TB or not TB? Another blow to our national diet

What we need is a campaign to promote a more vegetarian diet

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The Independent Online

What’s for lunch? A quick pie or pasty if you’re working? Perhaps lasagne or shepherd’s pie if you’re at school, in the NHS or the military? If you are at home making your own lunch: will you go ready-made out of laziness?

To paraphrase the immortal words of Michael Corleone: just when we thought we were out, they dragged us back in. Just when we thought meat scares couldn’t get worse after the horse saga, here’s one that does indeed sound worse.

The ‘they’ is a combination of the Sunday Times and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). A report in the former today that the latter has been cheerfully selling raw meat from up to 28,000 cows a year that have tested positive for tuberculosis.

I don’t know about you, but this news startles even if it doesn’t surprise me, and is but the latest challenge to my carnivorous complacency. But, we really needn’t worry. Just listen up.

“All meat from cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB must undergo rigorous food safety checks before it can be passed fit for consumption,” a Defra spokeswoman said.  ”The Food Standards Agency has confirmed there are no known cases where TB has been transmitted through eating meat and the risk of infection from eating meat, even if raw or undercooked, remains extremely low.“

So, that’s all good then. Anyway, chances are that the dead cow you think you’re eating, the one that may have had TB, was a horse anyway. Chillax.

Actually, being relaxed is the problem. Whilst one can’t underestimate the current financial concerns that drive so many to consume so much ready-processed, cheap meat, at some stage a cost-value equation must take place in all our lives, rich or poor.

It is increasingly irresponsible of both retailer and consumer to expect that the 99p pack of four frozen burgers or the £2.99 frozen lasagne that feeds six can go through the food chain from animal to shrink-wrap, be sold that cheaply, and yet still be OK.

What to do about it? To suggest poorer people simply pay more for food as a percentage of their total budget (a la France or Italy) just won’t wash, so instead perhaps there needs to be a national re-education campaign about the joys of a less meat-based diet.

That’s not easy either. My own feeble attempt at vegetarianism lasted one half term at university, blown aside by the plate of steaming sausage ragu placed before me on my first trip home. That said, my colleague, the newly-appointed editor of The Independent, Amol Rajan, managed to embrace vegetarianism this year. And, look where it’s got the new big titled, small-waisted, soon-to-be-married him!