- LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Britain acknowledged on Thursday that the "mad
cow" crisis could stretch into the next century as farmers, chefs
and consumers digested the latest crisis to hit the nation's beef industry.
- From oxtail to ribs, T-bone steak to
stock cubes, beef on the bone was branded a potential killer even as the
government insisted there was no cause for alarm.
- "There is no panic, believe me,"
Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham said in one of a series of broadcast
interviews intended to cool the crisis. "I have always eaten beef
and I shall continue to do so."
- Cunningham's vocal support for beef,
that most British of dishes, came one day after he stunned farmers by proposing
a ban on unboned beef following scientific advice that mad cow disease
could theoretically be transmitted through beef bones.
- The new restriction -- 21 months after
the European Union banned all exports of British beef -- could not have
come at a worse time for the domestic industry.
- Shoppers had only recently regained confidence
in a meat that has already sent some 22 Britons to an early and ugly death,
and the Christmas season is traditionally a time for meateaters to tuck
- "What the hell CAN we eat?"
asked the Mirror tabloid in a front-page headline.
- Ever eager to fight their corner, farmers
say they are also sinking under cheap imports as a high pound prices their
beef out of the market.
- Protests against imports of cheap beef
from Ireland spread overnight from Wales to Scotland and England. Some
700 farmers mounted blockades of the Scottish ports of Stranraer and Cairnryan,
turning back about 20 truckloads of Irish beef.
- Cunningham made it clear the end was
not yet in sight to the saga of mad cow disease, which helped undermine
the past Conservative government and raised widespread fears about the
safety of everyday foods.
- He said tests would continue on other
cuts until confidence was restored and cows right across the country could
be declared free of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow
- "The way to finally get rid of these
problems and bring lasting support to the beef industry is to eradicate
BSE from the national herd altogether. We're doing everything we can to
bring that about as quickly as possible," said Cunningham.
- As for when meat might be utterly safe,
Cunningham said: "We're likely to get down to very low levels of the
incidence of BSE in a couple of years time and to eradicate it altogether
by about 2001."
- Cunningham, whose Conservative predecessor
made his young daughter eat a burger on camera to prove his confidence
in British beef, said the risk of eating infected meat was minuscule.
- Small danger or large, Cunningham said
it was best to come clean given there was still a five percent risk of
one person contracting the brain-wasting disorder by eating beef on the
- "What if that person turned out
to be someone in your family. Would you be content that I had done nothing
- he said. "It was the right decision,
the best decision, in very difficult circumstances."
- Beef on the bone comprises just five
percent of the market but the latest scare could hit sales of such staples
as oxtail soup, beef drinks, ribs and a whole range of products containing
- Scientists believe BSE may stem from
the 1980s when regulations governing cattle feed were relaxed.
- Swiss Ban Sales Of Beef
On The Bone
- ZURICH, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Swiss authorities said on Thursday they planned
to ban the sale of beef on the bone, one day after Britain took that step
to curb the "mad cow" crisis.
- "We intend to separate products
from the spinal column, which means no meat products with spinal bones
should come onto the market," Lorenz Hess, spokesman for the Federal
Health Office in Berne, told Swiss radio.
- He did not say when the ban would take
- Switzerland has reported 35 new cases
of mad cow disease so far this year, bringing the total to 265 since 1990,
when Switzerland banned the use of cattle feeds containing meal made from
- Switzerland has the second highest number
of mad cow cases in the world after Britain. Some 30 countries have curbs
on imports of Swiss cattle and beef.
- Public concern about infected beef has
grown since British scientists found evidence in March 1996 that mad cow
disease could be transmitted to humans as the brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob
- British Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham
stunned farmers on Wednesday by proposing a ban on unboned beef following
scientific advice that mad cow disease could theoretically be transmitted
through beef bones.
- The new restriction followed 21 months
after the European Union banned all exports of British beef.
- Cunningham said tests would continue
on other cuts until confidence was restored and cows across the country
could be declared free of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad
- Mad Cow Crisis Rips
By Gerrard Raven
- LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The row over mad cow disease which dealt a
bitter blow to Britain's last Conservative government has returned to haunt
its Labour successor.
- Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet on
Thursday discussed mounting protests by cattle farmers over dwindling incomes
and the likely impact of a government decision to ban sales of in-bone
beef such as T-bone steaks and ribs.
- Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham
reportedly told his colleagues that claims the ban he announced on Wednesday
would devastate the industry were wrong since 95 percent of beef sales
would be unaffected.
- But newspapers and opposition politicians
predicted a crippling blow to consumer confidence in beef which was just
returning after the European Union banned British beef exports in March,
- Opposition Conservative agriculture spokesman
Michael Jack has rounded on Cunningham, telling him, "You are out
of touch with farming and could not care less about the beef industry."
- The Conservatives have traditionally
been seen as the party of Britain's rural middle classes, with farmers
and landowners having little faith in a Labour Party that was heavily influenced
by industrial trade unionists.
- But the mad cow crisis that hit not only
farmers but abattoirs, cattle markets and small country towns tipped the
balance in many rural constituencies in May's election, handing seats both
to a modernised Labour and to the minority Liberal Democrats.
- Farmers were particularly angry because
then-Prime Minister John Major claimed to have won agreement for a lifting
of the ban at a European Union summit in Florence in June last year, but
it remained stubbornly in place.
