Yet their advice appeared to be contradicted by new regulations banning the use of bovine spinal cords - a known source of the disease - from mechanically recovered meat (MRM), which is used in foods such as sausages, meat pies, pates and some stock cubes.
Dr Kenneth Calman, the Government's chief medical officer, admitted that people could already have eaten BSE-infected beef products in previous years.
But Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture , insisted that the growing number of Government measures on processing beef showed that "our first concern is the public health". The measures are intended to prevent the unidentified agent which causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from entering the human food chain. Mr Hogg admitted that until there is scientific proof that BSE cannot be passed to humans: "All we can do is continue to state our considered belief that beef is safe, which we think is based on good evidence."
However, the new regulations on meat processing, which come into force today, indicate that scientists on the independent committee advising the government on BSE are still concerned about the risks posed by the disease.
Diane McCrea, head of Food and Health at the Consumers' Association, said: "If the risks are enough to prompt changes in the use of mechanically recovered meat, what should consumers be doing about products already in the market?"
Professor John Pattison, who heads the independent Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), which advises the Government, said one product, the beefburger, had been unfairly criticised.Reuse content