Thousands of cuts of beef are being removed from Coop and Asda stores after a serious breach of safety measures.
Thousands of cuts of beef are being removed from Coop and Asda stores after a serious breach of safety measures, as a result of which, consumers across Britain may have eaten meat that was not tested for BSE. Authorities in France, Italy, and Spain have been alerted to warn consumers in their countries.
The Coop chain of stores is the main company affected. About 5,700 cases, each containing several packs of fresh beef products, were involved. However, the huge recall was necessitated although the authorities have insisted that the risk to human health was very low. Failure to test just one cow has prompted the precautions, albeit that most of the meat, being past its best-before date, has been eaten. The mistake in a slaughterhouse in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, occurred on 25th October but was not discovered until 3rd November. Meat and other products from the carcase were mixed with those from other cattle slaughtered at the same time.
Most of the Coop's stores have been affected. Asda brand ox-liver was also involved. The Food Standards Agency has said that people who might have eaten affected products "should not be concerned", but customers who still had uneaten products at home "should return them to the store where they bought them." The Coop is recalling its products "as a precautionary measure." The FSA assures the public that "the controls in place, including removal of the spinal cord, mean that over 99% of any infectivity that would be present if the cow had BSE would have been removed. Restrictions on feedstuffs are regarded as effective in the sharp decline of BSE in recent years. A new EU regime of testing, imposed since last November, had failed to reveal a single case of BSE and the breach in Northern Ireland was attributed to "human error". The results set back Britain's efforts at resumption of beef transshipments and exports and at selling beef on-the-bone, as well as lifting the burden of bureaucracy and inspection entailed in the work of the Meat Hygiene Service and the consequent imposition of levies: the industry believes that it is now able to manage its own supervisions and to compete on fairer terms with imports from South America.
Since 1996, when vCJD was definitely linked with BSE in cattle, a ban was imposed on food from animals aged over 30 months (ie mainly cows from dairy/beef/veal systems and slow-maturing cattle from suckler herds). Younger animals were deemed less likely to carry the infection at a level dangerous to humans (although none was tested). Last year the ban was lifted as the risks seemed less and the EU system of testing was adopted before the meat was passed for sale in the food chain. The present case is the first of an untested cow entering the food supply of the 330,000 slaughtered across the UK since then. The animal was slaughtered at a plant operated by Dunbia Northern Ireland. It was wrongly identified as a different animal, which was under 30 months old but had a similar identification number, which is an integral part of the traceability system. When the second animal arrived at the slaughterhouse a few days later, the mistake came to light. The full list of affected products can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.
The discoveries by EU inspectors of errors in the FSA's surveillance of practices in the dairy industry (see story here) and the imminence of their continued investigations undermine the FSA's authority, and the status of the heavily-subsidized live/deadstock industry sinks lower and lower.
BSE manifested first in cattle in 1986 and by 1992 and 1993 over 30,000 cases a year were being reported across Britain and Northern Ireland. The numbers were in decline by 1996 when the link between BSE and vCJD in humans was established. The disaster of a ban on exports and a drop in sales of beef products (but not of milk) ensued. By now over 183,000 cases of BSE have been confirmed and millions of animals have been slaughtered because they exceeded the limits of the 30-month rule. There is evidence that BSE under the guise of newly-identified atypical scrapie or the older form has jumped species into sheep and goats with potential consequences as dire as those that overtook the cattle industry and the harm to human consumers - or worse. Genetic susceptibilities have been described in breeds of sheep and goats that can be eliminated by selective culling and in the human population.
In the UK, 158 members of the human population have died from vCJD; six are still alive. There is no cure. Five have died so far this year, the same as in the whole of 2005, but down from a peak of 28 in 2000. There lingers the fear, arising from experimentation on other animals, that the threat of "slow" forms of BSE-linked CJD will yet arise and erupt in the future.