CJD families angry as British beef goes back into burgers

Mad cow disease: Farmers welcome McDonald's decision as Government revises slaughter plans
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The Independent Online
Relatives of victims of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease reacted with anger yesterday to claims by McDonald's, the fast-food chain, that British beef was safe.

The hamburger chain announced yesterday that it would end its 15-month ban on British beef after talks with Jack Cunningham, the Agriculture Minister. McDonald's managing director Andrew Taylor said that the company would start buying the beef immediately and that it would appear in restaurants in the next few weeks.

But Clive Evers, chairman of the CJD Support Network, which gives help and support to the families of victims, said: "There are families who would be dismayed at a decision like this and who would have very deep personal concern. All the scientific and medical evidence seems to point towards BSE being the cause [of new variant CJD]."

He said 17 people had died from the disease, a rare form of dementia for which there is no cure. Early symptoms include unsteadiness and withdrawal from social contact. Death usually comes within a year of diagnosis.

Pat Mellowship, whose daughter Donna, 34, is dying from new variant CJD, called McDonald's actions "totally irresponsible". Donna, a mother of two, was diagnosed as having the disease last September and her family are convinced that she contracted it from eating hamburgers. Speaking at the family home in Tottenham, north London, yesterday, Ms Mellowship said: "How can they say it is safe? Cattle under 30 months are still getting BSE. If people were to see my Donna and the way she is, they would think differently. McDonald's and the Government are only interested in lining their own pockets.

"How can they say it is safe when people are still dying and families are still suffering," she said.

Mr Taylor said that McDonald's had lifted its ban in response to a renewed public confidence in British beef. "The results of our last research, conducted this month, show that 74 per cent of consumers now want us to sell British beef," he said.

Dr Cunningham welcomed the announcement, saying: "This is good news for farmers, the food industry and consumers. British beef goes through the strictest controls in the world and it most certainly can be eaten with confidence."

He added: "The sooner the European Union takes action towards lifting the export ban on British beef, the better it will be for beef farmers throughout the EU. I will continue to press the case in Europe to get this high quality British product back on international markets."

McDonald's banned British beef in March last year amid fears that CJD could be caught from eating BSE-infected meat. Mr Taylor said that research undertaken by the company at that time showed that 70 per cent of the public did not want to buy British beef products from McDonald's. "We have always maintained that British beef is safe," he said. "Last year we responded to our customers' concerns and our actions reassured them that they could trust us to do the right thing."

McDonald's will continue to import beef from other European countries - the company buys beef from Ireland, the Netherlands and Italy - but supports the Government's calls for EU requirements to be standardised.

McDonald's, which by lifting the ban will save 10p-15p per pound of beef it uses, has 760 restaurants in the UK, selling pounds 50m worth of beef every year. At the time it banned British beef, McDonald's was spending pounds 25m a year on 7,000 cattle a week.

Welsh farmers welcomed McDonald's move and urged other fast food chains, including Burger King, to follow its lead. Farmers' Union of Wales president Bob Parry said: "McDonald's decision means our industry can take a tremendous stride forward.

"We are delighted that our lengthy campaign to get McDonald's to put British beef back in the Big Mac has at last paid off."