Beef-on-bone law may be impossible to enforce

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The Independent Online
The Government's plan to ban beef on the bone had degenerated into complete shambles, it was claimed yesterday. Kim Sengupta and Fran Abrams see the new law come under fierce attack on its very first day.

It is not the first time that a minister's reputation had foundered on a food scare, as Edwina Currie could have told Jack Cunningham. Yesterday, the agriculture minister was facing scathing criticism of his handling of the latest episode of the BSE crisis from virtually all sides.

Some butchers openly declared they would flout the new law and continue to supply beef on the bone to customers who demand it. Environmental health officers who are supposed to police the errant butchers said the law could be "virtually impossible to enforce". The farmers blame Mr Cunningham for damaging their livelihoods and have burned his effigy at protests.

Yesterday, the minister flew back from Brussels into a gathering storm. He was also facing trouble with the European Union over his decision to ban beef imports which do not meet Britain's highest standards. European MPs are pressing for immediate legal action against Britain, arguing that one member state cannot invoke trade sanctions against others without the approval of Brussels.

In Britain, some butchers are determined to test and break the regulations. Ray Robinson of Burntwood, Walsall yesterday sold three T-bone steaks. He said he was prepared to be prosecuted rather than stop selling cuts on the bone.

Mr Robinson, 71, said: " This is not about money - I am fighting for a principle and I am prepared to go to court for the principle. I think it is taking personal liberty away to tell people what they can or cannot eat."

Many butchers are "storing" the banned cuts already paid for by the customers to be collected later. Under the new law, this is illegal. But Paul Hambling, from Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire declared: "If that's the case, then it is just too bad. I have got around 25 orders which have been paid for and will be collected for Christmas."

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health told the Commons' Agriculture Committee yesterday that even if its members found illegal beef on sale they would probably not be able to prosecute.

The only sure method of securing evidence for a conviction would be if an inspector was sold such meat, and this was "negligible".

Ann Goodwin, the institute's assistant secretary said: "The regulations are a recipe for confusion and inconsistency" and officials complained they had not been "anything like adequately consulted" by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over the drafting of the law.