Letter: Why we cannot know for sure that BSE-infected beef is harmful t o humans - and why that is no comfort

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The Independent Online
Sir: Hamish McRae (22 March) argues that commercial competition can deliver public health and that governments tend to make a mess of things, as they have done in the case of BSE. The problem is that what you do not know about can harm you, and life is too short to know everything about meat production, genetic tampering, sperm-damaging chemicals and the rest of the long list of things that pose threats to health and nature. To be the text-book free-market consumer would be more than a full-time job, so I subcontract part of my consumer choice to elected representatives and their advisers. I trust them even less today than I did a week ago, but that does not mean that I want to go it alone and try to make sense of the mass of contentious scientific literature, dubious marketing claims and other judgements required to inform choice.

Clive Bates

London N16