THE Government was last night poised to ban more animal products from the food chain amid fears that "mad cow" disease could be passed to sheep. Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, is expected to announce this week that the brain, spinal cord and spleen of sheep and goats must not be used for human or animal consumption.
The move coincides with a decision by the European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler to call for an extension of Europe's anti-BSE restrictions to all ruminants. The idea was supported by farm ministers in Brussels yesterday after scientists reported that the agent which causes "mad cow" disease could be transmitted to sheep.
The ministers insisted that the action plan which will be considered by Community veterinary experts next week was purely precautionary. Ivan Yates, the Irish Farm Minister who chaired yesterday's meeting, said: "This time we need to be guided by the scientists, not the politicians. Let's wait until the vets have met before deciding anything. We have seen the consequences of BSE on beef, it would be a tragedy and a disaster to visit the same thing on lamb because it is not scientifically justified."
Pressure for the ban has come mainly from France, where sheep's brains are widely eaten and where the Government is introducing its own measures. The restrictions should not have much effect in Britain, however, although a spinal cord ban might change the way butchers prepare traditional cuts such as chops and saddle of lamb. Concern has arisen because laboratory experiments have shown that it is possible to transmit BSE bovine spongiform encephalopathy to sheep and goats, although there is no evidence that this has happened to animals in the field.
Jeff Almond, professor of microbiology at Reading University and a member of the committee advising the Government on BSE, said: "The difficulty is that if BSE has passed to sheep, it would look very much like scrapie. We know that scrapie, which has been around for centuries, poses no risk to humans, but if BSE has got back into sheep, can we be sure that it is absolutely safe? There may be a slight risk and it is sensible to take precautions. Fortunately, very few people in this country eat sheep's brains, but some groups such as Muslims do."
Professor Almond said that it was possible that sheep could have acquired BSE by eating meat and bonemeal derived from infected cattle, reversing the process by which cattle are thought to have got the disease in the first place. Although sheep were never fed as much meat and bonemeal as cattle, it was common to give them high-protein rations before lambing and during the winter. Professor Almond said: "Such feed has been banned since July 1988, but we believe scrapie can be passed from ewes to their lambs, and so if BSE has got into the sheep flock it, too, could be transmitted in this way."
Yesterday Herr Fischler emphasised the uncertainties when he told the farm ministers: "The true BSE and scrapie situation is not fully clear, since these diseases are difficult to diagnose and easily mistaken for other conditions. Can we be sure that a case of so-called scrapie is not in fact BSE in sheep? "I therefore intend to propose to the standing veterinary committee that certain tissues from all ruminants will be excluded from all food and feed chains."
But Professor Richard Lacey of Leeds University, who has been one of the most outspoken prophets of the BSE crisis, said that Herr Fischler's claims were "completely wrong" and he should resign. He said: "Sheep scrapie doesn't cause BSE and although BSE may, under experimental conditions, cause disease in sheep, it does in almost every other animal and does not mean sheep are a health risk to humans."
However, Colin Maclean of the Meat and Livestock Commission said: "We must endorse what Franz Fischler has said, if only as a precaution. It is not going to cause a major issue, we hope, with consumers." And Ian Gardiner, policy director of the National Farmers' Union, said: "We hope that consumers will feel reassured and not over-react."
An EC ban on brain and spinal chord from *** ALL *** ruminants entering the human food chain is likely in the next couple of weeks, the spleen too from younger animals. France has already instituted such a ban. The ban includes sheep, goats, and deer. Not too much additional scientific information, more on the likely impact on the farming industry. Will post more info when I find some articles.
British agricultural representative said that it was precautionary measure with regard to animal health and was trying to minimise consumer concerns. He referred to Scrapie not being a problem in the UK but being more so in France (Britain has 40k+ cases a year here per annum). Although France is regularly slagged off for secrecy over its BSE problems, they do seem to be way out ahead on introducing precautionary legislation.
As ruminants do not eat one another in their
natural state, and scrapie is not regarded as a major threat to human
health, scrapie seems a most unlikely reason for the ban. All 3 animals
mentioned are farmed (deer relatively recently in this country) and have
most likely been fed contaminated feed supplements, so BSE has probably
crossed from cattle into these species and they are threat to human
health. What about pigs and poultry then ...... ?
[[pigs are highly susceptible, chickens are unknown -- webmaster]]
"I can't speak with authority for the regulations of other countries, but in the United States you may NOT include anything but beef skeletal muscle tissue in ground beef, sausages or anything else and label it "beef". If brains are used, they must be labeled "beef brains". Similarly for any other organ tissues. Not only must the ingredient appear in the ingredient list, but an additional large subtitle to the product name must include "made with variety meats" or some other acceptable synonym.
