today by the Food Commission, show that many burgers are pumped up with cheap protein substitutes and padded out with non-meat fillers , water and cheap flavour-boosting ingredients such as monosodium glutamate .

Every burger contained meat that was fattier than minced beef. Sue Dibb, co- director of the food watchdog, said: "Compared with regular minced beef at 16 per cent fat, we found some frozen burgers were using meat that was 50 per cent pure fat . Even after grilling, some products were providing six teaspoons of fat in a single portion, including artery-clogging saturated fat."

Among the fattiest burgers were packs from Tesco and Sainsbury's . Tesco's economy burgers - dubbed the "three species burgers" by the survey because they contain chicken, beef and pork - had more than 40 per cent fat. So, too, did Sainsbury's microwaveable quarterpounders and their beefburgers with onion.

Other fatty burgers were in three Iceland ranges, beefburgers with onion, quarterpounders and beef grillsteaks. A 113g (4oz) serving of the last one, even after grilling, would contain 36g fat, 16g saturated.

The highest salt levels were in a pack of Safeway Quarter Pounders, with 4g, nearly a teaspoonful, in each. The maximum salt intake for children and adults is 5g to 6g a day.

Last night Safeway was in contact with its suppliers to investigate the finding. The company is already reducing levels of salt in many products.

The Food Commission says that home-made burgers, made from low fat or regular minced beef, are best. They also praised Tesco's grill steaks and quarterpounders, Dalepak sandwich burgers, Organix Favourites beef burgers and Pure Organics beef burgers for least fat .

20 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Food outlets criticised over falling hygiene standards

By Nicole Martin

Telegraph ... Thursday 20 July 2000

Almost half of the food outlets inspected in Britain last year failed to meet hygiene standards, according to figures published yesterday.

Of the 381,617 premises checked by council environmental health officers, 179,897 were found to be breaching hygiene regulations.

Infringements can range from relatively minor offences such as a cracked hand basin or missing washroom soap to more serious breaches such as unclean cooking surfaces and rodent or cockroach infestation.

The figures from the Government's Food Standards Agency represent an 11 per cent increase in the number of outlets breaking food safety regulations between 1997 and 1999.

Sir John Krebs, the agency's chairman, said that the findings were "unacceptable ", even though almost all of the infringements committed were relatively minor and did not require legal action.

He added: "Consumers expect the food they buy from restaurants and shops to be safe. This study shows that the rules are being broken too many times by the food industry and that we must be sure that local authorities have in place effective advice, inspection and enforcement systems."

A spokesman for The Consumers' Association said: "The figures are fairly shocking . There should not have been such a steep rise in the number of infringements.

09 Jul 00 - Food Safety - Ministry sells beef from cows with TB

Deborah Collcutt and Jonathan Leake

Sunday Times ... Sunday 9 July 2000

Inquiry is to examine whether humans who contract bovine TB get if from eating infected meat

The government has approved the sale of £5m worth of beef from cattle infected with tuberculosis (TB) despite a potential risk to human health .

It has admitted that up to 3,000 tons of meat "salvaged" from cattle carcasses has been sold in the past year for use in mince , pies and hamburgers .

Concern about the potential threat has now prompted the Food Standards Agency (FSA), to launch an inquiry into whether some of the 100 humans who get bovine tuberculosis each year are contracting it from such meat . Of these, many are elderly and are believed to have caught it before pasteurisation became widespread in the 1940s, but about a dozen younger cases involve infections that are not easily explained.

The sale of the beef is authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) under a scheme in which it buys infected animals to prevent farmers selling them on the open market. It compensates them for 75% of the value of a healthy animal, and the £5m it gets from selling the meat recoups much of its costs.

Maff used to be responsible for food safety , but concerns over conflicts of interest and allegations that it always took the side of the industry led to the FSA being set up this year.

The ministry's rules state that meat from animals with TB can be sold if the infection is not widespread. Abattoir workers simply cut out the lung and gut where lesions occur.

Scientists, however, fear that "microlesions" - small areas of infection - may be left behind. Infected tissue may also contaminate other meat .

"This is an amazing and disturbing practice," said Professor Alimuddin Zumla, director of the centre for infectious diseases at University College London. "Maff is assuming such meat will be made safe by cooking, but people eat rare steak or even raw meat, as in steak tartare. Meat infected with a deadly disease should not be getting into the food chain ."

Inquiry call: concern over the TB virus has alarmed Brown

The investigation into bovine TB has two causes. One is a suspicion among scientists that some people are being infected from meat. The other is a surge in the number of cases of TB in cattle - up from 3,000 in 1997 to 6,000 now.

Bovine TB has identical symptoms to human TB, a separate disease that affects a further 6,000 people a year in Britain, and which is also causing concern because of a sharp rise in cases. The organisms that cause both are related and were killers until the advent of antibiotics. The diseases spread by the inhaling of droplets discharged by people or animals.

Ministers are also anxious to head off a repeat of other scandals to have rocked the beef market. In 1993, it was revealed that beef stockpiled in warehouses for up to seven years was being sold back into the food chain . That was followed by the even bigger controversy over BSE - mad cow disease - which saw the slaughter of 4.4m cows at an estimated cost of £4 billion . A government- appointed inquiry team is due to report this September.

So far, there are no signs that the incidence of bovine TB in humans has increased, but as with the human equivalent of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, years can elapse between infection and symptoms.

Dr John Watson, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Service Laboratory, said that the meat of TB cattle was known to be infectious .

This weekend the FSA confirmed that Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, has asked it to carry out an urgent investigation into the level of risk.

Robert Forster, of the National Beef Association, which represents 12,000 British beef farmers, welcomed the inquiry. He said: "The damage done through BSE means we must now be super-cautious."

Tim Lang, professor of food policy for Thames Valley University, also welcomed the new study. "For Maff to take risks in this way, with its track record of putting public health second to the interests of producers, is extremely worrying," he said.

23 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Fish 'dying because of dithering over ban'

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 23 June 2000

Cod , salmon and oysters are being poisoned by chemicals which North Sea countries agreed two years ago to ban but have since done nothing to phase out, the World Wide Fund for Nature said yesterday.

The fund criticised countries for failing to act to stop the release of 400 chemicals which they undertook to phase out over 20 years. Its attack comes as delegates from 15 countries prepare for a meeting on Ospar, the sea pollution treaty, in Copenhagen next week. The fund said studies found that the herbicide atrazine was killing salmon .

It was also discovered that chemicals found in crude oil, creosote and asphalt, known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), could kill significant numbers of cod larvae and oyster embryos. The principal source of PAH pollution is the offshore oil industry .

Dr Simon Vowles, marine pollution officer for the fund, said: "All we have seen from the governments is paperwork, dithering and delay."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said atrazine had not yet been identified as a priority chemical for phasing out. A review of PAHs was being carried out by Ospar.

