New rules raise concerns over diseased meat

Diseased meat could make it into sausages and pies

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Sausages with Scrambled Eggs and Toast - Photographed on Hasselblad H3D2-39mb Camera

New European rules are coming into force this month which mean that meat inspectors will no longer be able to cut open pig carcasses to check for possible signs of disease: they will only be able to examine the outside. The rules are designed to stop the spread of bacteria - but some experts warn that it may mean diseased meat going undetected.

So should we be worried?



Concerns

Ron Spellman, a British meat inspector and director general of the European Working community for Food inspectors and Consumer protection told the BBC: "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. There's no way to see those little abscesses, little tuberculosis lesions without cutting those lymph nodes."

Meat from those heads is recovered and used in processed foods such as sausages and pies, so these experts argue it is vital to know what is going on inside the head.

Why the change?

However, the new European regulations are the result of extensive research and risk assessment. The Food Standards Agency explains that the new checks will mean inspectors will not touch the meat - which will dramatically reduce the spread of bugs like E.coli.

The decision to change the rules came from risk assessment last year, which identified and ranked the threats to consumers from the meat industry in order of the risk they posed. The ranking was based on incidence of disease, the the severity of the disease in humans and evidence that eating meat is an important risk factor for the disease. It identified that bacterial infection was a major concern that wasn't being addressed at that point - and that not cutting into carcasses was a key way to stop the spread of bacteria.

The researchers at the time admitted that it would "decrease the quality of surveillance for some animal diseases. In particular, surveillance of bovine tuberculosis will be adversely affected." They recommended that the animals should be inspected for disease before slaughter - which is currently done - but accepted that this wouldn't wipe out the risk of diseased meat being eaten altogether.

There is some comfort to be gained from the fact that the experts assessed the risk of eating this deceased meat as far less than the risk of eating meat containing bacteria. In fact, the Food Standards Agency says there are no known cases of people contracting TB from eating meat.

However, even the smallest risk of diseased meat entering pies and sausages will leave some consumers with a nasty taste in their mouth.