Letter: Food thoughts

Sir: Complete removal of the spinal cord from within the spinal column of any mammal is a difficult, intricate and time-consuming task. It is particularly difficult - indeed almost impossible - if, as is the case with cattle, the carcass is swinging from a hook. Abattoir workers ("BSE advisers in row over health alert", 10 October) are also working against the clock, with the boss breathing down their necks. Of course spinal cords were not removed completely, which is why Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials should have been monitoring the procedures.

Maff's casual attitude to the BSE catastrophe was revealed at the outset by the fact that, whereas it took them only one day - 18 July 1988 - to protect cattle from further infection by banning the infective feed from their rations (when told to do so by the Southwood committee), it took them another year and a quarter to do the same for the human population. It was not until 9 November 1989 that Maff banned infective material - cattle brains - from our rations. We would have had fewer than 29 cases of new variant CJD if Maff had acted to protect UK citizens on the same day as UK cattle.


London NW3

The writer is a neuropathologist