20 Jun 00 - Food Safety - More checks on healthy food ads claims

James Meikle

Guardian ... Tuesday 20 June 2000

Food manufacturers face more checks on the health claims of their products and new rules about the way they label them.

A body to police a voluntary code will be announced within the next few weeks, which the industry said would make it easier for trading standards officials to prosecute wrongdoers; the Consumers' Association, however, said yesterday it would not go far enough .

It demanded EU laws requiring companies to satisfy regulators about the accuracy of claims such as "maintains strong bones" or "helps to lower cholesterol" before they could use them.

The association said there was a danger that the public were being misled by the rapidly growing market of "functional foods" worth already about £650m a year in Britain. The government's food standards agency is conducting a review of all labelling rules to see whether they are strong enough.

The row covers food and drinks which do not make specific medicinal claims to treat, prevent or cure a disease but imply they are beneficial to long-term health. The association's Sheila McKechnie said the jury was out on whether such products, even where there were provable benefits, did enough to justify their higher prices.

The latest issue of the association's Health Which? magazine assessed three products. Aviva orange juice, it said, might be beneficial for people who did not get enough calcium from dairy products and vitamin D from sunlight, but "it may be better to take a supplement and avoid the added sugar in the juice drink".

Yakult fermented milk drink introduced "friendly" bacteria into the digestive system but experts could not agree on whether this would have real health benefits. The company, which is helping to fund the new voluntary scheme on health claims, said: "We are keen to give consumers good information."

The voluntary code, agreed by the industry, trading standards officials and consumer groups, was used in evidence last month by Shropshire trading standards department which successfully prosecuted Nestlé , half the partnership in Cereal Partners, for the way it had labelled and advertised Shredded Wheat last year. The company was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £13,600 costs for "inviting the irresistible inference that eating Shredded Wheat will reduce the risk of coronary heart disease".

18 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Organic food: the facts they don't want you to know

Deborah Collcutt and Jon Ungoed-Thomas

Sunday Times ... Sunday 18 June 2000

Sales of organic food are soaring by 40% a year. But the industry's rules are a recipe for fooling consumers.

As Fernando Aldasoro surveyed his organic carrot and garlic crops in Mexico last week, he knew business was looking good. Rising demand for organic food in other countries promises him booming sales; for Britain in particular, a shortage of suitable farms means most organic goods have to be imported.

But what exactly do consumers receive in return for the high premium they pay for such produce? Under Mexican government regulations, for example, Aldasoro could put a substance called gybeleric acid on his crops - it is a growth promoter that is banned on British organic farms. He could even use human sewage - a practice also banned in this country. He is proud of upholding high standards on his farm and chooses to use neither of these methods, but there is little to stop other Mexican suppliers doing so and selling their food to Britain.

"The whole approach of organic standards is to minimise the risk of someone using chemicals, but the further afield it is , the more difficult it is to be sure what is happening," said Francis Blake, the standards and technical director of the Soil Association (SA), the leading regulator of British organic farms.

Ideally, Britain's organic farmers - who have some of the highest standards in the world - would supply the bulk of the UK market, but they cannot cope with demand that is growing by 40% a year. Nearly 80% of organic produce in the shops is now being imported.

Last week the supermarket chain Iceland announced it was switching all its vegetable sales to organic produce. To secure adequate stocks, Iceland claims to have bought up 40% of the world supply in organic vegetables.

The difficulties in finding suppliers that meet the standards consumers automatically assume are already evident. In its search for the chemical-free carrot and other vegetables, Iceland visited eastern bloc countries but found production processes in Poland, Serbia and the Czech Republic were less than desirable.

Even produce in more rigorously policed EU countries can be suspect. Organic oranges bound for the UK have been intercepted from Spain covered in pesticide , and consignments of wheat in France have been fraudulently labelled as organic.

Yet consumers largely accept the idea that if it's organic, it must be good. As she shopped at a west London store last week, Jane Tarbutt, 42, an IT systems consultant, conceded she had to take much on trust .

"I choose organic for my health and for the environment because organic food is free from pesticides ." she said. "If it doesn't come from the UK, as many products don't, the fact that it's labelled organic takes precedence over anything else."

Nick Curnow, 37, from Bayswater, west London, also admitted he had little idea of whether the produce lived up to its claims. "I don't look at where the products are from," he said, "I just trust they get them from the right place."

Most people would agree that food produced with fewer chemicals and additives has benefits for the environment and the quality of nutrition. As Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef, said: "Everybody thinks that organics is a fashionable thing, but I think it's really old-fashioned. Seventy years ago, everything was bloody organic. And the only reason it's expensive now is because you've got 90% of the country knocking up normal clobber and using sprays."

But most people also expect to get what they pay for.


In A small office in Westminster is the government body charged with regulating farming, processing, packaging and labelling of organic food grown in or brought into the UK . The United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (Ukrofs) - an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - has a permanent staff of four ; it oversees six organisations in the UK that issue the licences needed to display the label "organic".

Of these, the SA and the Organic Farmers and Growers (OFG) are the largest; they regulate most of the country's 2,287 organic farmers and 1,102 processors and importers. They admit that for imports, regulation is a haphazard process .

"Take the example of organic coffee from central America," said Blake. "The coffee is often grown by peasant farmers under a co-operative arrangement. There may be 2,000 farmers with two trees each, so it is impossible that everything is physically checked by an inspector.

"An inspector - either from the government of the country if they have an organic control department, or from a neighbouring country if they don't - will check a sample farm, look at records and issue an organic licence." Beyond that, there are few checks; when imports arrive in the UK, all that is monitored is the paperwork .

Contaminated produce does slip through , according to Tokya Dammond, chief executive of Symbio Impex, an organic producer based in Warsaw that exports fruit and vegetables to the European Union and America. While his company adheres strictly to EU regulations, he claimed: "The Serbian certification system doesn't exist. So there is a blanket certification which says that this area is too poor to buy pesticides and therefore it's organic."

Dammond claims some Serbian strawberry growers have used non-organic pesticides on their exported crops. "I do not like the situation ," he said. "The stuff is going through Holland. Germany doesn't allow direct importation from Serbia ."

Even within the more closely monitored UK system, standards are not all consumers might want them to be. The SA regulations, for example, allow farmers to give chickens 20% non-organic feed and still call them organic; the OFG regulations allow 30% non-organic feed . The SA permits organic farmers to treat animals with drugs when they are ill, a measure bitterly opposed by purists.

Last week some producers, who asked not to be named, claimed the demands of big business were gradually undermining the original aims of the organic movement . They allege that organic livestock is being reared on farms with a history of BSE ; that chickens laying organic eggs are now being debeaked to stop them pecking each other, in much the same way as battery hens; and that suppliers of organic soya can no longer be sure that their produce does not contain any genetically modified material.

