Leading Article: A bone to pick

IF YOU see three men strolling around casting nervous glances at the sky, walking in wary circles around trees and peering nervously up and down roads, you have probably seen the chief medical officers of England, Wales and Scotland out for a ramble. How can we explain their bizarre approach to risk, except by thinking that they see danger in the quietest backwater of daily life?

Yesterday they declared unanimously that beef on the bone is safe to eat; that is, the risk that it may pass on the BSE agent to anyone who eats it is so small as to be not worth worrying about.

But that was the case a year ago, too. When the ban was imposed in December 1997, by an unusually fearful Jack Cunningham, then Agriculture Minister, the calculated risk of catching "human BSE" from beef on the bone was about one in a billion - on a par with being hit by an asteroid, less than that of suffering a lightning strike, far less than that of being hit by a car while crossing a road.

So, after two years, top scientists and politicians have reached the same decision as the rest of us. But if beef on the bone is safe now, it was safe then. Can someone now explain why we couldn't eat T-bone steak for two years?