The only "offal" or "variety" meats used with any frequency are:
No major brands (Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Swift, Armour, MacDonald's, Burger-King, Wendy's, etc.) use any non-skeletal meats in any of their standard products (frankfurters, bologna, patties), because of possible adverse label impact.
In Canada, the rules are similar, but they allow "blood" to be labeled as "beef".
Because of ethnic and religious barriers to the consumption of certain species and body tissues, I would find it hard to believe that in the EU you would not have to specifically identify "brains" on the product ingredient statement.
In my work with the meat industry, I have frequently polled consumers informally to ask what they believed was used in the manufacture of common processed meat products such as frankfurters, ground beef and pork sausage. Invariably they assume ALL animal tissues are used (snouts, spleens, hearts, kidneys, brains, tripe, etc.). They are surprised and skeptical when they find this is not the case.
On the other hand, comminuted [= ground up into small particles] poultry products (franks and luncheon meats) are mostly made from mechanically separated poultry, which if labeled "chicken", may contain skin, sex glands and kidneys as well as muscle tissue. Apparently consumers are used to "giblet gravy" and don't seem to mind this.
Quotes from EU Ag Council Meeting 7.24.96 Wed, 24 Jul 1996Quotes from key figures -- Agriculture Council Meeting 7.24.96.
Ag Council of Ministers.
Agriculture Commissioner Fischler's statement about the need to take precautionary measures and ban sheep and goat brain, spinal chord and central nervous system was indicated by France's recent lab experiments showing BSE could be passed from cow to sheep! The fact that these animals have been being fed MBM [meal and bone meal] up until very recently is behind the decision.
Ivan Yates Irish Minister for Agriculture (Ireland chairs rotating EU presidency till year end) says : Lamb a safe product, Sheep and Goats do not have BSE "I appeal to the Public to use their own common sense" According to BBC Ivan Yates criticized the behaviour of the Commission in its whole handling of the BSE saying "There is no denying that in the same way as a forest fire is started with one match it can be extremely difficult to put out. So the damage that can be done to producers ... the damage which can be caused by putting about these half stories is having serious repercussions......" (Unusual for a Presidency to attack the Commission in such difficult situation. Normally the presidency's role is to mediate and find consensus between member states and Institutions when in trouble.)
BBC interviewed farmers expressing the fear there was a hidden agenda in Europe designed to curb British exports and squeez prices! French don't like British lamb competition coming to France. Farmer says he was "gob-smacked, couldn't speak. I saw it coming but still was stunned when it did" referring to the ban on sheep brain, spinal chord and CNS. Irish are concerned because denerving lambs difficult due to the size of the animals.
BBC estimates value of lamb market in UK super markets £1.2 billion. Beef sales still 11% below (Note :Seasoned Ag analysts confirm this figure is really 20%)
Consumers Interviewed by the BBC: "I don't think I would trust anything anyone says at this stage. They lied for so many years about the BSE" "Sort of scares you , makes you wonder what you will be able to eat in the end"
Prof Almond, interviewed by the BBC : The reason why waited till now to release this information on sheep and goats was that there was no evidence. There is no evidence that it has infected our sheep in the fields. In the absence of proof. What should we do but act to protect the consumer.
British Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg : Given the concerns of the new strains of CJD...... On the continent there has been no MBM feed ban in place - given the concern generally throughout the continent. It is unwise to eat sheep brains at the present time. He then said : it is completely safe to eat lamb. No reason for people to stop buying lamb despite the ban on sheep spinal cord, brains and nervous system. For any sheep which may have been eating MBM across Europe there is a faint risk. France succeeded in infecting sheep. Fischler said so last night. Later on he said : Insists there is no reason for collapse or fall in confidence in meat. "I believe lamb throughout Europe is wholly safe. Science has shown that BSE transmissible to many species....... No evidence that sheep can catch it in the fields. Tests have been conducted in laboratory.
The Commission said : Uppermost in one's mind is ultra-caution for consumers. Then later : EU spokesman said the proposed measures were a precaution. Then later : spokesman said people shouldn't be over concerned by scientific research Never been a case where cows passed BSE to sheep.
All day as EU ag ministers met they took every opportunity to address the alarm over eating lamb. BBC said Ministers and Commission joined forces in trying to calm fears caused by banning sheep and goat offal. Govt and EU spent the day trying to prevent the collapse of confidence consumers in Lamb and Goat. As there had been sheep and goats fed contaminated cattle remains it was wise to remove the brain and the CNS and spinal chord. BBC reported the ban had already had an impact on meat markets around the country (Britain). Prices have dropped especially for export. Prices down by about 3£ a head. Orders for export lost. Lamb market highly skittish.