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Pig feed rules may ban use of animal remains
American veterinarians pressured by USDA to falsify records
Mums-to-be risk mad cow disease from blood product
More BSE in France, Belgium
Beef on the bone charge hotelier to stand trial
Link found between well-done meat and breast cancer
Thatcher and Major called to `mad cow' probe
EU plans risk-based controls on mad cow disease
Minister speaks candidly
Nine out of 10 Thanksgiving turkeys are contaminated

Pig feed rules may ban use of animal remains

Times of London: 11/13/98 BY MICHAEL HORNSBY 
[Comment (webmaster): The US still allows downer cows to be legally fed to pigs and chickens and waste from these animals to be fed back to cows. Mammalian feedback loops have the potential to vastly amplify an epidemic. A coalition has called for answers from USDA on mad pig disease in the US ]

TIGHTER controls on feed for pigs and poultry were proposed by the [UK] Government yesterday to prevent the possible recycling of disease. The proposals would ban the use of the remains of any mammals in pig swill and would stop pig slaughterhouse waste and petfood waste being fed to pigs.

The Government is also consulting on whether to continue allowing catering waste containing pig or poultry material to be fed to pigs and poultry.

Jeff Rooker, the Food Safety Minister, said the measures would strengthen safeguards on the disposal of animal waste. "We want to make sure that all those involved in the processing and disposal of animal waste understand their responsibilities."

New construction and hygiene standards are being proposed for knackers' yards, where injured livestock are destroyed. The measures reflect heightened concern about animal feeding practices since the emergence of BSE, particularly feeding animals the remains of their own species.

BSE is thought to have passed to cattle in feed containing the remains of sheep infected with scrapie, and then to have been spread through the cattle herd in meat and bonemeal made from cattle remains. Such feed has been banned for cattle and sheep since 1988.

Nigel Rowe, a pig farmer in Essex and vice-chairman of the National Farmers' Union's pig committee, said: "I don't think that these measures will add to our costs or cause any great problems, as most pig farmers will be complying with them already."

The Government called on sheep farmers yesterday to co-operate in a survey to establish the incidence of scrapie, a disease similar to BSE. About 500 cases of scrapie, a notifiable disease, are confirmed each year but it is suspected that the true incidence of the disease may be up to ten times higher.

Scrapie has existed for centuries without causing people known harm, but scientists are worried that BSE may have passed from cattle to sheep and be disguised as scrapie.

The European Commission called yesterday for a ban on the use of four antibiotics in animal feed. The Commission said it was acting on evidence that the antibiotics, used mainly as growth promoters in pigs and poultry, may be linked to growing human resistance to the drugs.

The NFU said it had seen no hard evidence of such a link and feared that a ban would jeopardise the welfare of pigs and poultry.

France announces two new cases of mad cow disease

November 16, 1998  Associated Press 
PARIS -- The French Agriculture Ministry said Monday that two more cows affected with mad cow disease have been discovered, bringing the total since 1990 to 45.

The cases, this year's 13th and 14th, were discovered in the regions of La Manche and l'Ille-et-Vilaine. The discoveries meant the slaughter of 216 other cows in the same herds.

Seventh case of mad cow disease found in Belgium

 Reuters World Report  Mon, Nov 16, 1998 
BRUSSELS - Belgium's farm ministry said on Monday a seventh case of mad cow disease had been found at a dairy and meat pr

oducing farm near Liege in the east of the country. Agriculture Minister Karel Pinxten said in a statement the diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was confirmed on Monday. The carcass of the infected cow, born at the farm in March 1993, had been burnt.

The rest of the farm's 213 strong herd would also be destroyed and other animals from the infected farm were being tracked down. Indicating the possible cause of the disease, the ministry said cattle on the farm had been fed with meat and bone meal.

On November 5 the European Union imposed a global ban on beef exports from Portugal because of the increasing incidence of BSE there. The EU banned British beef exports after the government in March 1996 acknowledged a possible link between BSE and its fatal human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

Official recognises flaws in Portugal BSE controls

Reuters Financial Report Sun, Nov 15, 1998
LISBON - Farm Minister Luis Capoulas Santos was quoted as saying over the weekend that there had been flaws in sanitary controls to prevent the spread of "mad cow" disease in Portugal.

