Scares empty John Bull's cupboard grows bare

Pickings are slim as lamb joins the danger list
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The Independent Online
Lamb chops with mint sauce have joined roast beef and Yorkshire pudding as a culinary catastrophe for any aspiring hostess to serve up for dinner these days, following evidence that BSE can spread to sheep, goats and deer .

It seems that a little of what you fancy proves confusing, with every foodstuff a potential minefield of gender-bending chemicals, carcinogens, or vomit-inducing bacteria.

So with the latest dishes to be rejected at your favourite restaurant being the Barnsley chop, curried goat or venison casserole, the obvious answer seems to be to turn to poultry.

Call back the waiter, though. Chicken is a no-no - if the salmonella doesn't get you (remember Edwina Currie?), the listeria in ready-cooked poultry will.

There is always fish, food for the brain and good for the heart, as long as they have not been swimming in polluted waters and really are fresh when you buy them - oily fish spoil more rapidly than white fish and can cause a stomach-upset and skin-rash reaction known as scombotoxicity. And people who eat raw fish run the risk of getting worms (one of the hazards of Japanese food).

Forget the fish and two veg then, and just go for the greens. But before the vegetarians get too smug, you are not out of the woods yet. In May 1995 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food advised people to peel, top and tail their carrots before eating them after it was discovered that some had more than 25 times the expected content of organophosphates, pesticides sprayed on crops to protect them against the destructive carrot fly.

Just a baked potato for sir, then? Solanine and chaconine are alkaloids found in potatoes, occurring in the highest quantities in the above-ground parts and in the sprouts. Acute illness and even death have resulted from eating sprouted (or green or blighted) potatoes. These alkaloids cause drowsiness, difficulty in breathing and paralysis. They also inflame the gut, leading to stomach-ache and diarrhoea.

An outbreak of potato poisoning occurred in Lewisham in 1978, when 78 schoolboys were taken ill after a meal including potatoes was later found to contain high levels of alkaloids.

Leave the main course and move on to dessert. No cheese - Brie and Camembert are prime candidates for listeria. The obvious healthy option is fruit, low in calories, high in vitamins and high in sugar. But continuous munching of fruit can lead to tooth decay.

The stones and pips of some fruit also contain compounds that can release cyanide, and there have been deaths reported in health-food enthusiasts who have tried to eat large amounts of apricot kernels.

Drain your glass of Chateau Mouton Rothschild (moderate drinking protects against heart disease; heavy consumption increases the risk of a stroke) and give up on the food.

A cappuccino reminds you that although it may reduce the risk of bowel cancer, it can induce migraine attacks.

And remember, as you pat your empty stomach, that obesity is still one of the biggest health problems in the Western world.