Letter: Beef-on-the-bone peril

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The Independent Online
Beef-on-the-bone peril

JACK CUNNINGHAM was absolutely right to protect the public from the dangers of BSE-infected bone marrow. It is most unfortunate that the powerful meat and farming lobbies are attempting to overturn this wise precaution ("Farmers hail court ruling over beef on bone case", 22 April), and unfortunate too that the public are largely kept in the dark about the case to be made for the ban.

There are actually very good scientific grounds for this ban:

The transmissible spongiform encephalopathies show a concentration of infectivity in the nervous and lymphoid tissue, including the bone marrow.

Infectivity is found in the nerves and lymphoid tissue at an early stage in the infection, before it is detectable in the brain. Infected bone marrow could be present in the cattle aged under 30 months currently being eaten.

When beef is cooked on the bone, any infectivity will be spread throughout the meat and the gravy - it is not sufficient to avoid eating the marrow itself.

The absurdly low level of risk bandied about now has almost certainly come from the Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) via the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, and Maff has a record of consistently making unjustifiably optimistic assumptions of risk. The calculations are very difficult, and in truth nobody really knows.

The right time to lift the ban on beef-on-the-bone would be when a test for BSE, not available at present, was able to demonstrate with confidence that our food was no longer contaminated by a potentially lethal and currently incurable disease.


London N7