"We recognise there there were some flaws in the (sanitary) controls and that we cannot allow that to happen again," he told the Lisbon weekly newspaper Expresso in an interview. "We will step up periodic checks," he added, without elaborating.

Earlier this month, the European Commission gave its final endorsement to a worldwide ban on exports of live cattle and beef from Portugal due to an increase in cases of mad cow disease, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). Some 70 new cases have been notified this year.

Portugal is not a major exporter of beef or cattle -- a few thousand tonnes a year [enough to make 24,000,000 quarter pound hamburgers -- webmaster] went to Spain -- but the move was another blow to Europe's beef industry, hit by a similar ban on British beef exports in March 1996.

Mums-to-be risk mad cow disease from blood product

PA News Thu, Nov 12, 1998 By Cahal Milmo and Martin Hickman
Thousands of pregnant women face the "possibility" of contracting mad cow disease until new supplies of a rare blood product are sourced from abroad, Health Secretary Frank Dobson told MPs today. In a Commons statement, he said non-UK supplies of an antibody used to prevent birth defects "should be available in a few months". [July 1999 -- webmaster]

His statement came after concern from a scientist that up to 80,000 British mothers-to-be a year were being put at risk by the use of UK Anti D immunoglobulin to protect against haemolytic disease, which Mr Dobson warned could cause fatalities, cerebral palsy or deafness.

Microbiologist Stephen Dealler said pregnant women are being exposed to potential transmission of new variant CJD, the human form of the disease, because British supplies of a vital antibody are still being used. Anti-D was included in a ban announced by the Department of Health eight months ago on products manufactured with blood donated in Britain after research suggested nvCJD could be transmissible.

Health chiefs admitted today that global supplies of Anti D - given to pregnant women with blood group opposite to their baby to avoid potentially fatal complications - are so scarce that hospitals are still using UK stocks. They say the life-saving benefits of Anti-D, which stops a mother's "negative" blood from mixing with the baby's "positive" supply, outweigh the theoretical risk of new variant CJD moving from person to person.

However, Mr Dealler warned: "If they are going to ban something then it should be done immediately and not subjected to any sort of delay. "New supplies based on blood donations from abroad were supposed to have been up and running by September, but it now looks like they won't be ready with the new Anti D until next summer. "In a situation where we don't know the potential for transmission of nvCJD, we have young people being exposed to a possible risk of the disease and storing up potential problems for generations to come."

Scientists fear that new variant CJD, the beef-related version of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, is being passed on in epidemic proportions in Britain through a variety of methods, from blood products to surgical instruments. Mr Dobson said: "There has always been a worldwide shortage of Anti D immunoglobulin. "It has therefore taken longer to obtain sources of plasma for use for Anti D from non-UK sources than for other blood products."

Supplies of non-UK plasma were hard to obtain because donors were rare and had to be specially immunised before they could produce Anti D blood, he said. "Sources have now been identified and these products should be available in a few months," he added. But he told MPs: "We don't know how many people are suffering from new variant CJD and it is unlikely we will know for some years. "We don't know how nvCJD arises or is transmitted, so it is extremely difficult to deal with. "At all times I have sought expert advice, acted promptly on that advice, made the advice public and found the necessary extra funds."

Tory health spokesman Alan Duncan urged Mr Dobson to issue a list of all products which were at risk of contamination. "Patients need to know the risks and they need to exercise an informed choice. We are dealing here with people, not cattle," he said.

In an attempt to prevent the as yet unproven link, the Department of Health announced in February that it was halting British-derived supplies and swapping to production using imported blood and plasma, chiefly from the US. New versions of the blood products, including Factor 8 for haemophiliacs and albumin used for burns victims and in vaccines, were ready in time for the original autumn deadline after supplies were imported from America.

