BSE fear for millions of British pets
Owners of pets seek BSE answers
72 house cats down from BSE
Cat food fears
Ministry did work with BSE tester Narang
Plan to destroy BSE carcasses by microwave
Two billlion allocated for BSE

BSE fear for millions of British pets


A change in government policy suggests that millions of British domestic cats are being fed BSE-contaminated food. A minister has announced a ban on all production of pet food in any building used for the manufacture of livestock feed.

Angela Browning, an agriculture minister, has confirmed to the Commons in a written reply that mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) - powdered residue from culled and rendered cattle - is used in pet food. But she has also told Martyn Jones, a microbiologist and Labour MP: 'Because of our concerns that pet food containing MBM might present a possible risk of cross-contamination of livestock feed, new measures to prevent this were introduced on 1 August.'

'The Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy order 1996 now prohibits the production of this material (pet food containing MBM) on the same premises as livestock feed unless this takes place in a separate building and there is no contact with equipment or vehicles used in the production of livestock feed'

Mr Jones said last night: 'This is an astounding revelation. This stuff is so risky that they are not even allowed to bury it. Instead, they are getting rid of it by passing it on to pet food manufacturers. 'It is probably being used in every cat food, as a filler - duck, liver, tuna, you name it. The Government is quite clearly trying to get out of a hole by getting rid of it in this way.'

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman said last night that there was no risk to household pets from MBM in pet food 'because they are meat-eaters'. But a Commons select committee investigation into BSE was told in April that 72 cats had tested positive for a form of spongiform encephalopathy.

The committee was also told that while the high-risk specified bovine material - such as spinal cord - would be incinerated, 'sides of meat will be rendered into meat and bone meal which will then be disposed of, either by landfill or incineration.' There was no mention of MBM being used in pet food.

Mr Jones asked Mrs Browning earlier this week how much MBM from bovine sources was being used in pet food, and the minister told him that no figures were available. The spokesman said: 'You will have to ask the manufacturers.'

But the August ban on joint pet food and livestock feed manufacture also required 'that all movements and use of MBM have to be recorded and accompanied by appropriate documentation.'

Mr Jones said he was dismayed by the ministry response 'They have claimed from day one of this BSE crisis that it was caused by meat and bone meal. We also know that cats can be infected. He added: 'If the risk is so great, why are they feeding it to our pets?'

Owners of pets seek BSE answers

Pet food manufacturers denied yesterday that their products might be contaminated with BSE, but the MP who first raised the fears insisted that important safety questions had not been answered.

The Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA), whose members sold a billion pounds' worth of cat and dog foods last year, said that the suggestion by MartynJones, a microbiologist and Labour MP, that BSE-infected 'meat and bone meal' (MBM) - produced from grinding down cattle carcasses - could end up in pet food was 'a misunderstanding'.

Anxious pet owners inundated the RSPCA and the PFMA with calls yesterday, seeking advice. Under a government order, pet food containing MBM may not be prepared on the same premises as food for cattle or sheep. But the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) said yesterday that this was done to avoid cattle being fed meat remains, and that it did not imply that MBM might be contaminated with BSE.

However, the measure has clearly been taken so that there is no possibility of BSE-infected products being passed back into cattle feed. This 'recycling' is believed to have caused the original epidemic, which has so far led to almost 164,000 cases of BSE being diagnosed, and an estimated 700,000 cattle which were developing the disease being passed as fit for human consumption. MBM is made from such cattle. The agent that causes BSE is not killed by the manufacturing process.

Dogs appear to be immune to BSE, but cats have developed a version, called feline spongiform encepalopathy (FSE). Since the first case was identified in 1990, 71 FSE cases have been reported, all in the UK. But there has been a sharp decline in cases: last year there were eight, but this year there has been just one. This fall mirrors the BSE epidemic, whichin 1992 saw 36,000 cases in cattle. So far this year there have been 5,219 cases.

Mr Jones said yesterday that a number of questions remained unanswered about the material being used in petfood. 'Some petfood representatives have said that I have accepted that I misunderstood the situation. That is not true. Having spoken to them, there are still questions to be answered.'

Cat food fears


Sir: If the mammalian meat and bone meal in cat food could pass BSE to livestock feed simply by being in the same building ('BSE fear for millions of British pets', 16 October), what about human feed in cat-owners' kitchens?

   Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
   Leader 19

Ministry did work with BSE tester


Sir: Dr Grant's letter (11 October) suggests that the Ministry has persistently refused to co-operate with Dr Narang on the development of tests for BSE. This is simply not true.

In 1990, Maff assisted Dr Narang with trials to validate a test on brain sections he had developed at that time. It was not taken any further because theresults did not show it to be significantly better than other tests already available.

Since then Dr Narang has developed a diagnostic test on urine for BSE. Far from refusing to co-operate with Dr Narang we are in discussion with him regarding a trial to see whether his new test works, under the scrutiny of an independent observer. We would hope to reach agreement with Dr Narang in the near future. The results of the trial should be published once complete.