The SA has recently allowed the use of sodium nitrate , a preservative linked to cancer , in organic bacon . The association says it approved the move because the chemical is more effective at preventing the spread of botulism bacteria than traditional curing methods. Critics say it has been done to extend the shelf-life of products.


Last week the Advertising Standards Authority criticised J Sainsbury, a supermarket keen to promote its organic produce, for making misleading claims . It has asked the company to delete from publicity booklets statements that no chemicals are used to produce organic food ; that it costs only "a little" more ; and is "good for you ". A month ago Tesco received similar criticism, and the ASA suggested the claim that organic food "tastes better " cannot be substantiated.

(UK Editor's note: these court cases were initiated by a MAFF stooge : a retired MAFF employee)

The companies dispute that their promotional material is misleading, but even independent food experts are divided on the benefits of going organic.

"The supermarkets are making a lot of fuss about organic food, but on many products, such as sugar, chocolate, tea and bread, it doesn't make much difference to your health if you buy organic or non-organic," said Ian Marber, a nutritional consultant. "I would, however, always buy organic meat because in non-organic livestock, the toxins and antibiotics are absorbed in the flesh."

Alison Craig, of the Pesticide Action Network UK, said: "I would always buy fruit and vegetables organically because you know they will be free from chemicals . But I would be less concerned about processed food because the residues are reduced - although they are often still there."

Simon Wright, of the Organic Consultancy, has helped Sainsbury to develop an organic gin. But even he said: "I admit it will make little difference to your health whether you drink that or a non-organic gin." The sheer quantity of alcohol you consume is likely to have a much greater effect, though Wright points out that some people will choose organic because "the ingredients used in an organic product have been grown using a method that is better for the land and better for the farm workers ".

He questions, too, the value of buying organic wine. Some of the smaller French chateaus, he says, produce wines without any chemicals, but simply have not bothered to obtain permission to label it as organic.

To head off doubts about whether organic food is worth the price, Iceland has taken the bold decision to charge no premium for its new vegetables. It is ploughing £9m into subsidising its switch. But at other supermarkets , the consumer still pays heavily for the organic label, according to a forthcoming study by Dr Anna Ross, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of the West of England.

Customers are being asked to fork out up to 70% more for organic meat, vegetables and other foods than for the ordinary equivalents, according to her research. Yet Ross claims that the average production costs of organic food are only a third higher.

In the study a basket of organic goods cost 71% more than normal produce at Tesco , 65% more at Sainsbury , 62% at Waitrose and 60% at Somerfield . Nor is it clear that prices will fall as sales rise.

Indeed, Ross believes that the opposite is true. "Supermarkets are able to exploit huge consumer demand with excessive price hikes on organic food," she said.

In fact Waitrose, which has 600 foods in its Organics range, argues that the farming industry requires the higher prices. "We need to encourage more farmers to go organic and we won't do that if we beat them down on cost," it said.

As Aldasoro surveyed his farm in Queretero last week, he hoped for progress in establishing better regulation of his industry. He is helping to set stiffer international standards for organic produce and wants to see them imposed properly. But until they arrive or British farmers can supply far more organic produce, many consumers may doubt that paying high prices for organic food delivers what they expect.

Additional reporting: Ronald Buchanan, Mexico, Mathew Day, Poland, and Ed Owen, Spain


To buy organic or not?

Clear advantages

Lettuce. Ordinary lettuce is sprayed an average of 11 times with pesticides before it reaches the kitchen table. Organic lettuce should be pesticide free, though it may have been tainted with chlorine during washing

Beef. Modern methods of rearing livestock may leave antibiotic residues in the meat

Pork. Pigs reared in the ordinary way can be given antibiotics to promote rapid growth and disease resistance

Chickens. Organically reared chickens will be free of the antibiotics fed to other poultry. (But even an organic chicken can be given some feed treated with chemicals)

Milk. Non-organic milk can contain traces of pesticides . The cattle may also be given drugs to increase production

Baby food. Organic producers are not allowed to use chemical preservatives or flavourings, whereas traces of a pesticide were found in 6% of non-organic baby foods in a government study

Soft drinks. Organic producers are not allowed to use artificial sweeteners , preservatives and colourings

Limited appeal

Apples and pears. Both can be tainted with pesticides. Washing or peeling, however, will remove much of any chemical traces

Potatoes. Organic produce contains less nitrate and lower traces of toxins such as lead

Cucumbers In some ordinary farming these may be cultivated with pest control similar to organic methods

Low benefit

Oranges. Once peeled, ordinary oranges are unlikely to have significant traces of pesticides

Lamb. British lamb is essentially free range and there is likely to be little difference between a non-organic lamb reared on the Welsh mountain-sides or an organic label - except for the price

Eggs. Few chemical residues are found in eggs. There is likely to be little difference between ordinary free range eggs and those that are additionally labelled organic

Wine. Few wines have any traces of pesticides and some producers use the same methods that have been passed down for generations.

13 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Brown backs US on hormone beef

James Meikle

Guardian ... Tuesday 13 June 2000

Britain last night continued to side with the US and Canada in their long-running trade war with the EU over the 12-year-old Europe-wide ban on the use of hormones in beef .

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, said there was no scientific justification for the ban, which also applies to imports and last year prompted tit-for-tat action, involving punitive 100% US tariffs, on selected goods from all EU countries except Britain.

The goods included French cheese and truffles, French and German mustard and chocolate and soups. The tariffs were designed to make up for trade losses totalling nearly $117m (£73m).

There is no question of Britain opting out of the EU ban but its continuing support for the US position means it is unlikely to face any retaliation for the foreseeable future.

Scientists working for the European commission have reaffirmed their view that the use of hormones in speeding up the growth of cattle and in treating their diseases does pose a threat to human health , particularly to children who have yet to reach puberty. Po tential risks include encouraging cancers and undermining the body's immune systems , they warn.

The scientists were compelled to provide new evidence by the World Trade Organisation, which said the ban had been imposed without proper risk assessments. The commission now proposes a continuing ban on six hormones to maintain a "high level of protection of public health" but says it will keep the position under "regular review".

However, government advisers on the veterinary products committee continue to dispute the verdict of their EC colleagues, who include two Britons, Richard Gilbert, the former deputy director of the public health laboratory service, and Mac Johnston, of London University's department of farm animal and equine medicine and surgery.

Mr Brown said: "Unless new scientific evidence is made available for a full evaluation by independent UK experts, the position of the government is unchanged. We do not accept that the scientific case for a ban has been made. We will, however, continue to fulfil our European obligations by enforcing the ban in the UK."

