Ottawa rates health risk from human remains in farm meat

In a report obtained by The Sun under the Access to Information Act, Health Canada concludes that the risk of disease posed by tainted food products is negligible.

Larry Pynn
Vancouver Sun

Friday, October 29, 2004

A Health Canada study commissioned by RCMP investigating alleged serial killer Robert Pickton has calculated the odds of contracting a disease from eating pork products contaminated with human remains from the accused's Port Coquitlam pig farm.

The federal health-risk assessment study, obtained by The Vancouver Sun through an access to information request, concludes the chance of someone contracting a potentially fatal viral disease such as HIV is extremely low, and that unsanitary and unlicensed food handling conditions at the Pickton pig farm posed a greater health hazard.

"It is believed that there is the possibility that human remains were fed to pigs," reads the seven-page March 11 report by Dr. Tony Giulivi of Ottawa's blood safety surveillance and health care acquired infections division.

"This poses no known risk to the food supply. The viruses ... do not cross the species barrier and would be inactivated by the pig digestive system."

The report says that any pork that may have come in contact with human remains went only to "private customers or associates of the individual under investigation," a figure estimated at 40 persons.

Health Canada based its risk assessment on factors such as: the prevalence of various viruses, bacteria and parasites in the general population; of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis among prostitutes (since they are alleged to have been among Pickton's victims); and of the pork being consumed cooked or uncooked. The risk assessment concluded that anyone who consumed human-tainted pork stood a "very low" risk of contracting hepatitis B, and an "infinitesimally small" risk of contracting hepatitis C.

The theoretical risk of transmission of Creutzfelt-Jakob (mad cow) disease is less than one in one million.

The risk remains "low to medium" of infection by bacterial and parasitic agents such as salmonella and E. coli as a result of "poor hygiene in the area where the meat was processed on the farm. Cooking of the material prior to human consumption reduces the risk."

Under all potential circumstances and diseases, the risk of infection would have been less than one case per 2,500 exposed persons.

Last March, authorities in B.C. warned that pork originating from the Pickton farm may have been contaminated with human remains.

"We wanted to remove any ongoing risk to human health, which we thought was minimal, and for an evidentiary basis," provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said Thursday.

He added he knows of no one coming forward to report having eaten or having been in possession of pork from the Pickton farm.

Asked if anyone who may have consumed tainted meat should still go to a doctor, he said:

"The risk was so low I actually don't think they have to do anything."

He added that the psychological effects might be worse than the physical. "It would have been extremely distasteful for people to think about. Anxiety, disgust and some degree of horror might be experienced by people."

How did RCMP arrive at the estimate of 40 persons at risk?

"We're basing that number on the people interviewed ... who have stated they have been given meat from the property or consumed meat from the property," said Cpl. Catherine Galliford of the Missing Women Task Force. "We have reason to believe some of that meat might have been exposed to human DNA."

Pickton faces 15 counts of first-degree murder following a major police investigation that included DNA evidence unearthed at his Port Coquitlam farm.

Earlier this month, the RCMP said eight women had been added to the missing women's list, bringing the total to 69.


Health Canada scientists rated the risk of infection from 14 different human pathogens. They have rated the risk to people who consumed human tissue or were indirectly exposed to it through farm pigs or food-processing equipment. Researchers noted that many of the women Robert Pickton is accused of murdering were at risk of certain diseases.

Highest-risk diseases from consuming uncooked contaminated food on one occasion:


1 to 3 in 20,000


5 in 10,000

Hepatitis B

1 to 3 in 20,000


1 in 10,000

E. coli O157:H7

1 in 10,000

Source: Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control

Ran with fact box "Assessing Risk", which has been appended to the end of the story.

 The Vancouver Sun 2004

Pickton meat warning lifts number to 2,500

Suzanne Fournier
The Province

Friday, October 29, 2004

Families of women missing from the Downtown Eastside reacted with anger yesterday to news that as many as 2,500 people may have been exposed to contaminated meat from the pig farm of accused serial murderer Robert Pickton.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, who issued a public health alert about possibly contaminated meat from the Pickton farm last March 10, said then that about 40 people might have consumed meat possibly contaminated with human remains.

Kendall yesterday confirmed that a risk assessment prepared by Health Canada, at the request of the B.C. Centres for Disease Control -- which got the request from the RCMP -- estimated the number of people potentially exposed to contaminated meat at 2,500 rather than 40.

"There's a huge difference between 40 people who might have consumed meat from the Pickton farm and this new number of 2,500, and if they knew all along that far more than 40 people consumed meat, one has to wonder why the police didn't make the health and well-being of a large number of people their top priority," said Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn disappeared in 2000 and whose DNA has been found at the Pickton farm.

"Dr. Kendall did the right thing by issuing the public health alert as soon as he knew about it but if the RCMP didn't share with health authorities that a larger number of people were at risk then someone has to answer for this."

Kendall said yesterday it is of concern if 2,500 people were exposed, "but in retrospect, we did not find a single person made ill or a single person who still possessed contaminated meat. We were trying to alert people who might still have meat from the Pickton farm that could have been contaminated by human remains."

Rick and Lynn Frey, whose daughter Marnie disappeared in 1997 and was linked through DNA to the Pickton farm in 2003, said the controversy over how many people had access to the meat from the farm, and when RCMP knew of the health risk, is just one of "many unanswered and troubling questions.

Pickton, 54, is facing trial on 22 first-degree murder charges.

Health Canada spokeswoman Jirina Vlk was not available for comment.

RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford said: "We can only say that based on interviews we conducted we feel about 40 people may have been exposed to human DNA from the (Pickton) farm." 

 The Vancouver Province 2004



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Updated: August 21, 2016