Meat from diseased animals being sold by farming ministry
Many manufacturers reject it, but the meat is used schools and hospitals
Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) defended the sales, claiming risk of TB transmission is ‘extremely low’
Beef from cows that are infected with bovine tuberculosis could be being served in schools and hospitals, it has emerged.
The Government has admitted that meat from 28,000 diseased cattle is sold every year to catering firms and some supermarkets.
The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is believed to be making £10million a year selling the infected carcasses. Officials claim the risk of catching the illness from eating infected meat is ‘extremely low’.
But Tesco has refused to sell the beef due to public health concerns and Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Burger King and McDonald’s have also chosen to ban it.
Herds are checked for bovine TB every one to four years. Any infected cattle are slaughtered, and the Government pay farmers up to £1,700 per animal in compensation.
DEFRA (Department for Food and Rural Affairs) can then sell the meat on to catering firms, processors or supermarkets without providing any warning labels.
It is not clear what companies have bought the meat but Sodexo, Aramark and Compass – which supply food to hospitals and schools – could not deny serving it. Around 70 Britons become infected with bovine tuberculosis every year.
The symptoms are similar to the more common ‘human’ form, which causes a severe cough, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Most people catch the illness by consuming infected milk or beef or by coming into contact with diseased cattle. The strain, which used to be very common, killed around 2,500 Britons each year in the 1920s and 1930s. Many patients caught it from infected milk.
The Government subsequently introduced milk pasteurization and the heating process now kills the bacteria carrying the disease.
But the illness is on the rise in cattle, and experts are concerned it could soon become a health risk for humans again.
The Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for food safety, said if a cow was infected in one area of its body then the rest of its meat was fit for consumption.
Despite this, in 2005 one of DEFRA’s own researchers – Ricardo de la Rua-Domenech – found meat from other areas of the cow could still infect humans.
The meat is sold with no warning to processors or consumers that it comes from bTB infected cattle.
The Government is so worried about the threat bovine tuberculosis poses to humans that it has ordered the cull of tens of thousands of badgers, who are thought to spread the disease between cows.
However Dr Lucy Thomas, from Public Health England, stressed that the problem was not yet ‘widespread’ as the ‘numbers now are very small’.
And a DEFRA spokesman said: ‘All meat from cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB must undergo rigorous food safety checks before it can be passed fit for consumption.
‘The risk of infection from eating meat, even if raw or under cooked, remains extremely low.’