07 Jun 00 - Food Safety - Now wash your hands

James Meikle, Agriculture Correspondent

Guardian ... Wednesday 7 June 2000

The new independent food standards agency will have to resist pressure from politicians if it is to satisfy consumers' demands

The public is cynical about the pursuit of profits by the food industry and has a low opinion of the competence and openness of politicians over food. So says research commissioned by the new independent food standards agency.

This is only to be expected after a string of crises - listeria in cheese, salmonella in eggs, BSE and now genetic modification - in which the government has failed to give any impression of management or regulatory supervision. After all, distrust of the UK agriculture ministries , especially the English one , lay behind Tony Blair's decision to create the new agency in the first place.

Yet the same research shows that people do have confidence in food they eat. They trust the supermarkets more than small shopkeepers, discount stores or markets. The public perception is that people do not generally fall ill and that the regulatory system works.

At the same time, the research, by Cragg Ross Dawson, reveals concerns about the factory farm conditions in which poultry are raised, the content of animal feed for other livestock and the effect of pesticides and chemicals on fruit and vegetables. "The big retailers and established brands are widely trusted, yet people feel many of their anxieties are a consequence of the industrialisation of farming and commercialisation of food distribution."

In other words, the messages are mixed. This ambiguity would be challenge enough for the agency, which has now been in existence for two months. More worrying is the evidence from group discussions just weeks before it began of widespread suspicion about how it will work. "The success of the agency will be judged by many on the impossibly challenging criterion of how many food scares have been averted."

The new agency has been busy. It announced compulsory licensing of butchers, launched a review of labelling standards and declared its readiness to "name and shame" companies which fail to meet those standards. Its board meetings are being held in public, and there are numerous forums planned where the public's worries can be aired. Its chairman, Sir John Krebs, and deputy chairwoman, Suzi Leather, are travelling the country to demonstrate their openness.

Would such energy had been shown when it emerged that farmers had unwittingly planted conventional rapeseed contaminated with GM material. The Cabinet Office, responsible for GM policy and presentation, quickly fled the scene, leaving the flak to be taken once more by the poor old Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF), although the Department of the Environment and the Environment Agency have not been above criticism here.

The food safety agency found out about the mistake weeks after MAFF was informed by the company involved and quickly cleared the crop . It behaved like any old government advisory body . Sir John did warn that consumers needed to have confidence in products described as coming from GM-free sources. But as head of an independent body he ought to have gone in far harder for the poor consumer. One hopes that behind the scenes he was a lot more cross. In future he will need to be more "political" with politicians who will blame future failures of food policy on his agency.

It faces other tests, not least the food industry's reaction to its wish for new codes on television advertising of junk food and on labelling - claims such as "country-style" or "fat-free". The government wants less red tape, more self-policing; Sir John and colleagues do not think such arrangements have been totally successful.

How statistics are used and risks managed are among the agency's other tough assignments. Food poisoning figures , for instance, are notoriously unreliable - we cannot be sure how real is the reported increase. Salmonella infections, now apparently under control thanks to improvements in poultry rearing, may be more than twice as prevalent as reported . And campylobacter , a more worrying problem, may be nearly eight times worse than reported figures show. Food poisoning is officially "any disease of an infectious or toxic nature caused by or thought to be caused by consumption of food or water", an incredibly wide definition that could include cases of the human form of BSE.

A row similar to that over beef on the bone may soon erupt over E coli 0157 , the vicious bug that can kill children, elderly people and those with weak immune systems. Scientists are worried at the number of outbreaks connected with land recently used for pasturing animals. Some have even suggested bans on rock concerts, fairs, markets, picnics or scout camps on such land, which can harbour the bug for months. Should young children be stopped from going on farm visits? Though often food-borne, E coli may spread without food being involved at all. A hand that touched animals, their dung or even simply soil might be enough. Should the food agency get involved? Perhaps public health warnings by event organisers and more washing facilities (imposing a cost that could scupper events anyway) will be enough.

The agency's success depends on how it resolves such issues. As Suzi Leather put it last week: "We have to get across the message that science progresses through disagreement. If no one challenges anything, we don't move forward. We have to be prepared to say 'We don't know'."

19 May 00 - Food Safety - Britain steps out of line on incinerators

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

Guardian ... Friday 19 May 2000

Europe is moving to phase out the building of huge incinerators just as Britain is planning a new chain across the country as part of the government's waste strategy, Ludwig Kraemer, head of the EU waste management directorate, revealed last night.

"In France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany and Portugal no more new incinerators are being built because the public will not stand for them .

"They are treated in the same way as nuclear power stations - people no longer want them ," he said.

Mr Kraemer said concerns about public health and traffic congestion and pollution caused by the lorries required to deliver hundreds of thousands of tons of waste to each incinerator had turned the public against them .

"Once they are built we are talking about creating waste streams for the next 25 years to keep the incinerators going," he said.

His warning follows revelations from the United States that Britain's new generation of incinerators could pose a cancer threat to local residents .

Mr Kraemer's comments will put more pressure on Michael Meacher , the environment minister, to justify plans to build incinerators across the country.

He is already under pressure from the Downing Street policy unit and the Cabinet Office to modify a policy that could cost Labour votes in its heartland seats and among many of the people who switched to Labour in the south-east of England.

Mr Meacher yesterday ordered the early publication of the government's revised waste strategy after a last minute tussle with his civil servants over increasing the amount of recycling programmes at the expense of planned incinerators.

Civil servants have been lobbied by the waste industry to increase incineration, but Mr Meacher secured last minute changes before the paper went to the printers.

Mr Kraemer, who oversees waste policies across the EU, said he hoped Britain would adopt recycling as its main way to dispose of waste. At present 70% of Britain's waste is dumped in landfill sites and less than 9% is recycled.

Britain's proposals are expected to split the disposal of waste three ways - through landfill dumps, recycling and burning.

19 May 00 - Food Safety - EPA Links Dioxin to Cancer

By Cindy Skrzycki and Joby Warrick

Washington Post ... Friday 19 May 2000

Exposure to dioxin occurs over a lifetime, and the danger is cumulative .

The Clinton administration is preparing to dramatically raise its estimate of health threats from dioxin, citing new evidence of cancer risk from exposure to the highly toxic chemical compound.

A draft of a long-awaited report by the Environmental Protection Agency concludes for the first time that dioxin is a "human carcinogen ." The report notes that emissions of dioxin have plummeted from their peak levels in the 1970s but still pose a significant cancer threat to some people who ingest the chemical through foods in a normal diet.

Dioxin comes from both natural and industrial sources, such as medical and municipal waste incineration and paper-pulp production . The chemical enters the food chain when animals eat contaminated plants. Dioxin then accumulates in the fat of mammals and fish. It has been linked to several cancers in humans, including lymphomas and lung cancer.

For a small segment of the population who eat large amounts of fatty foods, such as meats and dairy products that are relatively high in dioxins, the odds of developing cancer could be as high as 1 in 100 , the report says. That estimate places the risk 10 times as high as the EPA's previous projections.

