`Mad cow' fears hit beef consumption

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The Independent Online

Nearly one in four people is eating less beef or has stopped eating it altogether as the result of fears over "mad cow" disease, a poll published today says.

More than half of those polled by BBC TV's consumer affairs programme Watchdog said they were very or fairly concerned about the risks posed by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which it is feared could be transmitted from cattle to humans.

A government report last month confirmed that the number of cases of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease - the human form of BSE - doubled between 1985 and 1994, but this may be down to increased surveillance.

Last month it was revealed two British teenagers had CJD, heightening fears that it was possible for the infection to be transmitted. CJD, an incurable degenerative brain disease, is extremely rare under the age of 30, with only four other cases reported in the world to date.

In the poll of more than 1,000 adults, women were particularly concerned about BSE with 27 per cent reporting they had either stopped eating beef or were eating beef less [compared with 23 per cent of adults as a whole]. Nearly 60 per cent of women said they were very or fairly concerned about BSE. Fourteen per cent said they never ate beef anyway. One in five women said children in their household had stopped eating beef or were eating beef less.

Men were less concerned with 75 per cent saying BSE scares had made no difference to the amount of beef they ate.

t Government figures show that up to 600 cows infected with BSE are being eaten each week, it is claimed.

Granada's World in Action reports tonight that the Ministry of Agriculture has been assuming that two cows with BSE have been eaten for every one diagnosed. Scientists claim that cases where infected cattle are not showing symptoms could be twice that of reported casualties.