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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 13:31 GMT
UK beef safer than French?
British beef
British beef "safer" than French
British beef may now be safer than beef from France, experts advising the Government have said.

Tourists are being warned to be aware of the health risk in France, where concern is growing over an increasing number of cases of Mad Cow Disease.

Tourists should be made aware that it may well be that British beef is now safer than it is in some other European countries

Professor Harriet Kimbell
There was also a slim chance of BSE-infected French beef finding its way into British butchers' shops and supermarkets.

One member of the Spongiform Encephalopathy advisory committee (SEAC) which advises ministers on BSE and vCJD - the human form of BSE - urged people not to eat French beef at all.

Leave French beef alone

The deputy chairwoman of the Consumers' Association, Professor Harriet Kimbell said she had ordered her sons to leave beef alone on a family trip to the French Alps last year.

She told a SEAC news briefing at the Ministry of Agriculture in London: "I took my sons to Club Med last year.

"I told them what was beef, and what they were to help themselves to. I instructed them not to eat the beef - they were very upset.

"Tourists should be made aware that it may well be that British beef is now safer than it is in some other European countries."

No bar

Unlike Britain, France - which refuses to lift its ban on British beef imports in defiance of an EC ruling - does not bar all cattle over the age or 30 months from human consumption.

Under the 30-month rule, all cows in the UK over this age have to be slaughtered and their carcasses incinerated. Britain also prohibits the import of beef from animals over the age of 30 months.

SEAC acting chairman Professor Peter Smith said it was estimated that in the UK one cow per year under the age of 30 months was killed for human consumption at a time when it was within 12 months of developing BSE.

"We think it's likely that in some other countries the number of animals going into the food chain within that category is larger because they don't have the over 30-month rule," he said.

Food chain

He suggested that cows might end up in the food chain further into the BSE incubation period.

And he acknowledged that despite the ban on meat from animals over 30 months old entering Britain, some might be getting through.

"There may potentially be problems in importing this and one would hope this is something the food standards agency would have on their agenda," he said.

Asked if British beef was still a greater health risk than French beef, Professor Smith said it was possible to make a "cogent case" for saying the opposite was true.

However, unlike Professor Kimbell, he said he did not feel uncomfortable eating French beef.

Trying to tell which foreign beef imports were guaranteed to be safe and which were not was almost impossible, said the SEAC members.

Public concern

The SEAC comments come after a survey on Thursday showed that public concern over the risks of contracting CJD from food had risen by 17% in the past year.

Supermarket chain Iceland's Food You Can Trust study showed 43% of the public were worried about BSE in the food chain and the risks of contracting CJD.

Half of parents were also more concerned about BSE in food, up 19% on last year.

The survey indicated that concern about meat products such as beefburgers far outstripped worries on other types of food.

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See also:

17 Dec 99 | BSE Inquiry
More questions than answers
17 Dec 99 | BSE Inquiry
Britain's bill for mad cow crisis
29 Sep 00 | BSE Inquiry
BSE inquiry: Special report
13 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
BSE controls 'must remain'
16 Aug 00 | Middle East
Kuwait bans French beef
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