The report, obtained by The Washington Post, links low-grade exposure to dioxin to a wide array of other health problems, including diabetes as well as developmental defects in babies and children. It also concludes that children's dioxin intake is proportionally much higher than adults' because of the presence of the chemical in dairy products and even breast milk.

"It's the Darth Vader of toxic chemicals because it affects so many systems [of the body]," said Richard Clapp, a cancer epidemiologist at Boston University's School of Public Health. "The amounts are coming down, but even small amounts are harmful ."

The EPA's draft assessment, if finalized in its current form, would solidify dioxin's status as one of the most potent chemical toxins known to science .

Although the risk from dioxin varies widely - and may be nearly zero for many people - the findings suggest that dioxin already contributes to a significant number of cancer deaths each year. Environmentalists, extrapolating from the EPA's risk findings, have estimated that about 100 of the roughly 1,400 cancer deaths occurring daily in the United States are attributable to dioxin .

Officials predicted yesterday that the report would stimulate many questions about the safety of the food supply. Administration officials said, however, that the higher dioxin risks should not discourage people from eating nutritious foods and following dietary guidelines emphasizing low-fat foods. The report stressed that mothers should continue to breast-feed because the benefits far outweigh the risk of dioxin exposure.

In an indication of the potentially far-reaching implications of the report, the White House has intervened in an unusual way to coordinate its release. The report is scheduled to be released in June and will be evaluated by scientific reviewers.

It's not clear that the findings will lead to new regulations on dioxin emissions, but EPA briefing papers discussed several strategies for reducing human exposure to the chemical, including better monitoring.

The findings came as a surprise even to EPA policymakers who have tracked slowly falling levels of dioxin in the environment - the result of a series of tough new regulations on dioxin-emitting industries. The EPA said industrial emissions of dioxins have been reduced some 80 percent between 1987 and 1995.

"We're heading in the right direction because we're seeing dioxin levels decrease," said one administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But while dioxin levels in the population are declining, "our ability to understand the risk has improved," the official said.

Dioxin came to public attention as the contaminant in Agent Orange, a controversial herbicide used by U.S. forces in Vietnam. In 1983, the EPA forced the evacuation and demolition of the entire town of Times Beach, Mo., after the discovering of dioxin contamination on city streets.

Industry scientists have long accused the EPA of overstating the threat from dioxin, and many believed the agency's review would result in a downgrading of the official risk estimate.

C.T. Kip Howlett, vice president and executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council, said the EPA has a conservative view of the health risks of dioxin and they are "out of sync" with the rest of the world's view on safe levels of the chemical. Howlett said the agency "has a real problem on it's hands" in expressing apocalyptic concern about dioxin, while also stressing that the food supply is safe, breast feeding is the right thing to do and regulatory initiatives are working.

"There are a lot of things in this report that are counterintuitive to what the facts are," Howlett said.

Keith Holman, chief regulatory counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said no industry wants to produce dioxin - which is an unintended by-product of combustion - "but let's make sure we have sound science before we regulate down to a zero level where its clearly not warranted."

Environmentalists supported the EPA's findings but raised concerns that the agency would use falling dioxin levels as an excuse to delay any further tightening of regulations to control dioxins.

"They seem to be taking a triage approach, not worrying about emissions but dietary exposures of human beings," said Rick Hind of Greenpeace International's toxics program. "That suggests they can't walk and chew gun at the same time."

The agency's understanding of dioxin has improved since the agency began in-depth studies in 1991, and this installment is particularly important because it includes results of landmark human epidemiological studies from Europe and the United States .

In a briefing to EPA managers on May 10, the agency said it expected "many stakeholders to take dramatic action when the draft reassessment is released," and pressure from other interests given the "extraordinary" findings of the reassessment.

For the first time, the agency's draft report classifies the most potent form of dioxin - 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) - as a "human carcinogen," a step above the previous ranking of "probable carcinogen." More than 100 other dioxin-like compounds were classified as "likely" human carcinogens.

Over the past five years, the EPA has imposed regulations on major dioxin emitters , including municipal waste combustors , medical waste incinerators , hazardous waste incinerators , cement kilns that burn hazardous waste, pulp and paper operations, and sources of PCBs.

When those regulations become fully effective over the next few years, the agency expects further declines of dioxin levels.

"We still have a certain amount of dioxin circulating in the environment. We need to focus on the idea of reducing exposure and not simply going after all sources to the environment," said one administration official.

One source likely to be targeted is uncontrolled residential waste burning, such as burning trash in back yards, particularly in rural areas, EPA briefing papers said. Such burning is "one of the largest unaddressed dioxin sources and one that could have a disproportionally large contribution to the food supply."

The agency also is discussing the possible regulation of other sources such as sludge disposal from privately owned waste-treatment facilities and the regulation of other air sources of pollution.

Sources said that there have been lengthy discussions at the EPA on how to release the report and answer questions stemming from it.

Several federal agencies have been involved in the preparation of the report and are expected to participate in the review of it. Agencies such as the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Food Safety Council, are readying their own responses to questions about the safety of the food supply, advice on following the dietary guidelines and breast feeding.

"People were not expecting this was an issue they had to deal with," an administration official said. "Over the last eight years there have been regulations that have already cut dioxin emissions from the most likely sources."

18 May 00 - Food Safety - Incinerator cancer threat revealed

Sarah Boseley, John Vidal and Julian Borger in Washington

Guardian ... Thursday 18 May 2000

Dioxins from waste burning and industry far more dangerous than was thought

Dioxins, the highly toxic chemicals produced by waste incineration and industrial processes which tests have shown to be lingering in the bodies of people all over the planet, have been identified as the cause of many cancers in a new report from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

A draft of the EPA report, leaked yesterday to the Washington Post, has taken the US by surprise and is likely to send shockwaves throughout the rest of the world, forcing an upgrade in the assessment of the hazard posed by dioxins. It had been thought that the risk was diminishing because levels of the chemicals in the environment were dropping.

The report will fuel mounting opposition in communities across Britain to a new generation of up to 160 major waste incinerators that the government is expected to encourage over the next 20 years.

Dioxins are chemical compounds unintentionally released by incinerators burning sewage sludge and household, hazardous and medical waste . They are also released in industrial processes such as steel making.

Among the most poisonous man-made chemicals , they accumulate in fat and milk and work their way up the food chain. Even low-level exposure is known to interfere with the immune , reproductive and endocrine systems. The latter is involved in the secretion of hormones. Dioxins also effect the early growth and development of humans and animals.

By far the greatest dioxin producer in Britain , according to the Environment Agency, is British Steel , whose works at Llanwern, Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Teesside pump out almost as many dioxins as the next 15 most polluting companies.

