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French gourmets aghast at dirty pig slaughter report

December 29, 2000 Web posted at: 10:03 AM EST (1503 GMT) In this story:

Animal welfare concerns

Corrective steps taken

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PARIS, France (Reuters) -- First it was mad cows, then dodgy duck and now sullied slaughterhouses. Another food scandal hit France on Friday, and with it the announcement that one of the country's top restaurants was shunning meat for good.

Arpege, one of the high temples of the Paris food scene, will soon turn vegetarian as a result of Chef Alain Passard's personal tastes, French daily Liberation reported.

"We must get back to the essences of the earth. I hope to contribute to a deep change in culinary creation," the 44-year-old chef said, capping a year in which French pride in its cuisine has been dashed by one food scare after another.

However, Passard's announcement was upstaged by a report about unsanitary pig meat production practices in France.

Daily Le Figaro published sections of a report describing severe hygiene problems, lack of veterinary controls and significant lapses in animal welfare witnessed during an European Union fact-finding mission to French slaughterhouses, farms and laboratories earlier this summer.

At one slaughterhouse, inspectors from the EU's Food and Veterinary Office said blood from pigs was collected for human consumption in an unclean way.

"The animals were stabbed on a conveyor belt and blood was collected in an open system with high risk of contamination from the unclean skin," the experts wrote in the report.

"Not all workers had easy access to hand wash facilities and sterilizers. Hand held hoses were frequently used for rinsing hands and tools, leading to a high risk of contaminating carcasses," the report said. Animal welfare concerns

The report also detailed how animals with chronic diseases and old infected fractures were seen at one site.

"Some of these animals had been transported to the slaughterhouses despite the fact that they were obviously not fit for transport or human consumption," the report said.

"In some cases sick animals in obvious pain were left for several hours in the pens before being inspected by a veterinarian and killed," it said.

In one of the report's more graphic examples of animal welfare lapses, the inspectors described seeing a pig that had been stunned in order to be killed but which then regained consciousness.

"The animal recovered and jumped off the conveyor belt just before the chaining was to take place," said the report, which is available on the Internet at Corrective steps taken

Claire Gaudot, assistant director of food safety at the farm ministry's General-Directorate for Foods, acknowledged that the report had highlighted some shortcomings, but said these had since been rectified.

Gaudot told Reuters that France had recently adopted rules designed to make the collection of blood at abattoirs more hygienic. Gaudot said that since June, injured animals could no longer be transported to slaughterhouses.

News of the pig slaughter report emerged a day after France reported eight new cases of mad cow disease. That brought the total number of French cases of the deadly, brain-wasting disease this year to 153 -- more than five times the number reported in 1999.

Consumers in France and elsewhere in Europe have shunned beef since three French supermarket chains reported in October they had accidentally sold beef from a herd containing an animal suffering from mad cow disease, which has been linked to a similar illness in humans.

Shortly after that disclosure, officials confirmed a report that 23 tons of duck confit, a hearty southwest specialty of duck meat preserved in its own fat, turned out to be rotten in a routine inspection last year.

-- K (, January 01, 2001

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