Letter: A major beef
Monday 25 January 1999
Sir: Professor Liam Donaldson, as the new Chief Medical Officer, wants to establish his credentials with consumers. So, acknowledging that the chances of getting nvCJD from eating beef on the bone are "near zero", he insists that the ban must stay (report, 22 January).
The Government doesn't like smoking but accepts that people should be allowed to exercise the choice. They do that, knowing that anyone smoking more than 10 a day over the age of 30 will have a 95-per-cent chance of damaging his health and a much increased risk of an unpleasant, premature death, preceded by some expensive illness for which the NHS will pick up a large proportion of the bill.
Is there not a point at which consumers, as individuals in a free society, should make their own decisions? Of course there should be, and there is. But it is decidedly odd, given the relative risks, that in the case of smoking the Government says yes, but in the case of beef on the bone it says no.
Yes, I am a beef farmer and yes, I found The Independent's front-page story profoundly depressing. And yes, I could be said to be biased.
But I also have a track record of being concerned for the consumer. When President of the National Farmers' Union in 1990, I infuriated the then Minister of Agriculture, John Gummer, by calling for an independent Food Standards Agency.
The sooner we get the Food Standards Agency, the better I shall be pleased. One of the remits in the FSA's statute should be that it makes its judgements having considered the proportionality of the issues involved. In the case of beef on the bone there are many, many consumers who think that Professor Donaldson's sense of proportionality is decidedly awry.
Sir SIMON GOURLAY
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