That dioxins are already widely present in the environment and food supplies of all industrialised countries is well-known, but evidence has been slowly accumulating about how widespread and carcinogenic some are. Yesterday's EPA report is remarkably similar to a more low key report from a group of German scientists, which last year concluded that dioxins might be responsible for 12% of human cancers in industrialised countries.

The British government is gradually accepting that dioxins pose real health threats .

In 1994, the Department of Health published a report saying that "despite insufficient evidence for clear causal links", it would be prudent to regard dioxins as possible human carcinogens".

Health hazard

The proposed incineration plants will be needed, it is claimed, to handle the growing mountains of household waste that the EU is banning from landfill sites. In response to the EU directive, the government is expected to announce that by 2020 it will recycle a third of household waste and burn a third.

Some communities are already arguing that these incinerators will pose a health hazard and that money should be spent on more expensive recycling and composting schemes.

Such alternatives, say Friends of the Earth, would be popular, provide more jobs and be easy for people to understand. They say that £250m collected yearly in waste tax could be used to build new recycling centres.

Chris Pilbury, who works with a coalition of 25 community groups in north-east Wales that oppose a massive proposed incinerator and cement kiln expansion scheme near Wrexham, said: "People will not tolerate these risks. Feelings are running high and this report con firms that we are right to to be concerned."

The document, nine years in preparation, says that for those who eat large amounts of fatty meat and dairy produce the risk - on top of any others they may be exposed to - of getting cancer could be as high as one in 100 .

Yesterday the EPA said that at least one scientist involved disputed the statistic and that there was a possibility it would be amended before official publication in June. But there will be no dilution of the message of acute concern about dioxins in the report, which for the first time names the most toxic of the group, TCDD (the infamous Agent Orange of Vietnam) as a human carcinogen.

In 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorised TCDD as a "known human carcinogen" after analysing the epidemiological evidence. In 1998, the World Health Organisation decided to slash the safe level for human exposure. Even at the new level of between one and four picograms per kilogram of body weight (a picogram is a millionth of a millionth of a gram) - they were still anxious that "subtle effects may already occur in the general population in developed countries".

Cancer is not the only worry, and other health damage from dioxins has been slightly easier to substantiate. The EPA report will link low-grade dioxin exposure to a variety of problems, including hormonal changes and developmental defects in babies. It states: "It is likely that part of the general population is at, or near, exposure levels where adverse effects can be anticipated."

Risk to babies

Rick Hind, the legislative director for Greenpeace's toxics campaign, which yesterday wrote to the EPA demanding a Dioxin emergency action plan , said: "This means that dioxin levels in the bodies of newborn babies are already at levels that put them at risk of serious illness."

There have been concerns for some time about the high levels of dioxins in human breast milk , although environmental and health groups continue to urge women that the risks do not outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding.

Experts from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) in London yesterday agreed that dioxins were a cause of anxiety .

"We know that dioxins are in general highly toxic and can cause cancer," said Tim Key of the ICRF cancer epidemiology unit in Oxford. But more is unknown than known.

"The whole area is full of uncertainty and particularly in relation to cancer," said Lesley Walker of the CRC.

18 May 00 - Food Safety - Pressure builds on Meacher as waste strategy is held up again

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

Guardian ... Thursday 18 May 2000

Lleaked documents linking incinerators to cancer are a stick of dynamite under Michael Meacher, the minister responsible for announcing the government's new waste strategy .

The policy was to have been announced last month but was postponed for revision by the Downing Street policy unit after the Guardian revealed huge shortcomings in the £1bn landfill tax, Britain's first green tax.

Downing Street's other big concern was over the plans to build up to 165 incinerators across the country, to replace the landfill dumping that has given Britain the reputation for being "the dirty man of Europe". It wanted greater emphasis onrecycling - and far fewer incinerators.

The policy unit also foresaw Labour facing growing protests , and many of the earmarked sites, in places including Moss Side in Manchester and Byker in Newcastle-on-Tyne, are in "heartland territory".

Downing Street's top policy adviser on waste strategy, Geoff Mulgan, will find his fears justified by these revelations and Mr Meacher is already telling reluctant civil servants in the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions to get on with rewriting the report.

The minister is known to be expressing doubts about the excessive building of incinerators. At one stage he promised to call in all plans for new incinerators for a public inquiry. But he was swiftly overruled by Nick Raynsford, the planning minister.

Yet concern among ministers is growing , particularly among those who face having incinerators built on their doorsteps . Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, whose constituency faces a major expansion of the Byker "energy from waste" plant, has demanded reports from the environment agency and the public health authorities on the dangers of dioxin emissions from the existing plant.

Mr Brown - a long-standing sceptic of the once-environmentally fashionable energy from waste policy - is worried that his constituents who live cheek by jowl to the plant could face health problems .

The removal of more than 2,000 tonnes of poisoned ash from the plant , which had been spread on footpaths and allotments by Newcastle council, has added to his fears. The American findings make it worse .

Support for a limited programme of incinerators comes from Mr Raynsford, who has one incinerator in his Greenwich constituency. He is sceptical of scientific findings suggesting health hazards, and believes that tough standards to be imposed by the EU to clean up emissions should protect the public.

As a former minister for London he clashed with Nicky Gavron, now Labour's deputy mayor, when she proposed a moratorium on all new incinerators for London.

In her new job she has made it clear she intends to implement that policy - and the US findings will give her ammunition against plans for new incinerators and an expanded incinerator at Edmonton in north London.

18 May 00 - Food Safety - False E. coli test cost thousands, says chain store

By Oliver Wright

Times ... Thursday 18 May 2000

A supermarket chain was forced to throw away hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of organic mushrooms after tests wrongly suggested that they contained E. coli O157.

Tesco took organic mushrooms off the shelves from 731 stores at the weekend after routine tests by the Public Health Laboratory Service showed the "possible presence" of the potentially deadly food-poisoning bacterium . The service admitted yesterday that the tests had been mistaken and launched an investigation into the error .

A spokesman said: "The PHLS has been conducting further detailed confirmatory tests on the E.coli O157 bacterium which preliminary tests indicated as being present in Tesco's organic mushrooms.

"The confirmation of preliminary results in this way is an essential part of the routine PHLS protocols for such tests. These detailed confirmatory tests now indicate that the bacterium was not, in fact, present in the mushrooms while they were on sale in the shop. There is absolutely no risk to public health from this incident.

"Tesco are to be commended for acting so quickly in response to the preliminary findings of what appeared to be a contaminated food product."

A spokesman for Tesco said: "We were very surprised by the results of the initial PHLS tests because of the strict safety and hygiene codes that Tesco suppliers follow, and because they were different from our own tests.

"However, food safety must always be our top priority so we immediately removed the organic mushrooms from sale in all 656 Tesco stores in the UK, and 75 stores in the Republic of Ireland."