But health bosses say the shortage of Anti D and, to a lesser extent, an injection given to holidaymakers to protect them from Hepatitis A, means a balance must be struck between the threat to life and the risk of nvCJD.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Given that choice, the potential risks are vastly outweighed by the benefits to these mothers-to-be and we are working to make the new supplies available as soon as possible." She said the new versions of Anti D and gamma-globulin would be available early next year, but could give no firm date.

Dr Nigel Higson, chairman of the Primary Care Virology Group, attacked Mr Dealler for putting out "scares" which could lead to outbreaks of hepatitis A because of people's reluctance to be vaccinated. Dr Higson said it was important to recognise the differences between gamma-globulin injections for hepatitis A, which are based on human blood products, and hepatitis A vaccines, which are not. "The hepatitis A vaccines are therefore not associated with CJD," he said. [Are they produced with bovine serum albumen and associated with BSE? -- webmaster]

"Scares such as those put out by Stephen Dealler in the press today are misinformed and could potentially lead to outbreaks of hepatitis A in the UK due to people's reluctance to present for hepatitis A vaccination." He added that it was vital that travellers to countries which have a high risk of hepatitis A are vaccinated to prevent the disease spreading in the UK.

Veterinarians reportedly pressured by USDA to falsify records, report says

 16 Nov 98 The Associated Press 
National Association of Federal Veterinarians
1101 Vermont Street NW, Suite 710
Washington, DC 20005-6308
Office: 202-289-6334 

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Some veterinarians in charge of federal meat inspections say the Department of Agriculture has pressured them to certify products that don't meet export requirements, according to a newspaper report.

In two letters sent to USDA Secretary Dan Glickman by the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, the group said a veterinarian "was disciplined and forced to retire" for refusing to certify cattle as being from disease-free areas, the Des Moines Sunday Register said. Other veterinarians risk discipline for refusing to sign "even the most outrageous and obvious false statements," said William Hughes, a lawyer for the group.

In its correspondence to Glickman, the association contends "there has been a longstanding practice of (the USDA) requiring the signing of veterinary export certificates prior to the product even being produced."

A phone message left at the home of Glickman's spokesman, Tom Amontree, was not returned Sunday. But Linda Swacina of the USDA's inspection service said the agency is developing a reply to the association and is reviewing its "whole expert certification policy."

Many foreign governments require assurances that U.S. livestock meat be disease-free, and the possibility of false export certificates could severely hurt the multibillion-dollar industry that has battled for access. Many countries are prone to refusing American exports in order to protect their own producers.

USDA defends exports after foreign inspectors find bad meat

The Associated Press November 20, 1998
The Agriculture Department is defending the country's meat exports after foreign inspectors found sanitation violations at some U.S. meat processing plants. "Several problems were noticed but they were immediately corrected," said Linda Swacina, spokeswoman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. "No contaminated or adulterated products left any of these plants." But the violations, found by foreign inspectors during recent routine visits to U.S. plants, have raised concerns for consumers abroad and at home.

Mark T. Mina, deputy administrator of FSIS, detailed violations of poor handling, bad hygiene and improper sterilization in an internal department memo. The Des Moines Register reported on the memo Thursday. In that memo, Mina charges that some unidentified plants are operating with serious deviations from U.S. standards as well as those of the importing country.

Some of those deviations include "direct carcass contamination from careless dressing procedures," Mina wrote. During careless dressing, stomach contents and feces can be scattered through the carcass, contaminating it with E. coli and other bacteria.

"The memo is intended to highlight that these problems were found and corrected," Swacina said. The memo also notifies plants that "they need to vigilant looking for these problems and ensuring they are corrected immediately." Swacina would not comment on the areas where the violations were found. U.S. officials conduct similar inspections of foreign plants that export to the United States.

The violations are only the latest in a series of problems for the multibillion-dollar U.S. meat export industry. The European Union, for example, will not accept U.S. beef because of the use of growth hormones. The EU also denies entry to U.S. poultry unless officials certify that they have not used a chlorine rinse. Carol Tucker Foreman, a former USDA assistant secretary for food safety who now heads the Safe Food Coalition, said Mina's memo was especially troubling because most plants are preparing food for both domestic and foreign consumption. It also creates an accountability problem for the United States, she said. "You've got these people looking at our plants and pointing out we're not meeting our own standards."

