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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Baby food firms deny mad cow risk
feeding baby
There is concern over the contents of baby foods during the 1980s
Companies producing baby food for the UK have hit back at claims that the meat they used could be the cause of vCJD in children.

Boots, Heinz and Cow and Gate, which between them make a large proportion of the total processed baby foods sold in the UK, all said they had never extracted meat from potentially-infectious areas of beef cattle.

These include the spine and skull, and meat taken from the tonsils, tongue, spleen or intestines - areas which harbour more of the infectious agent in BSE-infected cattle.

The government banned the use of various offals, and meat extracted from the spine and skull in 1989.

Dr Robert Will, director of the government's CJD surveillance unit in Edinburgh, said at the weekend that meat processing methods in the 1980s may have led to contaminated beef ending up on children's plates.

Abattoir methods

In particular, he said, the process of "mechanically recovering" meat could have increased the risk.

This involves using high pressure jets of air or water to blast small scraps of meat from the carcass of an animal that has already been butchered and prime cuts removed.

The resultant slurry is forced through a fine-mesh sieve which removes some of the excess connective tissue.

Beef and other red meat is produced only by this kind of machine.

Other types of mechanical meat extraction, used create poultry feeds, involve a screw with a crushing action - meaning that more bone material ends up in the feed.

However, a spokesman for Heinz said that the company had never used mechanically-recovered meat from beef in its baby foods.

He added that the company had never used any of the offal later banned by the UK government.

A spokesman for Cow and Gate, another major manufacturer, said: "During the 1980s, we used muscle meat from areas like the leg and forequarters of beef.

"Our specification has always excluded meat from the skull of an animal, (including brain and eyes), tonsils, tongue, spleen, spinal cord, thymus or intestines, even before the Bovine Offal Regulations were introduced."

A spokesman for Boots also moved to reassure parents.

She said: "We can confirm that, before its ban in 1989, mechanically recovered meat from the specified risk materials was never used in the production of Boots brand baby food."

There are, however, still fears that children's food relying heavily on cheaper sources of meat during the 1980s might include larger amounts of meat mechanically recovered from more potentially risky areas of the carcass.

The variant of CJD attributed to exposure to infected beef seems to have affected a proportionately larger number of young people.

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See also:

19 Jan 00 | Health
CJD 'will not be an epidemic'
16 Jul 00 | Health
School meals link to CJD deaths
28 Apr 00 | Health
CJD: Anguish of a victim's family
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