The spokesman said that the removal of the mushrooms from stores had cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. "Given the inconvenience suffered by our customers and organic mushroom suppliers, we are disappointed that the tests weren't properly conducted, though food safety will still always be our priority," he said.

17 May 00 - Food Safety - Scotchgard to halt production of sprays

By Nick Mead

Independent ... Wednesday 17 May 2000

The American company 3M announced yesterday it is to stop making Scotchgard stainresistant sprays after tests revealed that chemical compounds in the products linger in the environment and human body for several years .

Tests have shown that perfluorooctanyl chemical compounds used in the products, which are used in the UK to make carpets and furniture stain-resistant, are now widespread in the general environment where they stay for a number of years before being broken down. Medical monitoring of employees at 3M's factory in Antwerp, Belgium, which makes Scotchgard products for the European market, found small quantities of the chemical compounds present in tissue samples .

The company's tests have also shown "minute traces" of the compounds in the general population around the world, including Britain. There are no adverse health or environmental effects from perfluorooctanyl chemicals, 3M stressed.

All Scotchgard products, which have been manufactured using perfluorooctanyl chemistry for the past 40 years, will be phased out over the next six months.

11 May 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl blight still not over

By Nigel Hawkes

Times ... Thursday 11 May 2000

British sheep farmers face a further ten to 15 years of restrictions because of pollution from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Since their farms were polluted with radiation they have been unable to move or sell their sheep freely, as the animals have picked up radioactive caesium from grass.

The 388 farmers still affected were told originally that restrictions would last months. But yesterday scientists said that caesium levels have fallen far more slowly than expected.

A team led by Dr Jim Smith of the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology in Dorchester reports in Nature that assumptions about how caesium would be trapped by the soil have turned out to be wrong.

In some areas of the former Soviet Union berries, mushrooms and fish will be affected for at least a further 50 years.

11 May 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl fallout still affecting upland farms

By Roger Highfield

Telegraph ... Thursday 11 May 2000

The restrictions placed on British farms after the world's worst nuclear accident may have to remain for another 15 years in some places - more than 100 times longer than first expected.

As a result of radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in 1986, restrictions were placed on 5,100 holdings in Wales , 2,144 in Scotland and 1,670 in Cumbria .

Restrictions remain on 389 upland farms - grazed by about 232,000 sheep - and will probably be in force for years to come , according to a study published today in the journal Nature.

Dr Jim Smith, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Dorchester, said vegetation, water and fish samples from Cumbria indicated that foodstuffs would be "contaminated for much longer than initially expected".

Dr Smith said: "The actual health risks of these contamination levels are very smal. The restrictions are in place to protect people from these small health risks and ensure public confidence that food products are safe."

07 May 00 - Food Safety - Anti-depressants get into water system

Roger Dobson

Sunday Times ... Sunday 07 May 2000

An investigation is to be launched into the environmental effects of pharmaceuticals amid new fears that tons of anti- depressants and scores of other toxic drugs are polluting rivers , threatening fish life and getting into drinking water.

Pharmaceutical companies are being given until the end of the year to supply data on their drugs to the Environment Agency so their impact can be researched.

Scientists in Europe have discovered that increasing numbers of complex drugs - including heart medication, anti-depressants, anti-epileptics, anti-cancer chemicals, cholesterol-lowering medicines, sex hormones, antibiotics, hormone replacement, aspirin, vitamins and ibuprofen - are surviving the human digestive system , passing through sewage works and entering rivers and the sea.

Dr Thomas Ternes, of Germany's Institute for Water Research, carried out sampling at one sewage works outfall and found 36 different drugs, plus five other compounds that had been metabolised from them before they left the patient.

Scientists are blaming the drug pollution for some of the widespread and until now unexplained mass deaths of tiny aquatic organisms. Some drugs, especially anti-depressants, have also been found to alter sperm levels and spawning patterns in aquatic life. Musks and chemicals used in perfumes, and compounds from suntan lotion, have been found to have accumulated in fish.

Each year in Britain about 600m prescription drugs and medicines are dispensed.

Most of the research on environmental effects on drugs in rivers has been done in Germany and Denmark; little has been carried out in Britain.

However, later this month at a world congress of scientists in Brighton, the Environment Agency will lay down the timetable for an investigation into the effects of the drugs.

"We have commissioned a review, which is due to be completed within the next two weeks. There is limited data in Britain about this issue and we don't routinely monitor," said Dr Steve Killeen, head of chemistry at the agency.

"The report will make a series of recommendations, including getting the pharmaceutical industry to provide us with better information by the end of the year. If we find that levels of drugs are causing environmental damage, regulations are an option open to us."

Stricter regulations could involve the need for more complex sewage works to screen out the chemical compounds.

A conference to be held in America next month will also attempt to quantify the problem for the first time.

"Just about everything people put into their mouth eventually gets into the water," said Dr Christian Daughton, chief of environmental chemistry for the US Environmental Protection Agency.

"Serotonin , for example, has been used to induce spawning in molluscs. Many anti-depressants which are ending up in rivers are designed to interfere with serotonin production in humans and may affect spawning," he said.

"Pharmaceuticals are perhaps also one of the reasons for unexplained mass die-offs in some organisms that we see from time to time."

02 May 00 - Food Safety - Deadly heart disease found at salmon farms

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Correspondent

Telegraph ... Tuesday 01 May 2000

A serious new disease has been found in salmon on Scottish salmon farms. The disease, cardiomyopathy syndrome (CMS) , produces heart failure in the fish.

Although CMS presents no threat to humans (UK Correspondents note: as they said about BSE for a decade!) it is invariably fatal to the fish as there is no known treatment. It has been found in one and possibly two Scottish farms: in the first case, where it has been positively identified, it wiped out 60 per cent of a stock of 27,000 large adult salmon in a west coast sea loch over five weeks, with the remainder having to be destroyed at a cost of many thousands of pounds.

The outbreak of CMS in Britain is reported for the first time in the current edition of The Veterinary Record. It is the third of a trio of severe disorders of farmed salmon that have occurred first in Norway, where salmon farming was pioneered, before turning up in Scotland. The other two, sea-lice infestation and infectious salmon anaemia , are now established in Scotland and have caused serious economic and environmental problems.

CMS itself is "probably one of the most serious diseases in some fish farming areas of Norway", where more than 100 farms have been affected, according to the authors of the Veterinary Record paper, Hamish Rodger and Tom Turnbull.

Dr Rodger, formerly of the University of Stirling and now at the University of Pennsylvania, and Mr Turnbull, an aquaculture vet for a big Scottish salmon-farming company, examined eight fish from the west coast sea loch incident, which occurred in December 1997 and January 1998. They found them to have symptoms indicating CMS, including bulging eyes , pitting of the skin , haemorrhaging of the stomach and heart abnormalities .

