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Pneumococcal Meningitis

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his answers of 27 June 2002, Official Report, column 1075W, and of 10 April 2002, Official Report, column 519W, if he will make a statement on the correlation between the irregular dispensation of pneumococcal vaccines and the number of pneumococcal meningitis cases over the last five years; and if he will make a statement. [67691]

Ms Blears [holding answer 9 July 2002]: Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine has been recommended for some years for people over the age of two years who are at particular risk from pneumococcal infection such as those people with chronic renal, heart or lung disease. It is not given annually and in most patients is given once only. Once at-risk groups have been targeted for immunisation, the number of people requiring vaccine the following year should fall. Conjugate vaccine, suitable for those under two, has only recently become available.

The number of notified cases of pneumococcal meningitis over the last five years has declined from 300 cases in 1997 to 201 cases in 2001.

A correlation between the dispensation of pneumococcal vaccine and the number or pneumococcal meningitis cases notified in the same year cannot be made.

CJD

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what his assessment is of the quantitative risk of human beings contracting new variant CJD from consuming (a) lamb and matter from animals more than 12 months old and (b) lambs' brains. [68498]

Ms Blears [holding answer 9 July 2002]: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that as the risk of BSE in sheep is theoretical, there is no quantitative assessment of the risk of consuming sheepmeat. Current precautionary controls require the removal as specified risk material of the spleen from all animals and the skull (including brain and eyes), spinal cord and tonsils of sheep over one-year-old. A report on BSE and sheep compiled by a group of stakeholders was endorsed by the Board of the FSA on 13 June 2002. The assessments taken into account in this report indicate that animals over one year would represent a higher risk, if BSE were present. Removal of lamb brain from younger animals was

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assessed to have a minimal impact on increasing the level of risk reduction compared with the current requirement to remove brains from sheep over one-year-old.

Sausage Casings

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the risks to consumers of antibiotic residues in natural sausage casings imported into the United Kingdom from non-EU countries. [68495]

Ms Blears [holding answer 9 July 2002]: Natural sausage casings are not routinely included in the United Kingdom's surveillance programme for veterinary medicines, including antibiotics. Following recent reports that antibiotic residues have been found in natural sausage casings from China and hence might pose a risk to consumers, a European Commission Decision has been implemented whereby 20 per cent. of all consignments of casing from China are required to be sampled and tested for a range of chemical residues including antibiotics. No other countries have been implicated to date.

Wild Game Meat

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent (a) assessment he has made and (b) representations he has received relating to the Wild Game Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995; and if he will make a statement. [69024]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: I have not received any recent representations, nor made any recent assessments, relating to the Wild Game Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995.

However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which advises the Government on matters of food safety, has recently received representations from the wild game meat industry about certain of the requirements laid down in the regulations, notably the post mortem health checks on small venison carcases. As a result, FSA officials are working with the wild game meat industry on practicable ways to comply with the post mortem inspection requirements that also provide the appropriate safeguards for food safety and public health.

Food Standards Agency

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what his estimate is of the time taken to establish the Food Standards Agency following the date of Royal Assent to the relevant Act of Parliament. [69087]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: It took less than five months to establish the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The Food Standards Act 1999 received Royal Assent on 11 November 1999 and the FSA started work on 1 April 2000.

Food Safety

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he was informed that imported frozen chicken breasts adulterated with beef protein powder could present a risk of BSE. [68850]

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Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: I have not received any scientific advice that imported frozen chicken could present a risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). When the Food Standards Agency conducted a survey in 2001 it did not detect any deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of bovine origin in imported frozen chicken. A subsequent survey published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in May 2002 detected bovine DNA in some samples, which was associated with protein derived low risk materials such as hides and milk.

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when the Food Standards Agency began to test imported frozen chicken breasts to determine whether they contained foreign DNA which was not declared on the label; and if he will make a statement on the results of the tests. [68845]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: Following an earlier survey in 2000, the Food Standards Agency found that some retail frozen chicken breast has excessive amounts of added water. Therefore in 2001, the Food Standards Agency and 22 local authorities conducted a joint survey investigating the composition and labelling of frozen chicken breast from catering suppliers. The survey found two samples tested positive for porcine deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), but none of the samples tested positive for bovine DNA. The results of this survey were made public in December 2001.

The main finding of the survey was the problem of mislabelling of this type of product as to its description, its excessive water content, and the presence of undeclared hydrolysed chicken and pork protein.

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures are taken by his Department to monitor the labelling of imported frozen chicken breasts. [68851]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: The monitoring and enforcement of labelling of all foods, including imported frozen chicken breasts, is the responsibility of local authorities. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also carried out two surveys on the accuracy of labelling of frozen chicken breast, one in 2000 on retail samples and a further joint survey with 22 local authorities of frozen chicken breast destined for the catering sector in 2001. Both surveys have been published on the FSA's website.

As a result of these surveys and subsequent work undertaken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the European Union Commission has asked the Dutch authorities to take action to ensure correct labelling of chicken exported to other member states.

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures his Department is taking to prevent the import of frozen chicken breasts adulterated with beef protein powder which could present a risk of BSE. [68849]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: As a result of the Food Standards Agency's survey and subsequent work by the Food Safety Authority-Ireland, the agency has approached the authorities of the exporting countries to ensure correct labelling of these products. The agency is working with local authorities to follow up survey findings and take prosecutions where appropriate. The

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issue has also been raised with other member states, and the European Commission have agreed to take action against the Dutch authorities if they do not ensure correct labelling of frozen chicken breast exported to member states.

All bovine material entering the food chain is subject to European Union-wide BSE controls. Therefore, provided these controls have been applied, any traces of beef that may be in any other products would not raise new food safety concerns.

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment of risk to human health has been made by his Department with regard to bovine DNA contained in imported frozen chicken breasts. [68843]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency that no bovine deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) has been detected in agency surveys of imported frozen chicken.

A survey undertaken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, published on 21 May 2002, detected bovine DNA in the form of milk protein or collagen. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infectivity has never been detected in milk, so milk protein is not considered to present a BSE risk. The European Commission Scientific Steering Committee concluded at its meeting of 10–11 May 2001 that the parts of the hide used for the production of collagen do not present a risk with regard to BSE provided contamination with potentially infected material is avoided. In addition it is a requirement throughout the European Union that food or food products (including bovine proteins) must not be derived from either confirmed or suspected BSE cases, specified risk material, or animals slaughtered at over thirty months of age that have not tested negative for BSE.

Mr. Keith Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list the countries from which the UK imports frozen chicken breasts which were suspected of containing foreign DNA of bovine origins in the last 12 months. [68846]

Ms Blears [holding answer 11 July 2002]: The Food Standards Agency's survey in 2001 did not detect any DNA of bovine origin in the samples of imported frozen chicken breasts. Those samples of chicken found with DNA of porcine origin were imported from Belgium and The Netherlands.


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