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Specified Bovine Material Handling: Surveillance

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 2 May 1996

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What was the outcome of the State Veterinary Service's surveillance of the handling of specified bovine offals in January, February and March 1996.

The controls on specified bovine offals (SBO), now termed specified bovine material (SBM), are central to the protection of public health from any risk from BSE. They require the removal of all those tissues known potentially to harbour BSE infectivity from all cattle at slaughter. Compliance with these controls is of paramount importance as my right honourable Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made clear on a number of occasions in the House and directly to slaughterhouse operators.The State Veterinary Service (SVS) carries out regular unannounced visits to all plants handling SBMs to monitor their compliance with the controls. The result of their surveillance visits in January, February and March 1996 are shown in the table below.These results show that there has been a significant and sustained improvement in the handling of SBMs since the most recent intensive surveillance programme began in September 1995. It is disappointing, however, that deficiencies are still being found in a small number of slaughterhouses, hunt kennels and knackeries. We expect all plants to continue to work hard to ensure they do fully comply with the controls.It is important to note that many of the failings in SBM handling found were of a comparatively mild nature, for example problems with staining SBM or with record keeping, and which would not present a direct risk to public or animal health. There were, however,

January 1996February 1996March 1996
No. visitsNo. unsatisfacory visitsPercentage unsatisfactoryNo. visitsNo. unsatisfactory visitsPercentage unsatisfactoryNo. visitsNo. unsatisfactory visitsPercentage unsatisfactory
Slaughterhouses321165.0274176.2264103.8
Hunt Kennels and Knackeries242156.218773.7219146.4
Rendering plants16116.76116.76116.7
Rendering plants1280015213.32514.0

Note:

1 Rendering plants and incinerators have to be specifically approved to handle SROs, only a small number of such plants are so approved.

four further instances of the most serious failing, three in which small pieces of spinal cord were left attached to carcases after dressing and one in which the entire spinal cord was left attached, from mid-January to mid-March (there have been no such instances since the middle of March). A total of 25 instances in which spinal cord was left attached to carcases have now been detected since the summer of 1995. In this same period over 2 million cattle were slaughtered.

The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) has the responsibility of enforcing the SBM controls in slaughterhouses. It does this most rigorously and we have made available extra resources to ensure that the agency can discharge its responsibilities effectively. The agency's staff are fully aware that they may face disciplinary action as a result of their failure fully to enforce the controls. Since the summer, 22 MHS officials have been subject to full disciplinary investigation as a result of their failure to ensure full compliance with the SBM controls. One officer has been dismissed, 12 have received formal disciplinary warnings, and no formal action has been taken against the other nine, although they have been issued with a written caution. In addition, two inspectors are currently under investigation. Before any of these staff have been allowed to begin their work again they have undergone retraining. In one of these cases the MHS has referred the plant to MAFF's legal services for investigation.

Slaughterhouses face prosecution for significant breaches of the SBM controls, when sufficient evidence is available. At present one such case is before the courts and several more are under investigation with a view to prosecution.

The SVS will continue their regular unannounced visits to all plants handling SBMs. The MHS will continue to enforce rules most vigorously, and press for prosecutions where there is sufficient evidence to support a case.