Devon firm loses OTM licence

A second slaughterhouse, West Devon Meat, had its licence to kill over 30-month cattle suspended on 1 December, after irregularities in its BSE testing procedures came to light.

Defra has launched an investigation to see whether brain stem samples had been allegedly switched to avoid failing over 30-month (OTM) BSE tests. The incident relating to the samples occurred on 24 November, when one sample pot was found to contain two samples, but there was no empty pot when a batch of 357 brain test samples - all of which tested negative for BSE - were sent to a testing laboratory.

When this was discovered, on 25 November, Defra decided to DNA-test these samples, another five each side of the doubled-up sample and the sample from the final two animals slaughtered that day - a total of 13 carcases and 14 brain stem samples. The DNA results showed that one of the brain samples did not match any of the carcases

West Devon Meat slaughters between 900 and 1,000 OTM cattle a week and exports around 75% of them to the Continent.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the incident was not considered a health risk, as the batch of 10 cattle linked to the suspect sample were detained and no parts of the animals entered the food chain.

Two other incidents, alleged to have involved brain stem sample irregularities, have also emerged. Dunbia Meats in Northern Ireland allowed OTM meat, slaughtered on 25 October, to enter the food chain untested. This came to public attention on 3 November, by which time the carcase, including distributed offal and by-products, had to be recalled. Dunbia's OTM licence was not suspended, but an investigation into Dunbia Meats is still in progress.

ABP Newry in Northern Ireland also had its OTM licence suspended on 31 July, after staff at the AFBI Veterinary Science Division laboratory found two BSE samples "that did not look fresh as others", according to an FSA report. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) said it could not comment as the investigation was ongoing. But in a recent report, the FSA said the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland would not proceed with a prosecution, as it was unlikely to succeed.

The report continued: "They [ABP Newry] have also been advised of the corrective action needed. Dard will ensure that action has been taken before OTM slaughter is permitted."

A spokesman for ABP said the incident was a simple error that had been dealt with and the plant was expecting to hear the suspension of its OTM licence had been lifted any day now.