The UK Food Standards Agency is launching an investigation aimed at obtaining from food manufacturers information vital to calculate the risk of vCJD (the human form of the mad cow disease BSE).

A government committee is trying to ascertain how much meat potentially contaminated with BSE may have entered the human food chain, and the food industry stands accused of withholding information without which it is impossible to calculate the risk with any degree of accuracy.

According to the BBC, there are fears that some of the meat ended up in school dinners.

SEAC (the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee) has been asking food companies how much MRM (mechanically recovered meat) they used in the past, but says it has been “continually thwarted” in its efforts to extract information from the industry.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme early this morning [Thursday], three top SEAC scientists launched an unprecedented attack on elements within the food industry which they claimed have withheld vital information. SEAC chairman Dr Peter Smith commented: “It has been frustrating – this is important information to have.”

MRM is likely to contain spinal cord – the part of a cow most likely to be contaminated with BSE.

The BBC reported that three leading food companies, the British Meat Federation and the British Meat Manufacturers’ Association all declined to give an interview to the Today programme. The meat industry has previously said that it has not been withholding information on purpose – in many cases records were simply not kept.

So far, 100 are believed to have died as a direct result of eating BSE-infected meat. It is feared the death toll could rise to 100,000. If MRM was indeed channelled in some cases into school dinners, this would explain why so many of the victims have been children and teenagers.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Meat & Meat Products

Meat Hygiene – New Edition

Handbook of Meat Product Technology