J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, said it is in industry's interest to follow safe practices. "Clearly there is every incentive for meat and poultry packers and processors to produce the safest product possible," Boyle said. "There is no benefit to producing unsafe food."

Meanwhile, the National Association of Federal Veterinarians has accused USDA officials of pressuring them to certify meat products that don't meet export requirements. The group said one veterinarian "was disciplined and forced to retire" for refusing to certify cattle as being from disease-free areas. Swacina said the allegations are under investigation. By JANELLE CARTER, AP Farm Writer

Beef on the bone charge hotelier to stand trial

By Nick Meo, PA News: Tue, Nov 17, 1998
The long-running beef on the bone case will again return to appeal judges after a hotelier lost the latest round in his legal battle today. Jim Sutherland allegedly served 180 guests with a dinner of the banned meat at his hotel near Lauder in the Scottish Borders soon after the regulations were introduced last year amidst BSE fears.

Today Sheriff James Paterson decided the case was competent and set a trial date next January. Mr Sutherland entered a plea of not guilty, but his defence team immediately sought leave to appeal, which was granted. Sheriff Paterson gave his ruling in a brief hearing at Selkirk Sheriff Court today, rejecting submissions from the defence team made on November 5.

Michael Upton, for the defence, had put forward three lines of argument - that the regulations were introduced for reasons of European diplomacy, not food safety, the regulations were irrational, and that there was inadequate consultation with only five days allowed for interested parties.

But today Sheriff Paterson rejected each of those arguments. The sheriff had originally thrown the case out of his court earlier this year, describing government legislation as defective and "manifestly absurd". His action threw the ban into disarray.

But the Crown appealed and three appeal judges at Edinburgh instructed the sheriff to hold a new hearing on aspects of the case which he had not considered at the original hearing. Now it is the defence's turn to take the case back to the Appeal Court. They are expected to argue that the sheriff has erred in law on his latest decision.

The sheriff said in his ruling today that after considering the parliamentary record he was rejecting the argument that the regulations were designed to help lift the export ban on British beef. He said he was satisfied that they were in the interests of safe food and therefore within the scope of the Food Act. The sheriff also considered the argument that five days was not enough time for consultation.

He said he had looked at Hansard, the parliamentary record, and said: "I have come to the conclusion that Mr Upton's fine rhetorical cry 'five months on the one hand and five days on the other' is not borne out by the history of the matter as narrated by the ministers and recorded in Hansard."

The sheriff said the government had been alerted to the possibility of problems from bones in July and added: "The final advice and guidance on that matter was only given to the government the day before the public were informed about the problem by a statement by the then Minister of Agriculture to the House of Commons. "Against that background I am not prepared to hold that there was insufficient time given for consultation."

Sheriff Paterson also looked at the question of preparation of beef. He said: "In my assessment of the letters and annex sent out in the consultation process there was ample warning that a regulation would encompass the preparation of food."

At the hearing earlier this month the sheriff said he was effectively being asked to carry out a "judicial review" and complained that former Agriculture Secretary Dr Jack Cunningham had "stigmatised" him after the initial hearing.

Procurator Fiscal Duncan MacNeil had argued that the government had been forced to take urgent action as a matter of "life and death". If the government had not acted urgently there could have been "ghastly and unthinkable" consequences, it was argued.

Warning: Link found between well-done meat and breast cancer

November 17, 1998 The Associated Press By PAUL RECER 
WASHINGTON -- Women who eat beef and bacon cooked until very well done rather than rare or medium have a four times greater risk of developing breast cancer, a study says. Yet experts said Tuesday there is still too much uncertainty to recommend changes in cooking habits. Undercooked meat can pose a proven and well-known health risk, they noted. "We have found a link between well-done meat and breast cancer, but we are still not sure of the cause," said Dr. Wei Zheng of the University of North Carolina. "This is just one study. It is too early to jump to a final conclusion." Other researchers said Zheng's study, to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, "is intriguing," but not conclusive. They said more research is needed.

