Hormone claim sparks row

The government has dismissed a claim by one of its own experts that some imported beef is from cattle pumped up with growth promoters and poses a risk to

human health.

John Verrall, a member of a

government advisory committee due to publish a report on the safety of hormone growth

products in beef products, has called for all meat imports to be tested for the substances.

"No tests have been conducted since July 2004," he told MTJ. "There should be a ban on meat originating from countries found to have tested positive for such hormones until such product is proven to be safe."

Verrall, a pharmaceutical chemical and consumer representative on the Veterinary Products Committee, claimed the UK will see its breast and prostate cancers rise to the levels found in the US if testing is not carried out. The suspect hormones are oestradiol, testosterene, progestrone, zeranol,

trenbolone and melegesterol acetate. "There is clear evidence of the risk to human health posed by these hormones. Research shows oestradiol is considered a cancer risk," he said.

The Soil Association demanded the immediate re-introduction of a testing programme. Policy adviser Richard Young added:

"Almost 40% of the beef

consumed in the UK is imported yet it has not been subjected to anything like the same level of residue testing as British beef."

Defra confirmed the UK had conducted tests on imported beef for hormones trenbolone and Zeranol in 2003 and 2004.

However, it was unable to confirm that testing had continued since then. A Defra spokeswoman dismissed Verrall's findings as being premature. "As far as this report is concerned, it is being prepared by the independent VPC and has not been formally published."

She added: "Individual exporting companies are responsible for carrying out their own testing, the onus is on them to ensure exported products do not contain these substances."

A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency said: "The FSA is in favour of a precau-tionary approach. There is no indication that the generic EU ban is to be lifted but should there be any prospect of lifting it, the Agency would call for a case-by-case risk assessment of each hormone before it could be granted authorisation."

This latest scare will further put pressure on the UK government to ban Brazilian beef as it is the largest non-EU exporter of meat to Britain.

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