New checks on imported meat

Meat inspectors have detected remnants of spinal cord in two consignments of beef quarters imported into Eastbourne from Germany and Holland, breaching EU rules.

Spinal cord is on the list of specified risk material (SRM) which, under EU law, must be removed from cattle aged over 12 months immediately after slaughter. EU-wide SRM controls came into force throughout Europe on 1st October last year.

The discovery was made today (1 March) in two consignments of imported beef. Both consignments have been detained by the Meat Hygiene Service and the affected material will be destroyed. They consisted of:

19,212 kgs - 216 quarters - from Fleischverkaufsstelk, Kalkar, Germany. Five quarters were found to contain spinal cord.

18,051 kgs - 188 quarters - from Brada's Vleeschbedigf B.V., Leevwarden, Netherlands. Seven quarters were found to contain spinal cord.

Certification states that the carcases were under 30 months of age, and therefore abided by the UK rules which prohibits the entry into the food chain of cattle over 30 months of age (the OTM rule).

Suzi Leather, Deputy Chair of the FSA said:

"None of this meat will get anywhere near the food chain and shows the importance of robust inspection systems. Both the MHS and local authorities have been vigilant in ensuring that BSE controls are being enforced.

"We are investigating the abattoirs that are the source of these breaches and will be informing the relevant enforcement authorities to ensure 100% targeting of these abattoirs until we can be sure they are abiding by EU rules.

"There is likely to be an increase in imported meat because of the foot and mouth outbreak and we need to ensure continued consumer protection from potential health risks, particularly those associated with BSE. That is why, earlier today, the FSA issued instructions for increased checks on imported meat. This stepped up action will apply to imported meat as an emergency measure and is a sensible precaution."

The Food Standards Agency issued instructions last night to local authorities and this morning to the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) to step up checks on imported meat arriving at licensed meat cutting plants in England, Scotland and Wales.

This action is in anticipation of a possible increase in imported beef because of the current foot and mouth outbreak. Much of the increase is expected to come from countries affected by BSE, particularly those that have experienced a recent drop in demand and a steep fall in prices.

The MHS, an Executive Agency of the Food Standards Agency, is responsible for enforcing meat hygiene regulations and BSE controls in licensed abattoirs and meat cutting plants. It has been instructed by the Agency to review the inspection needs that may arise in meat plants from any increase in imported fresh beef.

MHS staff will check:

  • that BSE controls are being applied
  • that the meat is properly health marked
  • that the accompanying documents are correctly completed
  • that any seals on packaging are intact.

German beef will continue to be subject to 100% inspection in licensed cutting plants.

In addition to the instructions to the MHS, local authorities are also being asked to step up their work. In particular, they are being asked to target additional Over Thirty Month and SRM checks in businesses on a risk-assessed basis.

All beaches of SRM controls on imported meat from the EU are reported to the European Commission who have responsbility for ensuring the control measures are enforced. In addition, the breaches are reported to the appropriate government authorities in the relevant countries.

Up to date information on BSE from the FSA is available from www.bsereview.org.uk.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. It is illegal to sell meat from cattle over the age of 30 months for human consumption.
     
  2. Specified Risk Material (SRM) consists of the parts of cattle, sheep and goats that are most closely connected with the central nervous system and therefore most likely to contain BSE. All SRM must be removed and safely destroyed. The SRM Regulations apply throughout the EU. For cattle, they are slightly different for the UK and Portugal because of their histories of BSE.
     
  3. The checks made by the Meat Hygiene Service and by local authorities on behalf of the Food Standards Agency are designed to maintain food safety by ensuring that imported beef abides by the regulations relating to human consumption.
     
  4. This is the fifth breach of SRM controls on meat imported from Germany detected by the Meat Hygiene Service this year. This is the first breach detected on meat imported from Holland.
     
  5. Imports of bovine carcase meat from the Netherlands December 1999 to November 2000 were 8,409 tonnes. Over the same period there were 1,604 tonnes imported from Germany.