Judges reinforce beef on bone ban

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The Independent Online
THREE SCOTTISH appeal judges yesterday upheld an appeal by the Crown against a ruling that had raised questions about the legality of Britain's controversial beef-on-the-bone ban.

A sheriff in Selkirk ruled in April that the regulations were "defective" and "manifestly absurd". The Crown appealed against that decision and at a hearing in Edinburgh yesterday, Scotland's Lord Justice Clerk said it was the judges' unanimous opinion that theappeal succeeded.

He went on: "The case is to be remitted to the sheriff to give his conclusion on points he did not decide, and for that purpose to hold a preliminary proof, if that is necessary."

The ruling amounted to a setback for supporters of the hotelier Jim Sutherland, the first person in Britain to be prosecuted under the ban, whose case is at the centre of the legal wrangle.

David Kidd, from the law firm representing Mr Sutherland, said: "While we are disappointed that the appeal has been upheld, the case is far from over. Today's ruling was on only one of our four main defence points - the issue of `preparation'.

"We will now go back to Selkirk Sheriff Court with renewed vigour and put our case once more to Sheriff [James] Paterson, who has been directed to rule on the remaining issues on which our defence was based."

Mr Sutherland became the first person in Britain to face prosecution under the bone ban regulations after he served a well-publicised beef dinner to 180 diners at his hotel near Lauder in the Scottish Borders five days after the ban was introduced last December. The case was thrown out at a preliminary hearing into legal issues in April, in which Sheriff Paterson called the regulations "defective".

The Selkirk ruling had centred on the use of the word "preparation" in the bone ban regulations. The sheriff ruled "preparation" was ill-defined and could mean simply subjecting a carcass of beef to cold temperatures - which would render illegal the whole system of beef distribution.

It was against that ruling that the Crown appealed.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman welcomed the ruling and defended the Government's stance, saying: "The beef-bone regulations were introduced to protect the public from the possible infectivity from BSE taking account of the advice of SEAC [the Government's BSE advisory body] and the Chief Medical Officer.

"They are essential for the protection of public health. The case now returns to the sheriff's court, but the Government expects that following today's judgment the regulation will continue to be observed and enforced."

A spokeswoman for the National Farmers' Union, which opposes the regulations, said: "The decision is disappointing as we believe consumers should have the right to choose whether or not they eat beef on the bone.

"As farmers we are not in the position to dispute the legality of the regulations' wording. Instead we're against the very existence of the legislation. All the evidence from SEAC shows the risk posed by eating beef on the bone is absolutely minimal. Consumers should be able to make their own informed decision."