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DAVID FROST: And here in the studio is Tim Yeo, now you would like to see French beef banned from these shores at the moment, wouldn't you?
TIM YEO: Yes I would, I think the doubts about the safety of French beef are now so serious that it is the only responsible action which the government can take. Six other European countries are already restricting French beef imports. There's a danger that the result of that is that France will try and flood the remaining markets with risky beef putting British consumers at greater risk and actually of course hurting the price of beef, for the safe British beef here at home.
DAVID FROST: But the, the FSA are, are going over to France to investigate things, Tony Blair says there's nothing to fear right now but I mean you don't think enough's been done, obviously by the government to ban it, but what do you think of the FSA's actions?
TIM YEO: Well I, I welcome the involvement of the FSA but it's very important that they should be acting independently of government, they were set up this year to be an independent source of advice for consumers and for ministers, they mustn't be seen to act just at the whim of ministers and their decision to go to France unfortunately, I think, is the result of a request from ministers rather part of their own scientific assessment. So it's important that their advice should be completely independent and published. But in the meantime I think there are now so many question marks about French beef, we know they've only just last week stopped the feeding practices which were identified here four years ago as a source of spreading BSE infection. We know that beef over 30 months old does enter the food chain in France, it can be illegally sold here as well, the checks are not good enough here. The only way now to protect British consumers is to impose a ban immediately and then give France some time to put its house in order.
DAVID FROST: Yes when you talk of the checks there was a story in the Mail on Sunday today, the spot checks on beef imports announced, took a farcical turn at Dover, it was revealed, there's only one environmental health inspector to do the job and not only is he part time he's on holiday too, so doubly so. What about people however who say that we're to blame in a way, that it could well have all come from here in the first place, from our bonemeal or whatever, should we be feeling guilty about that?
TIM YEO: Well I believe that we must all share some of the responsibility for this, undoubtedly we did export meat and bonemeal from here, but of course the German case that was discovered this week was an indigenous case, it didn't come as a result of anything they'd bought from Britain and I think what's happening now is that other countries are waking up to how serious this problem is and they're going to be forced four years after we were to take the same sort of rather drastic action, it's a great pity no one learnt the lessons of BSE in Britain in these other countries and it's a great pity that the European Commission didn't force the other countries to take the preventive measures which could have stopped all this happening now once they've seen the crisis here at home.
DAVID FROST: And what do your sources say is the situation on BSE in this country, I mean what remains of it?
TIM YEO: Well there are still a large number of cases but the number is declining, but the crucial thing is that the checks that we have here now are sufficient to prevent any infected meat getting on to your plate, we don't allow the sale of beef over 30 months old, we have complete trace-ability of all British beef so you know which animal it was and what it was fed on. Once those same checks are in place in other countries we could have confidence in them, one of the other things that needs to be done is for labelling to come in so that when you buy a piece of beef you know which country it's come from. As of today that is not the case.
DAVID FROST: And right now though it's urgent the government acts to ban all French beef you think?
TIM YEO: That's right, Nick Barnett at the Smithfields show this morning and he should announce this morning, it's a very appropriate place to do it, that there's a ban coming in today on all French beef imports and British consumers will sleep more happily in their beds as a result.
DAVID FROST: Tim Yeo, thank you very much indeed.
PROFESSOR HUGH PENNINGTON
DAVID FROST: Well now joining us from Aberdeen is Professor Hugh Pennington who's played a leading role in food safety in the BSE crisis, the ongoing BSE crisis and Professor, welcome.
HUGH PENNINGTON: Hello.
DAVID FROST: What do you feel about what, what you've just heard, that all French beef should be banned from these shores?
HUGH PENNINGTON: I think at the end of the day it's a matter of trust, are the French doing all the things that, that, that they say they're doing in terms of for example, not exporting the over 30 months cattle to Britain. The people at Dover, even if there was somebody there, they could, they can't tell whether a piece of meat is from an animal that old or not. So it's basically down to making sure that the French are doing what they're saying, that they're not exporting over 30 months cattle to, to Britain and I'm sure that's one of the reasons why the FSA is going over there, just, just, just to get a picture of that. And I think I would rather wait 'til that's happened before doing anything political if you like, in terms of banning French beef. This is actually a European wide issue and they'd be far better, us taking independent action, I think that to do this through, through Europe because you know basically Europe has to get a grip on this, it's got to sort out the meat and bonemeal issue on a Europe wide basis and it's got to sort out what it's going to do with the over 30 month cattle. My own personal view and this is a personal view is that to rely on testing of animals is, is a little bit suspect, the tests for BSE are not all that good, they're rather insensitive and you know what we've done which is extremely expensive, banning these over 30 months cattle going into the food chain, is the safest, it removes this, this human error bit that you get in testing as well as the tests not being very good.
DAVID FROST: Were you surprised by this news from France, Germany, Spain and so on or do you think it could have been prevented?
HUGH PENNINGTON: Not surprised at all, their meat and bonemeal policy which was, it's okay to give it to chickens and pigs because it's not going to go to cattle, we went through the same years ago, we have the same experience, in fact our lessons can be summarised in sort of three descriptive words, bitter and bitter and bitter. Meat and bonemeal, very infectious, it gets about, it contaminates the lorries and the feed mills and so on, not worth taking the risk, get rid of it, economic consequences of that, get rid of it. They haven't done that, they're now paying a price, the only surprise is it didn't happen sooner.
DAVID FROST: And how about safety of eating beef this weekend, I mean in this country steaks have remained safe haven't they?
HUGH PENNINGTON: Steaks are pretty safe but the red meat, if you can see the red meat, that's okay, that's always been okay, the agent is not there in the red meat, it's been looked for extensively. What one has to worry about are the processed meats, the meats where you don't know what's in it, there might be bits of the spinal cord, that kind of thing, the sausages and the pies, those are the things to avoid and if anybody has any doubts at all about eating anything that, that's come from out of, from Britain, those are the things not to eat, the steaks will be okay and that's another thing the FSA has to make sure that in fact these nasty bits of the animal, the brains and the spinal cords and so on are not going into the food chain in France because that's another lesson we learnt, that this is actually not a simple thing, it needs very rigorous policing by, by the people who inspect abattoirs and ours wasn't good enough and one suspects in Europe where they have the same problem until this is taken as seriously as, as, as one possibly can there's an issue there and that's something else the FSA has to sort and pretty, pretty damn quick too.
DAVID FROST: Professor Pennington thank you very much for that cogent summary, we thank you for joining us this morning.
HUGH PENNINGTON: Thank you. END
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