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Traces of bone meal detected in Swiss mill

The contaminated bran was to be used for animal feed Keystone Archive

The Federal Veterinary Office has seized flour produced in a Swiss mill after it was found to contain traces of bone meal.

This content was published on November 15, 2001 - 21:35

Under Swiss law, animal feed containing bone meal has been outlawed since the beginning of this year after it was named as a possible source of mad cow disease, or BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy).

However, the federal research centre for animals in Posieux, canton Fribourg, discovered traces of bone meal in samples of bran destined for animal consumption. But the mill, where the prohibited ingredient was found, also produces flour for human consumption.

Wheat samples

"We found out that the mill also produced wheat," Dr Dagmar Heim from the Federal Veterinary Office told swissinfo, "so then we took samples of wheat."

Heim, who is heading up the investigation team, said her team found microscopic evidence of bone meal in just one of the wheat samples.

As a precautionary measure Heim decided to recall the bran and wheat flour and to close the mill for the time being. So far some 65 tonnes of flour have been recalled.

Heim was tight-lipped about revealing the name and location of the mill, but Switzerland's German-speaking television late news show, "10 vor 10", named it as the Intermill in canton Aargau.

The Federal Veterinary Office has now launched a large-scale investigation into how the contamination happened.

"We need to find out now if this is a general problem because we suspect there
was a contamination of raw materials," Heim said. "We don't know where this happened, but maybe it was during transport or maybe during storage. We now need to look at other mills to find out how big the problem is."

For it's part, the mill in the village of Schöftland, said that the contamination must have happened during transit because it's grinding equipment had not come into contact with tainted flour. Since the middle of September, the mill has received cereal deliveries from more than 220 federal distribution centres.

Little danger

Heim was quick to point out that the situation posed little danger to the health of consumers.

"In the wheat we only found one microscopic bone and we cannot say that this was a bone from a BSE infected cow," she said. "We did some risk assessment and with the traces of bone we found the risk for the consumer is very low."

Even though the risk is minimal, Migros and Coop, the two largest food retailers in Switzerland, issued statements on Wednesday evening. Both said they were unaffecetd by the Veterinary Office's findings.

Migros buys its flour from ten Swiss mills and their supplier's list does not include the one where the contaminated wheat was discovered. Coop runs its own mills.

Intermill supplies flour to many bakeries in the North-West of the country. The Swiss Association of Bakery and Patisserie owners said it was concerned by the Federal Veterinary Office's findings and called for tighter quality controls.

However, the association said that any bread made with such flour would not pose a risk to health because of the temperature at which the dough was baked.

Although Heim said the risk to humans was minimal, she could not rule out the possibilty that the bone meal in question could have already entered the food chain via animal feed.

Investigations are now under way to determine the level of contamination and to exclude the possibility that impurities could have been present in sections of the mill's granary.

Meanwhile, the office has confiscated supplies of bran destined for other mills or for animal feed.

swissinfo with agencies

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