"No single study should be the basis for changing public policy," said Kathleen M. Egan, an epidemiologist at Harvard University and at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The links between diet and cancer are a hot subject of medical research, but many scientists believe there are few definitive answers yet. They recommend fruits and vegetables and avoiding obesity but generally say no diet has been proven to prevent breast cancer.

Cooking meat at a high temperature, either by frying or grilling, has long been known to cause the production of a chemical compound called heterocyclic amines -- previously shown to cause cancer, Zheng noted.

"Charred meat has a high level of these compounds," he said. That is also true of fish and chicken cooked at high temperatures, although the study did not examine those. Zheng and colleagues based their findings on the meat-eating habits of 273 women with breast cancer compared to 657 women without cancer. To determine their meat-eating habits, the women were shown color photos of hamburger, bacon and beefsteak cooked to various levels of doneness. The women then picked out the meat picture that most closely matched their routine meat preparation and consumption habits.

Many women had different preferences, depending on the type of meat. To analyze that, Zheng said he created what he called a "doneness score." Women who ate all three types of meat cooked either rare or medium were given a score of 3. Those who preferred all three meats cooked very well done were given scores of 9. When the preferences varied, there were scores in between the two extremes. The vast majority preferred bacon well done or very well done, while rare or medium was the most popular choice for steak and hamburger.

Among women who preferred all meat very well done, with a doneness scores of 9, there was a 462 percent greater chance of having breast cancer when compared with women who ate rare or medium meat. For very well done hamburger and bacon, the risks were 50 to 70 percent greater. The risks were 220 percent greater for very well done beefsteak, Zheng said.

The study was adjusted for other factors linked to breast cancer, such as obesity, family history and whether the woman had undergone hormone replacement therapy. Dr. Christine Ambrosone of the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark., said Zheng's findings "are consistent with what we have found in the laboratory." Lab studies have linked cancer with some chemicals created when meat is cooked at high temperatures, she said. Some studies, using nursing mice, have shown that heterocyclic amines are present in breast milk. But she cautioned against applying this laboratory data to humans.

"It is too early" to draw conclusions, Egan said. "The public needs to stay tuned." Right now, people should be more concerned about health risks from undercooked meats, Egan and Zheng both said. There have been a number of recent incidents of bacteria infection caused by eating undercooked hamburger. Zheng's solution: Boiling, steaming or baking meat until it is thoroughly cooked, but not charred or overly done. "Moderate cooking would be OK," he said.

Thatcher and major may be called to `mad cow' probe

November 18, 1998 PA News
Eileen Murphy Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Former U.K. Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, according to this story, face explaining their actions during the "Mad Cow Disease" crisis as former ministers line up to give their version of events to a public inquiry. Both have been contacted by officials at the public inquiry into the BSE outbreak to provide written evidence. A decision will then be taken whether or not they will be required to attend the south London hearing which has been running since March this year.

An inquiry spokesman was cited as confriming that Mr Major had been contacted, saying, "We have written to him in terms of his position as Prime Minister and as chief executive of the Treasury. We have also written to Lady Thatcher in the last few days, in her role as Prime Minister. Given that we have only just written to them and they are both extremely busy people, I'm not sure when we will get their statements back."

However, the inquiry will definitely hear evidence from many of those who served in both the Thatcher and Major administrations, including former Conservative Health Minister, Edwina Currie. In a statement to the inquiry released today, Mrs Currie branded her own government's handling of the "Mad Cow Disease" crisis as crass and incompetent and condemned its general attitude towards public health risks. She dubbed agriculture officials who dealt with BSE as "blockheadedly ignorant" and said their entire attitude was wrong.

Mrs Currie, a minister from 1986-88, is due to give live evidence to the inquiry next Monday. Mrs Currie was quoted as saying in her statement that, "I consider that the entire approach of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from the 1980s onwards to issues of public health linked to infection in the food chain was wrong. It was crass, incompetent, hostile, dangerous and compounded problems instead of eradicating them.

