Beef law not being enforced

Environmental health officers say that the "beef-on-the-bone" ban introduced almost a month ago is "practically unworkable" and that they are pushing it far down their list of priorities.

"To catch anyone selling beef on the bone illegally officers would need to go undercover, which is costly and time- consuming," said a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers (IEHO). Members of the institute added that the legislation implementing the ban is too badly drafted to be effective.

Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister, hinted yesterday that the ban could eventually be lifted - once BSE has been eradicated from the national herd, which experts expect will take at least until the next century.

The ban on beef-on-the-bone was introduced because scientists from Seac, the committee advising the government on BSE and related diseases, found that the roots of nerves near the spinal column can harbour the infective agent, which can be fatally infective to humans by causing "new variant" Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Though this only applied to spinal bones, Dr Cunningham declared a ban on any sales of beef-on the-bone, because people might be at risk. Statistical analysis suggested the risk is real, but vanishingly small.

A spokesman for the IEHO said that given the confusion and the low risk involved to consumers from eating beef-on-the-bone, it was understandable that inspectors were putting it way down their list of enforcement.

"It's unclear exactly what the situation is in each area in terms of the action being taken," he said. "The law is extremely badly drafted. The Government hasn't given us written clarification of the law." He added that local authorities, having limited resources, are pushing the ban's enforcement far down their lists of priorities.

Michael Jack, shadow agriculture spokesman, said: "Jack Cunningham has managed to introduce a piece of legislation which is unworkable, unnecessary and unwanted ... He should have left it to the good sense of the British people to decide if they wanted to eat beef-on-the-bone, and not played the role of the nanny."

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