Tissue samples of fish from a second farm, which was experiencing significant mortalities", displayed similar symptoms, they report.

Dr Rodger said at the weekend that it was too early to say whether CMS presented a serious economic threat to the Scottish salmon farming industry. "But if there were more cases, it would be," he said.

Gordon Rae, technical director of Scottish Quality Salmon, the trade association for most of the industry, said there had been no further reports of CMS since the incidents described. "There is no cause for concern," he said.

What is not known is how CMS arises but an infectious agent is strongly suspected, although none has been detected so far. Dr Rodger said the cause was possibly a virus carried by salmon, which was harmless in wild fish but became malignant in the more stressed conditions of salmon farming. "There is no known treatment because we don't know exactly what we're dealing with," he said.

The £260m Scottish salmon farming industry, mainly based in the Highlands and Islands region, employs 6,500 people and produces 120,000 tonnes of fish a year.

Salmon fishermen are angry at disease spreading to wild fish from the farm cages, in particular infestation with sea lice. Last year Professor David Mackay of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency said it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that sea lice damage from farm cages could be very serious to wild fish.

Infectious salmon anaemia, which broke out in farm cages two years ago, is also fatal but even more serious in its environmental effects as it can spread into wild fish populations, as it is now believed to be doing in Scotland. Farms where it has occurred have had to destroy their stocks and go into quarantine .

But there was no evidence that CMS could spread into wild fish, Dr Rodger said.

23 Apr 00 - Food Safety - Paris 'speakeasy' restaurant defies EU food bans

By Julian Coman in Paris

Telegraph ... Sunday 23 April 2000

Hidden away in an unfashionable corner of Paris, a clandestine restaurant is defying the edicts of Brussels by serving food long banned by the European Union.

Le Coin de Verre, buried in the eastern district of Belleville, does not advertise. From the outside, it appears to be permanently closed. A forbidding grill covers its entrance and behind the front door, ancient drawn curtains suggest a gambling den or even a brothel. But the rules broken here are all to do with food. The restaurant, which attracts its clients through word of mouth, is the headquarters of Appetit - a culinary resistance movement dedicated to flouting EU regulations on food safety in the name of traditional methods and good taste.

The owner, Hugues Calliger, said: "Appetit is the abbreviated French acronym for the Association for the Protection of Traditional European Products Against the Imbecilities of National and International Technocrats. Brussels is so obsessed with hygiene and food safety that it is taking the fun and savour out of national and regional produce. In this restaurant we give people back the opportunity to make up their own minds." The establishment can trace its inspiration back to the underground speakeasy bars of the Prohibition era in the United States.

Beef on the bone takes pride of place on the menu, alongside an interesting, but illegal, Corsican cheese infested with worms . All cheeses sold are teeming with outlawed microbes, which thrive on unpasteurised milk . The wine, untainted by chemical addition, and the charcuterie - beef, veal and hams unseen by inspectors - is sold direct to the restaurant by small producers across France. As he repeatedly filled my glass with an untreated Rasteau wine from the Côte du Rhone, he assured me there would be no ill-effects. He said: "This is association wine. No chemicals and no headache the next day."

Then he gave me a delicious plate of andouillettes - small pieces of sausage. M Calliger said: "Full of illegal microbes and all the better for it. Whoever said food should be pure anyway? This is the way our grandfathers ate it and it's the way we should eat it." As we moved on to another bottle of association red, this time from the Loire, the notion of risky eating combined with hangover-free drinking had gained a grip. The more exotic and politically incorrect a product is, the more delighted M Calliger is to put it on his menu.

The controversial delicacy of foie gras is only missing because of its expense - the owners of Le Coin de Verre want their culinary treats to remain affordable. There may be a risk, says M Calliger, but there is also a better taste. "At Appetit we want food to be treated like a tobacco. Risky food should be marked and labelled. Then people should be free to eat it if they choose. The food safety legislation coming from Brussels aims at zero risk, but they should remember an old French proverb: Le mieux est l'enemi du bien ['Perfection is the enemy of the good')."

After difficult early days, when a lack of advertising meant a lack of customers, the restaurant is now full every night . Chantal Le Boru, a sales director for Loreal and a recent convert to Le Coin de Verre, had just enjoyed some Basque veal and Corsican cheese , along with half a bottle of untreated Lussac St Emilion red. She said: "The people here don't give a damn about what Brussels says. This is a place where you can get away from the standardisation of food taking place everywhere in Europe. And you can taste the difference. What do rules matter when food tastes like this?"

Her friend, Monique Stimplfling, added: "The English are Euro-sceptic, but they don't really care about food. When the French are Euro-sceptic it's because of food." The next stage of the battle against the imbecilities of international technocrats will take place on-line. An Appetit internet site will soon be launched, allowing small producers to sell directly. Michel Huvey, M Calliger's colleague, said: "That'll be the way around Brussels for anyone who wants to use it."

However sophisticated Appetit's methods become, there will always be the risk of a raid by food inspectors on Le Coin de Verre. But M Calliger shrugs off the threat. "I'd be prepared to go to prison if I had to. The reason I started this whole movement was because of a lady called Madame Piccot who sold a marvellous cheese, Tomme de Savoie, for 20 years in the Haut-Savoie. Because of the cost of new safety regulations she went bust and now she cuts cheese in a supermarket for a living. It's in honour of people like her that I founded this place."

To round off, a plate of cheeses was brought before me. M Calliger said: "Unpasteurised milk . That's the key to a fine-tasting cheese." At his insistence I tried a piece of Tomme de Savoie - something like an Italian pecorino. It may have been the untreated wine, but it tasted very fine indeed.

03 Apr 00 - Food Safety - Food agency 'must not reveal trade secrets'

By David Brown Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Monday 3 April 2000

The Food Standards Agency, launched today, must not allow its policy of openness to jeopardise confidential company information , the Food and Drink Federation said last night.

The decision to set up the agency was taken after the BSE beef crisis. Michael Mackenzie, the director-general of the federation, which represents Britain's main food companies, said: "Consumers now have a source of independent advice about all aspects of food safety. We will do whatever we can do to support its endeavour to restore public confidence in the safety of the food supply."

He wanted "an effective and open system of controls". He said: "With transparency there must be corresponding responsibility within the system and respect for confidential information ."

Any new regulations must also be based on "sound science and agreed conclusions". Sir John Krebs, head of the agency, has pledged to put the consumer first, to make the agency accessible and to be strictly independent.

(UK Editor's Note: An exemplar of the "confidential" information to be with-held from the public is the names of the pharmaceutical companies who continued to issue BSE contaminated vaccines in the early 90s. The names are with-held to protect the guilty and maintain the corrupt and contaminated relationship between MAFF and it's agri-chemical-pharmaceutical clients.)