WHAT FUTURE FOR BEEF? : No reason to sacrifice sirloin

Politicians are not lying about our safety, says Phil Saunders
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The Independent Online
Food scares affect everyone - and no food at the centre of a scare is likely to attract more publicity than one we have grown up with and which is one of our traditional staples. Bad enough was the possibility that under-cooked eggs could give us food poisoning - how much more alarming is the idea that traditional British beef could give us an horrific, brain- wasting disease!

The knee-jerk reaction is obvious - a scurrying away from supermarket beef counters, a careful scanning of food labels to ensure not the tiniest smidgen of beef can taint tonight's dinner. As for reassurances from leading politicians, government ministers and scientists - well, we've heard that all before, haven't we?

But have we? What exactly have we been told? And, underneath the hype and hysteria, what exactly are the facts? Surely, I am not being economic with the truth to report:

A new variety of CJD has been discovered that has led to the deaths of 10 people under the age of 42.

The exact agent that caused this disease has not been identified, but government scientists have said it could be linked to BSE that was present in cattle in the Eighties.

If beef is implicated in any way with the new disease, it is extremely unlikely that any infected material got into the human food chain after 1989, when new regulations were put in place.

British beef has been girded round with such a plethora of rules and regulations that it is probably one of the most carefully controlled foods ever likely to find its way on to a British - or any other - dinner plate.

If British beef is going to cause disease, why are leading scientists and politicians leaping to its defence? Why are they still eating beef and why do they continue to tell us that there is no reason for any of us to avoid it?

It would be easy to answer "self interest" or "money", but these scientists - the ones from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee in particular - are those with the greatest knowledge of the workings of BSE and CJD.

Are they people likely deliberately to put themselves at risk? After all, Thomas More might almost have said: "For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul - but for a piece of roast sirloin?"

The writer is chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission.