Britain accused over milk 'tainted' with antibiotics
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Britain faces devastating allegations that it is allowing milk containing antibiotics and other contaminants into the food chain.
The European Commission announced it is prosecuting the UK for failing to enforce proper residue testing and hygiene standards.
The case centres of a Lancashire cheese-maker, however it calls into question the health practices of the entire £5.6 billion UK dairy industry.
The Commission is concerned that the antibiotic testing regime of milk in the UK, which is overseen by Britain's Food Standards Agency,(FSA) may be inadequate.
Separately, it believes the FSA is failing to properly police dairy hygiene standards.
However, the Commission's allegations were slammed by the Dairy industry and British politicians last night, who accused Brussels of a massive over-reaction.
The Dairy Council said the milk produced by farmers to drink and to make into cheese and other products is clear of all drug residues.
Brussels is taking Britain to the European Court for allegedly allowing dirty and potentially harmful food into stores.
It is also launching an investigation into the antibiotic testing regime and hygiene standards across the entire British dairy industry.
Antibiotics get into milk after cows are given them to treat a number of conditions, particularly mastitis, an infection of the udders, and foot problems.
However, doctors have expressed concern about antibiotic residues getting in to human food.
The danger is that people exposed to these drugs build up a resistance to the beneficial effects of medicinal antibiotics.
Consequently, if they fall ill, doctors find it more difficult to treat and cure them.
The UK could be hit with a multi-million pound fine if the Commission wins its case. In a worst case scenario, Brussels could impose an export ban on UK dairy products.
The investigation was triggered by an investigation into Bowland Dairy Ltd in Lancashire, which faces ruin and closure.
Investigators from the Commission's Food and Veterinary Office(FVO) became suspicious after finding a milk marked 'unfit for human consumption' was being sent to Bowland.
The FVO subsequently mounted an inspection at the company in June and identified a series of apparently alarming practices.
It alleges milk containing antibiotic and detergent residues was being used to manufacturer cheese. It is also claimed that old and out of date milk from supermarkets, some contaminated with dyes, was used for cheese.
The Commission said the FSA failed to clean-up Bowland.
Spokesman, Philip Tod, said: 'The commission considers that the national authority's failure to take appropriate measures in response to unlawful and unhygienic practices in Bowland Dairy constitutes an infringement of EU legislation.'
Cheese curd manufacturerd by Bowland went to firms in Europe, particularly Germany and Austria. It was used to make spreads, sauces and soups.
Bowland yesterday insisted it is innocent of any wrong-doing. The company claims it always followed UK standards covering antibiotic testing and hygiene.
Despite this, company director, John Wright, said the EU has banned its products and the firm will have to close with the loss of 26 jobs.
Mr Wright said: 'This was a small, successful business. I took advice from the FSA in good faith and followed their procedures.
'Nothing was used without being tested and the FSA gave us the all clear. Now there is a row between Europe and the FSA about those tests.
'They squabble and 26 people lose their livelihoods.'
The FSA insists that the antibiotic testing regime used in Britain is rigorous and protects the public.
Chief executive, John Harwood, said the problems boil down to a technical dispute between Brussels and the FSA over how antibiotic and other residues should be measured.
He said: 'There is no dispute between ourselves and the Commission about the fundamental principles of food safety. It is not acceptable either for us, or the Commission, for food that is unfit to go into the food chain.
'The difficulty is in some of the technical detail about how that is assessed and measured. And whether the ways we have used in this country, and I believe elsewhere, should continue.'
A spokesman for the Dairy Council said: 'Surveillance of British milk shows it is clear of antibiotics. The European Commission is confused.
'There is no risk whatsoever from antibiotic residues.'
The Lib-Dem MEP for the North West, Sajjad(correct) Karim, joined the attack saying: 'The Commission's heavy-handedness in this case is wholly irresponsible.
'There is a genuine difference of opinion on the science behind the testing for antibiotics in milk.
'The FSA, for its part, must work harder to find a resolution before more small businesses are made to pay the price.
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