Gummer unrepentant on feeding daughter a hamburger

THE FORMER minister who fed his six-year-old daughter a hamburger to promote a government line that "beef is safe" expressed no regret yesterday, saying that he was not then aware of any health risks from eating cattle offal.

John Gummer, who held office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) from September 1985 to May 1993 - including a promotion in 1989 - told the BSE inquiry yesterday that in 1990 he had not heard any scientific evidence to back a ban on offal such as the spinal cord and gut. "In matters as important as these it is essential to have a personal benchmark to be applied to decisions wherever appropriate. In such circumstances I applied the test, `Would I be entirely happy for my children to eat this?'" Mr Gummer said.

So in 1990 he posed for photographers at an agricultural fair, pressing a hot burger on his daughter Cordelia.

The Southwood report, published in February 1989, had suggested such a ban on offals for humans because those would be the most infectious parts of cattle incubating the disease.

The previous ministerial team, including John MacGregor, had announced that such a ban would be implemented.

Mr Gummer said that despite the rising numbers of BSE cases - then nearly 5,000 annually - and although it was his job to implement the legislation, he did not feel a sense of urgency. He said: "The offal ban had not been asked for. On the other hand it was something we had determined to do."

He added that he did not then believe the ban was "essential for public health" and said that when he took over his ministerial position many local authorities whom he had to consult were on summer holiday.

Asked if he might have moved quicker if he thought there was a serious risk to public health he said: "All I can say is that was not put to me. In fact the opposite was put to me."

But Mr Gummer agreed that if legislation was seen as urgent there was often room to "find a way through". In fact, the offal ban was not introduced until November 1989 - 10 months after the Southwood report suggested it.

In the time Mr Gummer was at Maff, BSE was first identified and the epidemic peaked. But the first cases in humans, as CJD, were only recognised three years later.