‘Diseased meat could go undetected’ due to new inspection rules

In light of an increased risk of infected pork, the European Food Safety Authority (an agency funded by the EU, who follows scientific advice from the Food Standards Agency), has perhaps rather ironically supported new regulations which are considered by many meat inspectors to be a backwards step in the industry.

Before 1st June 2014, inspectors were able to cut open carcasses to fully inspect for disease. Now they must rely on visual checks alone to avoid contaminating meat further.

“Last year we know that there were at least 37,000 pigs’ heads with abscesses or tuberculosis lesions in lymph nodes in the head. They won’t be cut now,” said Ron Spellman, director general of the European Working community for Food inspectors and Consumer protection (EWFC), which represents meat inspectors across the EU. “There’s no way to see those little abscesses, little tuberculosis lesions without cutting those lymph nodes.”

Then again, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the FSA are understandably concerned about the rise in bugs like E. coli and campylobacter. A recent Defra study has also shown that 90% of UK pigs at slaughter had hepatitis E and 1% were thought capable of transmitting the virus as an end product.

“One way to increase consumer safety,” said Sarah O’Brien, professor of infection epidemiology and zoonoses at the University of Liverpool, “is to cook pork products properly.” However, more research into the effect of heat on the virus is needed. “Until then, if anyone offers you pink pork, run a mile,” she added.

How Hepatitis E would effect foods such as salami after the point of curing has also been brought into question, but the development of a testing method is needed before any answers can be given.

Despite the FSA chief, Andrew Rhodes strongly believing it was better to have a hands-off system by using visual checks to reduce cross-contamination, abattoir owner Kevin Burrows from C and K Meats in Suffolk believes it is “a backward step”.

Burrows says that since his Asians customers still insist on their pork being checked inside for abscesses before export, the FSA has agreed for him to do so. “Why should an exported product be under higher scrutiny than a British product?” he says, “We’ll end up with a two-tier system.”

The new rules regarding the inspection of pig carcasses reflect a much bigger proposal from the European commission to amend regulations that currently require all diseases to be removed from the human food chain. Instead, they wish to replace it with a more general requirement which will mean that parasites and diseases that do not fall into major human health concern categories such as foot and mouth or BSE will be ignored.

In April, The Guardian reported that inspectors had recorded more than 2 million instances of tapeworm in red meat in the past two years. They also rejected nearly 3 million animals with pneumonia, 450,000 with abscesses and 28,000 with TB. These now present a much larger risk of reaching the consumer, and if the horsemeat scandal is anything to go by, it shows that industry cannot be trusted to police itself.

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