Butcher uses royal beef to flout ban

Customers for the meat from Prince Charles's Highgrove Estate include judges, peers and MPs, says Colin Blackstock
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The Independent Online
BEEF from Prince Charles's organic farm at the Highgrove Estate in Tetbury, is being sold illegally - still on the bone - and the customers buying it include peers, MPs and judges.

Selling beef-on-the-bone contravenes the Government's ban, introduced in December by the Agriculture Minister, Jack Cunningham. However, the legislation is proving difficult to enforce, and many butchers say demand for such products is still high.

One butcher, Brian Randall, who is based in London and stocks meat from the Highgrove Home Farm, sold beef-on-the-bone to the Independent on Sunday last week. He said that although the practice is outlawed he still has customers coming in regularly to buy beef-on-the-bone.

His customers, he says, include an MP, two High Court judges and several magistrates. "I've had a titled lady telephone and ask if I sell oxtail, to which I answered, `You'll have to come in to the shop to see.' If you ask me do I sell beef-on-the-bone, then the answer must be no because it's against the law."

Another butcher, who wished to remain anonymous, said he thought the ban was ludicrous and unenforcable.

"I had one of the environmental health officers come into the shop, and the beef-on-the-bone was right under his nose, on the counter. He told me that if he got any complaints from customers he would have to come back and enforce the ban, but for the time being he would let it go."

A senior official in charge of enforcing the ban, who asked not to be named, said that the present legislation allowed butchers to display beef- on-the-bone in their shop, but unless the officers resorted to undercover investigation they could not be sure if meat was being offered for sale. It is not against the law to buy beef-on-the-bone.

He said, "The legislation to some extent is a case of us being asked to enforce the unenforcable, and it all goes back to the undue haste involved in the consultation process and the introduction of the ban."

A spokeswoman for the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles's estate, refused to answer any questions on the ban.

As for the butcher who sold their beef illegally, she said, "I think the answer to that is we sell a product to him and that's as far as I'm prepared to go."

The beef-on-the-bone ban has been plagued by criticism and is not expected to stay on the statute books for long, according to a spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Hastily enacted, it has been flouted by butchers throughout the country. In Scotland Jim Sutherland was the first to be prosecuted under the new legislation, but he is currently challenging the validity of the ban.

John Horam, Conservative MP for Orpington, and chairman of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, said he and his wife, customers at Randall's, thought the ban was going over the top. He said, "If we were able to buy beef-on-the-bone we certainly would."

Two weeks ago, a past president of the British Medical Association, Lord Walton of Detchant, called for the early lifting of the ban.

He said, "In the light of scientific evidence, it is becoming clear that the risk involved in eating beef-on-the-bone is so minuscule that, before too long, it would be appropriate to allow consumers to make up their own minds as to whether they should eat beef."

Junior agriculture minister Lord Donoughue said the Government would keep the ban under review, however he also said, "It would be premature to reduce the controls in place at this stage."

Chairman of the Guild of Q Butchers, Gordon Hepburn, said he was unsure how many butchers were breaking the ban. He said, "I don't agree with the law but I don't flaunt it. Butchers who are breaking the ban are all big boys who can make up their own minds as to what they do or don't do."