"The Ministry, which should have been responsible for clean food, instead supported and connived at the worst operations in farming and animal husbandry, derided accurate warnings and were blockheadedly ignorant of good practice elsewhere.

"The Ministry made fierce and intimidating attempts to put down criticism instead of considering it carefully and objectively." Commenting on the treatment she received after highlighting the risks of salmonella in eggs, Mrs Currie explained how in 1988 she gave authority for a series of public health warnings to be issued about the alarming increase in infections and made her own statement about the risks to public health.

She also criticised the "poor contacts" between ministers in the Departments of Health and Agriculture and the "lack of respect for the overriding public health interest".

Summarising her feelings about the way Government reacted to the public's fears about "mad cow disease", she said: "Infections in animals can be eradicated: MAFF itself had a great deal of old experience with the elimination of foot and mouth disease. "Instead officials appear to have accepted both BSE and salmonella as a fait accompli. "MAFF also worked on the assumption that the public was stupid. Good governance appeared to be extracted from Ministers after 1989 by a process akin to pulling teeth."

She was quoted as saying, "I am satisfied I did no wrong and acted in the public interest. Both MAFF and the producers took a dim view of my actions, they regarded me as the problem and if I were removed the issue would go away. I was informed that writs had been served and I resigned from office on 16 December, 1988. Subsequently, I discovered that there were no writs." She added that although her direct involvement in the handling of BSE was limited, she did accept some blame for creating the public alarm which surrounded the BSE crisis.

Describing the attitude of officials in the Ministry of Agriculture at the time of the salmonella scare she added: "They refused to believe that a foodstuff as widespread and innocuous as eggs could be the cause of a food-poisoning epidemic."

The inquiry is also scheduled to hear from former Conservative ministers Kenneth Clarke, Stephen Dorrell, John MacGregor, John Gummer, Virginia Bottomley, Gillian Shephard and Nicholas Soames.

EU plans risk-based controls on mad cow disease

November 18, 1998 Reuters David Evans
See: Report and Scientific Opinion on the safety of hydrolysed proteins produced from
bovine hides. adopted by the Scientific Steering Committee at its meeting of 22-23  October 1998
BRUSSELS -- The European Commission was cited as unveiling was this story called toned-down proposals to boost consumer protection from mad cow disease on Wednesday, banning high-risk animal remains in parts of the EU and averting a transatlantic trade dispute.

The proposal on Specified Risk Material (SRM) is designed to replace legislation due to come into force on January 1, which had a wider scope but ran into huge trade problems with the United States over pharmaceuticals and cosmetics imports, many of which contain animal remains.

The Commission was quoted as saying in a statement that, "To ensure the protection of human and animal health from the threat of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is proposed to introduce specific measures on SRM removal,".

The new laws specifically exempt industrial, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, although they threaten an extra burden on the meat industries of countries such as Britain.

Under the plan, European Union member states, third countries or regions would be placed in one of four categories depending on the perceived risk to humans from BSE. The higher the risk, the longer the list of banned animal parts.

Category one countries will have no restrictions, although it is doubtful any EU states would qualify. The restrictions would apply after September 30 next year.

The Commission stopped short of naming which countries would be in which category -- that decision will be made by the end of June on the basis of scientific submissions from member states on their incidence of BSE and control measures in force.

Britain, with by far the highest rate of BSE, is likely to be placed in category four, requiring the removal and destruction of all bones from cattle aged over 30 months, as well as the brain, vertebral column and spinal cord of all cattle aged over six months and sheep over 12 months. However, EU officials have indicated there would be some flexibility in meeting the requirements.

In its latest report on the BSE crisis, which caused the March 1996 ban on British beef exports, the Commission said there had been 175,772 cases of BSE in the EU -- 99.7 percent of them in Britain.

It also said 30 people had died as a result of the human form of BSE, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), 29 of them in Britain and one in France.

BSE is on the increase in Portugal, with new cases this year already more than double the 30 found in 1997, a fact likely to lead to Portugal's inclusion in the high-risk group. The proposal will now be examined by EU veterinary chiefs, and could be given to farm ministers for a decision before the end of the year.

