Letter: Beef and science

Sir: The French Minister of Agriculture is able to refer to the weight of scientific evidence emanating from the newly formed French food safety agency, which, on 1 October, presented its unfavourable report on British beef.

The EU scientific committee later confirmed their confidence in the measures adopted to enable British beef to regain its European markets. The French food standards agency then, predictably, questioned the scientific competence of the EU committee to judge on the matter. This situation, from a UK standpoint, has been overseen by our Minister of Agriculture.

The UK has only itself to blame. What has become of the Food Standards Agency, still to get off the ground years after it was first proposed? Had that been up and running it would now be at the sharp end, sorting out these scientific quibbles with the French food safety agency.

When will the Ministry of Agriculture be forced to give up its dual wartime role of trying to represent both producers and consumers? Is it necessary any longer for the farming industry to have Cabinet representation?

It is time for a Ministry of Rural Development to represent all rural interests, including agriculture, and an independent Food Standards Agency able to represent the consumer's interests in safety, healthy eating, confidence and value for money. There should be monitoring of supermarkets to ensure that the customer benefits from competition, but not at the expense of UK producers.

Rather than arguing whether or not UK beef is safe to eat on the bone, or off, let's get UK beef prices down and on to the plate of those who have every confidence eating it. There would then be not enough to sell to France, but we might still put some prime beef aside, for our special customers.

MICHAEL BOWEN

Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

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