Red beef is safe to eat: Letter

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Sir: This nightmare of panic about beef and the resultant cull policy (report, 2 May) which will not get rid of BSE is caused by confusion due to the use of the word "beef" in all official proclamations.

"Beef" includes meat products on the one hand and the red meat on the other. It is vitally important to understand that the red meat of BSE- infected cattle has never transmitted the disease in any of the extensive experiments carried out over the years, whereas the brains and cords ("specified offal") - which still go into meat pies, pates, tinned items and stock cubes - have.

This, after all, has been our experience over the centuries with the original disease in sheep - scrapie: we have eaten scrapie-infected red meat with impunity because we were never forced willy-nilly to eat sheep's brains. Unlike cattle brains they were never removed from the skull to be added to our "meat products".

The assumption that muscle tissue must be infected since it contains nerves is neither supported by facts nor is it in keeping with other "slow virus" diseases of the central nervous system in which the disease process stops short at the surface of the spinal cord and never involves the peripheral nerves.

In other words, we could live with BSE, as we have done with scrapie for centuries, as long as we are not forced to swallow infected material in meat products. Our message to the world should be: "The red meat of British cattle is safe."

H C Grant FRCP

Neuropathologist

Edinburgh

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