Separately EU farm ministers are expected to vote to ease the ban on mainland British beef exports on Monday following recent backing from EU veterinary chiefs. The ban on Northern Irish exports was lifted on June 1, but farmers have since struggled to win back old markets overseas.

EU Commission Bans Portuguese Beef

AP Online Wed, Nov 18, 1998
BRUSSELS -- The European Union's executive agency on Wednesday banned the export of beef and cattle from Portugal. The action, which had been expected, prohibits the export of beef from Portugal for nine months. The ban cattle exports is indefinite, but it will be reviewed by the European Commission after 18 months, at the latest.

The measures were taken because of a sharp rise this year in the number of cases of "mad cow disease" -- or bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- in cattle in Portugal this year. BSE in beef has been linked to a fatal brain ailment in humans.

In 1997, Portugal exported a total of only about 3,100 metric tons of beef and live bovine animals, according to the Commission. Of that, 1,500 tons were beef exports and 1,600 tons were cattle exports. Portugal has reported at least 67 cases of BSE this year, according to the Commission. The total number of BSE cases that had been reported in Portugal at the start of the year was 91.

Minister speaks candidly

Edwina Currie Inquiry statement
"When in late 1988 the CMO put out an instruction to hospitals to stop using raw egg and substitute the safer pasteurised version, television food programmes became interested and it became a matter of widespread inquiry. I was repeatedly asked to comment publicly, but desisted until I was sure that we had an overriding obligation to warn the public. I did that in early December via ITN; though my remarks were misinterpreted (I never said, "don't eat eggs") nevertheless I am satisfied that I did no wrong and acted in the public interest.

18. Both MAFF and the producers took a dim view of my actions; they regarded me as the problem, and that if I were removed the issue would go away. I was informed that writs had been served and I resigned from office on 16 December 1988. Subsequently I discovered that there were no writs. Further, despite a slaughter policy and some compensation (paid to poultry farmers, not to victims) the level of infection is much the same now as it was then, at around 30,000 reported cases from phage-type 4 per annum, and around 60 people a year die from salmonellosis. Thus more than 500 people have died of this condition since I left the DOH. (YB 96/12.06/1.1-1.2)

19. In these circumstances, MAFF were acutely aware of the potential for public alarm, and of the costs of compensating producers who might be forced out of business through a drop in demand (it appeared to be assumed that such businesses must be compensated from public funds, though that is not the assumption for car manufacturers or computer chip factories). That should have made them more willing to act promptly, not less. However, they persisted in trying to silence any form of criticism or comment they saw as adverse; when I wrote an account of my time in office and submitted the manuscript to the Cabinet Office, MAFF (via the Treasury Solicitor) wanted large sections struck out. I appealed to the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell who ordered that my text should not be censored. The book was subsequently published in October 1989 as Life Lines by Sidgwick and Jackson.

24. MAFF also worked on the assumption that the public were stupid. In particular, that they were not capable of grasping the difference between levels of risk. It was best, therefore, for Ministers to keep saying forcefully that there was no risk to human health, when what was meant was that there was only a tiny risk, unquantifiable but known to be remote. So bland assertions were made instead of sharing what information could be had with the public. The effect was counterproductive, however, and convinced non-MAFF experts that Ministers were covering up, especially as action occurred repeatedly, slowly, and usually after some further damaging revelation. Good governance appeared to be extracted from Ministers after 1989 by a process akin to pulling teeth. By contrast the DOH ethos was that the public could react intelligently to sound information, and that it was the duty of Ministers to allow the electorate the objectively-presented facts on which they could make an informed choice. It is not for Ministers or officials to make that choice for them. Indeed the sensible reaction of consumers was demonstrated in 1996 when the link with CJD became known. As beef prices plummeted in the shops, families with children bought none, and elderly people bought as much as they could. They had worked out that the risk of dying from a long-incubated but ghastly disease was higher for children than for the elderly - and acted accordingly.