   Chief Veterinary Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
   Surbiton, Surrey

Plan to destroy BSE carcasses by microwave

By Greg Neale, Environment Correspondent

Sunday Telegraph ... Sunday 20 October 1996

Cattle carcasses could be destroyed in mobile microwave ovens, according to plans being studied by the Ministry of Agriculture as it attempts to stem the epidemic.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials are studying proposals from BRC Environmental Services, of Hainault, Essex, that its "microwave-induced pyrolysis" process could destroy carcasses on farms without the risk of fumes escaping. The company believes its process, developed over the last six years, could be more efficient than conventional incineration techniques, according to a report in Professional Engineering magazine.

The process is being examined by engineers at the Harper Adam college at Newport, Shropshire, before the ministry decides to fund a pilot project. Cavin McDonald, BRC's engineering director, said yesterday that the system, "a combination of a microwave and a pressure cooker", would raise the temperature of the carcass in excess of 135C for more than 20 minutes.

"It would be a high enough temperature to ensure that the prion protein [thought to be responsible for BSE] would be destroyed," he said.

Water vapour would be distilled; methane gas given off could be burned to provide electricity for the microwave; fats could be recycled and the resultant carbon char could be safely deposited in landfills, Mr McDonald said.

The company has spent £7 million developing technologies to recycle waste, beginning with processes to retrieve oil from tyres. Dr Richard Green of Harper Adam College, said yesterday: "We believe the system is reasonably likely to be successful, raising the temperature where all organic material would be destroyed with no emissions.

"What we propose to do initially is to look at the technology BRC are developing and see whether it can do what we would want it to. Then, if Maff are prepared to fund it, we would build a pilot unit."

A ministry spokesman said: "We have accepted a detailed proposal from BRC and Harper Adam College and are considering it."

Major admits size of deficit is a 'blot on the horizon'

by Philip Webster, Political Editor

The Times ... October 19 1996

John Major admitted yesterday that the Government's high borrowing was a "blot" on the economic horizon in the clearest pointer so far that he accepts substantial tax cuts will be impossible to achieve in the Budget next month.

The Prime Minister's public acknowledgement that the state of government debt was "a problem" follows an even bleaker private assessment by Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, at Thursday's Cabinet meeting. As Mr Clarke called his Treasury team together for weekend talks at Dorneywood, his official country residence, it emerged that he had warned Cabinet colleagues that his options were severely circumscribed both by the size of the deficit and the demands on spending budgets.

With ministers anxious to avoid pre-election rows over cuts, the Chancellor is understood to believe that only modest reductions in the levels of public spending planned a year ago can be contemplated. That will disappoint the Tory Right, which has been pressing for heavy cuts to fund a pre-election tax bonanza.

The Dorneywood gathering is expected to conclude that 1p is probably the most that Mr Clarke will be able to afford to knock off income tax. He has told colleagues that he cannot take risks with the financial allocations to schools and the health service in the run-up to the election.

Amid indications that discussions within the Cabinet's spending committee have become tense and difficult, Mr Clarke's warning to the Cabinet during a general discussion about the economy was said to have been firm. The BSE crisis had had a big impact on his room for manoeuvre, he said. It has already taken £1 billion off this year's spending contingency reserve and will take at least the same next year.

Lower tax revenues have meant that Mr Clarke's hopes of cutting the budget deficit this year have not been realised. The deficit in the first six months of the financial year was £19.8 billion, after removing privatisation proceeds, compared with £20.1 billion last year.

Although Mr Major delivered an optimistic message about the overall state of the economy during talks with businessmen yesterday, he made plain that he would not take any short-term risks that might accelerate a revival of inflation.

He said that inflation was "as much under lock and key as I can ever remember it". But he then added: "The only economic blot on the horizon is the size of the fiscal deficit. That is a problem."

A Vet Writes

James Allcock

The Times ... October 19 1996

In the past ten years more than 150 thousand cows have developed BSE (). The vast majority of veterinary scientists and micro-biologists agree that cattle developed this disease after eating cattle cake containing meat and bone meal derived from sheep with scrapie ­ a spongiform encephalopathy known for at least 200 years. The disease had "jumped the species barrier". Which posed the question ­ if it went from sheep to cattle where else could it go?

In April 1989 pet food makers stopped using offal that included potentially infective BSE material. This specified bovine offal (SBO), which is brain, spinal chord, spleen, thymus, tonsils and intestines, was banned from use in human food in November 1989. Pets were protected before people. Before 1986, scientists and doctors recognised encephalopathies in mink and feline SE has been found in 72 cats, all born prior to 1989. No one has found encaphalopathy in dogs. A few zoo animals were infected, perhaps because they were fed on infected sheep or cattle heads.

Cattle cake may have transmitted BSE to elans, oryx and kudu ­ relatives of our domestic ruminants. All zoo animal infections also occurred before 1989, the critical year.

Good quality dog or cat food from one of the "big name" manufacturers is the best way of feeding your pet. That's what I am doing. Do it yourself beef -free diets are quite likely to lead to deficiencies and create extra problems.

The BSE panic has made British beef the safest in the world ­ whether it is prime steak or something in a carton or can for your cat or dog. The potentially suspect bits have been removed for incineration before anybody ­ human or pet ­ gets near them. Beef used in pet foods has to reach standards that would make it fit for human consumption.

My dog is having canned food and her daily bone. I am eating beef ­ medium rare. Not as overdone as the BSE hysteria. Perhaps the best way to restore confidence in British beef is to tell the rest of the world "if you want the best and safest beef, buy British."