VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Human remains suspected in Pickton meat
Petti Fong and Amy O'Brian
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Pork originating from the Port Coquitlam farm of accused serial murderer Robert (Willy) Pickton may have been contaminated with human remains, health and police officials warned Wednesday.
Media gather at news conference on Wednesday where it was revealed that pork originating from the Port Coquitlam farm of accused serial murderer Robert (Willy) Pickton may have been contaminated by human remains.
CREDIT: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun
The meat was distributed or sold to at least 40 relatives, friends and associates of Pickton, but was never sold in retail stores or widely available to the public.
There is no direct proof anyone consumed meat that may have been mixed with human remains, according to B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
"As a result of information we received from the RCMP, we have reason to believe there is a strong possibility that some of the product from the Pickton farm -- and how much the RCMP do not know -- may still be sitting in some people's freezers in the Lower Mainland."
Robert (Willy) Pickton is seen on his farm in this 1996 still from a BCTV news video for a report on property taxes.
CREDIT: BCTV News on Global; Vancouver Sun
The health risk of consuming the meat is through bacterial infections, Kendall told a press conference Wednesday, adding that unless the meat is eaten raw or very rare, there is little risk of transmission.
"We have an obligation to mitigate what may be a small public health risk, even though the meat is two years old and frozen. It would still have the capacity to carry the infection," Kendall said.
"The bacteria would still be viable and still infectious."
He said some people known to have eaten or received meat from the property have already been contacted.
Kendall said his office began investigating the possibility of human remains getting into meat meant for food consumption after the RCMP approached the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to inquire about potential health risks for people who may have eaten pork slaughtered at the farm, given the conditions they discovered at the site.
A formal investigation by Kendall, the centre and officials at Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was launched last Friday.
Officials with the disease control centre said the risk to human health for those who ate the products is "extremely remote" because pork must always be well-cooked, a process that destroys most infectious agents.
However, Kendall said under the circumstances, he has an obligation to the public under the Health Act to ensure those products are not consumed.
The centre for disease control has checked its records to see if there were any outbreaks of food poisoning or other bacterial infections that could be traced to the Pickton farm. Kendall said no outbreaks were recorded.
Dr. David Patrick, director of communicable diseases for the centre for disease control, said the most significant risk to consumers would likely be from bacterial infections that cause salmonella and pig parasites such as trichinosis, which would lead to diarrhea or vomiting.
Patrick said the risk of getting those infections is about one in 10,000 from a single serving of tainted meat.
The risk of getting hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV from infected human remains is extremely low. While Patrick said some of the missing women may have been infected with some of those viruses, the chance of someone becoming infected from eating cross-contaminated meat is unlikely.
"The thing about those viruses, mercifully, is they're not very stable in the environment. The risk of getting those are practically zero."
The RCMP investigation looked into the raising and slaughtering of animals, including pigs, on the property, said Cpl. Catherine Galliford, a spokeswoman for the Missing Women Task Force.
"Conditions at the farm were very unsanitary, including areas where animals were slaughtered," Galliford said. "Because of that, some of the meat produced at the farm may have been exposed to disease and other contaminants, as well as to human DNA."
Vancouver police Det.-Const. Sheila Sullivan, who also is a member of the task force, said anyone who received meat from the farm up to February 2002 and are still in possession of the product in their freezer should contact police.
"The meat in their possession may have been exposed to or connected to existing information related to the murder investigation," Sullivan said.
"Initially the information we had was it was a small number of specific individuals, but as the investigation progressed, we came into possession [of information] that it may have been more widespread," Sullivan said. "We have absolutely no idea how many. It could be larger than 40, but it remains very localized."
Wednesday's announcement did not implicate any commercial meat processors, but The Vancouver Sun has learned that RCMP investigators visited a meat-processing plant last fall to investigate whether any meat from the Pickton farm had ever crossed its path.
Mino Kuiper owned Pitt Meadows Meats until October 2002, and said Wednesday that investigators from the missing women task force spent four days last fall going through his books, looking for any entry that could be linked to Pickton.
Kuiper owned the processing plant for 21 years and said his company processed all types of meat, including about 100 pigs per week, but never any products from Pickton's farm.
He said he was not surprised when police did not find anything in his records linking his former company to Pickton.
"There had never been any animals bought from Pickton, period," Kuiper said. "We never dealt with him. We didn't want nothing to do with him in the first place."
Kuiper said he did not know whether RCMP investigators visited any other pork-related businesses. Pitt Meadows Meats has new owners who do not process pork, Kuiper said.
Pickton was never registered with the B.C. Pork Producers Association and there is no evidence that any of the meat from his farm entered the commercial market.
Clarence Jensen, general manager of the B.C. Hog Marketing Commission and the B.C. Pork Producers' Association, said the Pickton investigation has damaged the public's trust in pork, much like mad cow disease has done for beef.
"This individual [Pickton] has really hurt the industry," Jensen said.
He said all registered hog barns in B.C. are regularly inspected and the meat is -- and always has been -- perfectly safe for consumption.
"There is no way that gentleman [Pickton] sold any product into the consumers' market," Jensen said. "There is absolutely no retail or wholesale outlets that would have distributed his product."
B.C. Solicitor-General Rich Coleman said the first thing that everyone should think about is the families of the victims.
"My heart goes out to them. They are going to hear about another piece of this investigation which is very difficult and very extensive."
Coleman said victim-services workers were attempting to inform members of the missing women's families about the latest findings but word of the developments was leaked to the media Wednesday morning.
"We were hoping to have completed the process by tomorrow and maybe do this more formally ... but because the story started to get out earlier, we felt it was important that the medical health officer make his move a little bit sooner, so we could make sure we didn't have any misconceptions about this out in the public," he said.
The farm was shut down more than two years ago after RCMP searched the site for clues into the whereabouts of women missing from the Downtown Eastside.
Pickton was arrested and charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder. There are 31 victims linked to the disappearance of 65 missing women.
RCMP left the site three months ago, but investigators are still sifting through the evidence and exhibits.
© The Vancouver Sun 2004
Updated: January 01, 2007