25. The slow response of MAFF at the outset was typical, indeed classic, and constituted in itself a policy which added to the scale of the subsequent disaster. Examples during my period of involvement include:

(i) the delay from the date the disease was first identified (November 1986) until the report in the Veterinary Record (October 1987) (J/VR/121/419-420)

(ii) the delay from the date MAFF Ministers were alerted (June 1987) (YB 87/6.5/1.1-1.2) to the notification to DHSS (March 1988) (YB 88/03.00/3.1-3.2)

(iii) the further delay until a slaughter policy was announced (July 1988) (YB 88/07.07/1.1-1.2)

(iv) the 19 months when, despite protests, the compensation was only 50% (July 1988 - February 1990).

(v) the delay between the official recognition of BSE and the actions taken to remove potentially dangerous items from foodstores.

26. I consider that the entire approach of MAFF from the 1980's onward to issues of public health linked to infection in the food chain was wrong: it was crass, incompetent, hostile, dangerous and compounded problems instead of eradicating them. The Ministry which should have been responsible for clean food instead supported and connived at the worst operations in farming and animal husbandry, derided accurate warnings and were blockheadedly ignorant of good practice elsewhere. The Ministry made fierce and intimidating attempts to put down criticism instead of considering it carefully and objectively. The poor contacts at ministerial level between MAFF and DOH, and the lack of respect for the overriding public health interest, led to a catastrophic outcome in more than one field. The Ministry had long set itself up as the trade union for producers. Unfortunately it was not the counsel of wise producers which prevailed. This was an astonishing position for a Conservative administration to maintain, which elsewhere was keen to promote competition and put the needs of consumers first, a view I communicated to the Prime Minister on the day of my resignation."

Nine out of 10 Thanksgiving turkeys are contaminated

November 20, 1998 Reuters News Service 
Turkey must be cooked right to avoid high food poisoning risk, group says. Nine out of 10 Thanksgiving turkeys are contaminated and may contribute to food poisoning unless the bird is properly cooked, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Thursday. Although the U.S. Agriculture Department has tightened regulations governing food safety, a bacteria known as campylobacter is rampant among raw turkeys, according to the consumer activist group.

Americans are expected to buy more than 40 million turkeys this month for the holidays. "While no one invites salmonella or campylobacter home for the holidays, consumers must expect these unwelcome guests every time they bring home a turkey," said Caroline Smith De Waal, director of food safety for the group. Both can cause diarrhea, nausea, and fever, and are especially dangerous to toddlers, the elderly and anyone with a weak immune system. Campylobacter has also been linked to temporary paralysis and the neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

A USDA survey of turkey plants in 1996 and 1997 showed that more than 90 percent of the turkeys tested were contaminated with campylobacter. Earlier this year, the USDA introduced stricter food safety rules for large U.S. meat and poultry plants, but no data have yet been released to show whether the rate of contamination has decreased in turkeys. The same data also showed that 75 percent of uncooked turkeys were contaminated with two or more foodborne diseases.

"The good news is that campylobacter can be destroyed if the turkey is thoroughly cooked," Smith De Waal said. To keep a Thanksgiving meal safe, turkeys should be double-wrapped in the refrigerator or freezer, and thermometers used to ensure the bird has been cooked to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria.

The National Turkey Federation acknowledged that many birds were contaminated, but said that bacteria was easily destroyed by cooking. "The industry is aggressively taking intervention steps to reduce naturally occurring pathogens," said a spokeswoman for the federation. "Like all meats, turkey isn't sterile and we, as consumers, need to cook our food thoroughly to get rid of any problems."

Campylobacter, while not as well known to consumers as salmonella or E. coli, is the leading cause of bacterial foodborne illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 1997, it was blamed for the biggest share of the eight million reported cases of food poisoning, the CDC said. The microscopic organisms are on most poultry products and are occasionally found in raw milk and uncooked beef.

Congress approved an extra $75 million in food safety program funding for next year, with additional money earmarked for research and public education. The USDA is also exploring whether to shift more of its meat and poultry inspectors from their traditional "poke and sniff" role to overseeing microbial testing by plants.

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