Investigation into testing failures report published
Monday 11 October 2004
The findings of an independent inquiry into the failure of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), an Executive Agency of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), to BSE test an estimated 261 casualty cattle are published today. The inquiry was initiated by the FSA Board in June, following an MHS audit that uncovered a number of failures to test casualty cattle1 aged 24-30 months.
The independent inquiry2 concluded that, on the basis of existing advice from the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC)3, the risk to human health from all casualty cattle entering the food chain was very low. This is because there have been no confirmed cases of BSE in cattle under 30 months in the UK since 1996, there have been no BSE positives detected in the more than 2,800 casualty cattle aged 24-30 months tested to date, and that Specified Risk Material (SRM) controls (which remove more than 99% of any infectivity that may be present) are applied.
A steering group, led by Professor Patrick Wall, Professor of Food Safety at University College Dublin and former Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, was set up to oversee the inquiry. Its report and recommendations will be considered by the Board of the FSA at its open meeting this Thursday, after which an action plan will be developed for further consideration by the Agency's Board at its meeting in December.
Professor Wall said:
'We have concluded that there were a number of reasons for the testing failures and that all organisations involved – FSA, Defra, MHS and their contractors – contributed to one degree or another. It is our view that these failures occurred principally because the requirements and the objectives of testing were not clearly agreed nor communicated effectively and not properly monitored.
'The Steering Group considers that these failures are in contrast to the MHS delivery of the requirement to remove specified risk material (SRM) – the main BSE control. Here the instructions were clear and unambiguous, with the MHS giving the requirement high priority, providing good training and supervision, and rigorous monitoring.
'I would also stress that during our investigations we did not uncover any problems that cannot be remedied without too much difficulty. I hope that our recommendations will be considered carefully by all the parties involved and would like to thank the members of the independent group for their contributions.'
Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the FSA, said:
'When these failures were first reported the Food Standards Agency ordered the MHS to take immediate action to ensure that BSE testing of casualty cattle was being applied. While it is reassuring that the risks from these failings is very low, the Agency expects the proper implementation of all BSE controls and surveillance measures.
'I am very grateful to Professor Wall and his colleagues for their report and such a thorough independent inquiry. The Board will consider their findings very carefully and commission an action plan that addresses these recommendations in a robust and thorough way.'
Along with Professor Wall, the independent Steering Group also included former president of the British Veterinary Association and member of SEAC, Peter Jinman, as well as Barbara Saunders, consumer affairs consultant and former member of the FSA's Food Advisory Committee. The investigation, overseen by the Steering Group, was carried out on their behalf by expert auditors PKF. Its investigation involved a comprehensive review of the relevant arrangements within MHS, FSA and DEFRA, along with visits to plants and interviews and surveys of contractors and Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVSs).
(1) Casualty cattle are animals subject to special emergency slaughter, because of an accident or other serious condition, or because they show signs of any disease, injury or abnormality at ante mortem inspection.
(2) The Inquiry was set up by the FSA to find out the reasons for the failings by the MHS and why they were not identified earlier; as well as to make recommendations to improve the robustness of the testing arrangements. It was supported in its work by investigations undertaken by independent auditors PKF.
(3) SEAC – the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee's role is to provide independent expert scientific advice to the Government on spongiform encephalopathies such as BSE, CJD and scrapie. Its remit is wide-ranging, and covers public health, food safety and animal health issues.
Contact: Shaun Whelan at FSA Press Office on 020 7276 8888
Room 245 Aviation House,
London WC2B 6NH
Telephone: 020 7276 8888
Out of hours duty pager: 07623 978344
Fax: 020 7276 8833