Beef on bone ban must stay, says health chief

HOPES FOR an early end to the beef-on-the-bone ban have been dashed by the new Chief Medical Officer, who has warned ministers that unboned beef could still pass "human BSE" to the public.

Professor Liam Donaldson's report to the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, will come as a serious blow to the beef industry, which was struggling to regain its pounds 500m export market after the ending last November of the European Union's ban on British beef.

Professor Donaldson's recommendation also presents a test of strength for Mr Brown, who has the final say on whether to continue the ban imposed 13 months ago. A decision by Mr Brown to lift the ban would echo the worst behaviour of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) in the BSE crisis earlier this decade, when it frequently rode roughshod over Department of Health recommendations.

Professor Donaldson, who was appointed in September, warns that there is still a danger of maternal transmission of BSE from cow to calf, and recommends that no immediate moves are made to lift the ban on sales of beef on the bone. He concludes that although the present risk from eating unboned beef is near zero, lifting the ban would introduce a risk, which he could not countenance.

In the past three years, 35 people in Britain have died of "new variant" Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, believed to have been caused by eating BSE- infected food. Most of the victims have been under 40, and scientists suggest that the source of the infection was food eaten before various offals were excluded from food in 1990. Nobody knows how many people will eventually succumb to the fatal disease.

The beef-on-the-bone ban was introduced in December 1997 after the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac) reported that there was a very small risk of infection through the nervous tissues, called dorsal root ganglia, in the spinal column of joints of beef on the bone. But the committee did not directly recommend the ban: "Among our recommendations was to do nothing," one member insisted last night.

Professor Donaldson's more cautious approach has delighted Whitehall critics of Maff, which had threatened to shelve the proposal for an independent Food Standards Agency until it was rescued by the intervention of Tony Blair. Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House, said last night that a draft Bill to set up the agency will be published next Wednesday.

The Bill will allow a flat charge of about pounds 2 a week to be raised for its running costs from 600,000 food outlets. It should reach the statute book in July, around the time that the BSE inquiry is due to deliver its findings.

Professor Donaldson's report will be seen as evidence that he will be a champion for consumers' safety against pressure from the farming lobby, and that the Government is serious about tackling the Maff influence over food safety. In future, he will report to the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency.

The Chief Medical Officer's latest advice is not, however, based on any new scientific evidence. Seac met last weekbut the continuation of the ban was not discussed. The committee last considered the matter in December, after which Sir John Pattison, its chairman, said any decision about continuing the ban should be "based on the science" - which suggested that the initially small risk had shrunk further.

Ministers have yet to agree a response to Professor Donaldson's report, but senior Whitehall sources said Mr Brown was likely to announce the beef-on-the-bone ban will stay for the foreseeable future.

Though the number of BSE cases in Britain is falling, it is still higher than anywhere else in Europe. In 1998, there were 2,651 cases; the youngest animal to develop it was born in 1995 before new safety measures on farm feed were introduced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links