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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Sir: The division of opinion on the effects of eating beef is nothing new. A writer of the first Elizabethan era in the Hauen of Health (1584) says "Galen affirmeth yt [that] biefe maketh grosse bloude and engendreth melancolie, especially if such as does eat it be of melancholy complexion". This may well have spurred Sir Andrew Aguecheek to say in Twelfth Night: "But I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit." Conversely another contemporary writer, Hall, said, "Keepe an Englishman one moneth from his warme bed, fat befe and stale drynke, and let him that season tast colde and suffre hunger, you then shall see his courage abated".

Then, as now, the French were nervous about the effects of British beef. The Constable in Henry V says of Henry's soldiers: "Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils."

Peter Mayes

Bloxham, Oxfordshire