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Frozen Chicken Breasts May Have
Mad Cow Risk, Say Food Safety Officials

Food safety officials are checking whether frozen chicken breasts on sale in the UK could be mixed with beef protein, thus posing a potential BSE (Mad Cow) risk.

The Food Standards Agency said it was carrying out "more sensitive tests" to check for beef proteins in certain brands of chicken fillets from the Netherlands and other countries, including the UK.

But it stressed no evidence of bovine material had so far been found in any chicken in the UK.

The Guardian newspaper reported that "vast quantities" of chicken adulterated with beef protein powder could be on sale in the UK - and that this in turn could pose a risk of BSE.

The scare followed UK FSA tests in December, which found that some chicken breasts contained pork protein not stated on the label.

These sparked studies in the Irish republic which found "foreign DNA" in more than half its samples of the products - some from beef, some from pork and some from both.

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the apparent lack of labelling was "deeply worrying" for people who for religious reasons cannot eat pork or beef.

"All food should be labelled accurately. This is very important to us because pork is absolutely forbidden according to the Koran."

BSE fears

Proteins are sometimes added to chicken to make the meat absorb water. The process, known as "tumbling", has been common in the Netherlands for several years but also happens in other countries.

But DNA tests are only now sophisticated enough to spot them.

The FSA said that even if beef traces were found, there should not be a BSE risk.

"Any bovine material should have been subject to European-wide BSE controls, the same controls which apply to all beef products.

"Therefore, provided these controls have been applied, any traces of beef that may be in the chicken products would not raise any new food safety concerns."

Labelling issue

The agency said that under European law, it is not in itself illegal to add water or hydrolised protein such as pork - if the added ingredients are properly labelled.

However, the FSA said that if the chicken products were not accurately labelled, that would be illegal.

The FSA said it had raised the matter with the Dutch authorities, but had been dissatisfied with the response and had since approached the European Commission.

The Dutch Food Safety Authority said the companies involved would be given an official warning for improperly labelling their export products but would not be fined, as no real health problems had been caused.

"These additions are not illegal and the only problem is that they were not mentioned properly on the labels," spokesman Bert Hendriks said.

April 7, 2010


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