- They accused then agriculture minister
Douglas Hogg of delaying decisions needed to get Brussels to allow exports
again. As the government was seen to flounder, beef was a key issue that
helped oust it from power.
- But farmers' affection for Labour has
never been more than skin deep, and angry demonstrations around the country
this week indicated that Blair's honeymoon with rural Britain is over.
- British farmers have already seen thousands
of their cattle slaughtered in an attempt to eradicate the disease and
persuade Brussels to lift the export ban.
- The latest protests have been directed
at stopping beef imports from Ireland moving through ports in western Britain,
made attractive by a surging British pound.
- Irish Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh
was meeting Cunningham in London later on Thursday to protest at the disruption
to the trade.
- But Blair's spokesman indicated the government
would seek to keep the Conservatives in the firing line. He said the government
had agreed in principle to hold an inquiry into the history of mad cow
disease in Britain.
- "People want to know whether things
were handled as they should have been," he said. "There are families
out there who lost people and should know if that could have been avoided."
- Labour accuses the Conservatives of being
responsible because they relaxed controls over the composition of cattle
feed which led to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) taking hold in
- It was scientific evidence that people
eating infected meat could develop Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease(CJD), the
human form of BSE, which led to the export ban. Twenty-three people have
now died of a new variant of CJD thought to be connected to BSE.
- But newspapers that were inclined to
give Blair's government the benefit of the doubt in its early months criticised
Cunningham for having rushed out a statement on the in-bone beef ban after
a veterinary committee's report revealing a slight risk in eating such
products was leaked to a BBC television programme.
- "This is a hopeless way to conduct
government," the Daily Telegraph newspaper, traditionally a favourite
read of rural Britons, said in an editorial.
- British Meat Industry
Enraged Over Ban
By Susan Cornwell
- LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - British butchers and meat wholesalers reacted
with anger and confusion on Thursday to the government's decision to ban
sales of beef on the bone.
- At London's Smithfield market, meatcutters
and salesmen grumbled and growled at a reporter who asked what they thought
about the latest ``mad cow'' crisis.
- ``When you ban the motor car, when you
ban sex, when you ban tobacco, when you ban alcohol, then you come and
talk to me about the risks of beef,'' declared Peter Martinelli, a consultant
with a meat wholesaler.
- ``This is the safest country in the world
for beef,'' he said. ``Are these scientists who know so much about this
going to create an animal without the bone? Is that what they're going
- Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham
stunned the beef industry on Wednesday by proposing a ban on unboned beef,
following scientific advice that mad cow disease could theoretically be
transmitted through beef bones.
- At Smithfield, where sellers with blood-stained
aprons start work long before dawn among sides of beef and pork hanging
on meathooks, there was bitterness about the latest blow to an industry
still reeling from the original European Union ban on British beef exports
imposed in March 1996.
- ``It's the Germans and the French and
the other Europeans criticising our beef. And why? So they can sell theirs,''
said Bob Cowan, a salesman at James Burden Ltd.
- The Burden company sells only unboned
beef from Botswana -- as much as 10,000 lbs (22,000 kg) of topside beef
a week -- but Cowan said he was ``sick and tired'' of hearing questions
about the safety of beef.
- ``The government lets them advertise
cigarettes, and cigarettes can kill. That about sums it up,'' he said,
referring to the recent government decision to exempt Forumla One motor
racing from a proposed ban on tobacco sponsorship.
- Trading appeared to be normal at Smithfield,
including sales of beef on the bone, despite Cunningham's announcement.
Sellers said there had been no government notification of any change in
- Keith Atwood, a meat cutter at P.W. and
J.K. Killby Ltd., said Killby's had sold more than a dozen sides of beef
on Thursday morning before 8 a.m. ``Obviously the butchers can take the
bones out before they sell it, if they need to,'' he said.
- The government acknowledged on Thursday
that the beef-on-bone ban had not yet come into effect, and Cunningham
said he would have to consult with the beef industry before issuing ``appropriate
- Down the street from the Smithfield market,
a man who gave his name only as Corrigan tucked under his arm a bulging
bag of T-bones that he had just bought from the wholesaler S.C. Crosby.
``I'm getting T-bones now before they're gone,'' he said.
- John Crosby, whose father owns the shop,
said sales of beef-on-the-bone were actually up on Thursday morning. He
spoke from behind a counter with large slabs of Scottish foreribs for sale
at 3.30 pounds ($5.55) a kilogram.
- ``Why should we worry. The way this government
works they'll probably change their mind two weeks from now,'' Crosby said.
- But Fergus Henderson, chef at the nearby
St. John's restaurant where Dutch veal bone marrow is on the menu, said
the latest decision was a shame for cooks and diners.
- ``From the standpoint of cooking and
eating, it's a blow,'' he said. ``The bone's pretty fundamental to the
flavour of meat.''
- Henderson said he longed for some official
information on the government policy, not just the various and somewhat
contradictory media reports.
- ``I'm sure we can tailor our menu to
the new arrangements,'' he added. ``I just need to know what they are.
Even a letter would be nice.''
- John Nielson at the Quality Chop House
restaurant said the government seemed to be sending mixed messages, saying
one minute that beef was safe but the next minute suggesting it was not.
- ``It's the backtracking that's confused
us and annoyed us,'' he said. But he has already taken T-bone steaks off