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Health chiefs under pressure

Jul 24 2004

By The Journal

 

Pressure is mounting on the Department of Health to overcome its resistance to advice from Defra in favour of returning beef from cattle born after July 1986 to the food chain.

The National Beef Association (NBA) says this is the only way to secure the earliest possible decision in favour of the sale of older cattle on the open market.

It will also offer a much needed chance for farmers with suitably bred barren cows to take advantage of deadweight prices likely to be in excess of 140p per dwkg at the same time as they adapt to the challenges of decoupling.

"No one can afford to allow delays to the return of older beef to drag on until everyone involved looks silly," said NBA chief executive, Robert Forster.

"All sectors of the beef industry, including ourselves, are surprised and disappointed by the Department of Health's (DoH) inability to accept that the continued spending of 360m a year to defend the public from the theoretical risk of one death in more than 60 years is completely disproportionate.

"This means every effort from all parties, including government, industry and their advisors, must be directed at persuading the DoH that its current position is indefensible and it must give up its intensely political attitude and bow to universally consistent, independent public health protection advice, before there is further unnecessary damage to UK credibility."

According to the NBA, the only way the current unfortunate position can be retrieved with the minimum of further damage is if everyone in government is ready to progress the legislation necessary to authorise the return of older beef to the market as soon as possible in October.

It says this means that the required level of brain testing must be agreed immediately, that the independent committee demanded by the DoH to audit the testing procedure for cows entering the food chain will have concluded its work before the end of September, and that the results will have been available for the DoH and others to consider before the return of Parliament.

"If there are delays beyond that the government itself will suffer further credibility damage at both domestic and EU level, the reputation of our independent food safety assessors in the FSA and in SEAC will be further undermined and there will be additional unwelcome economic damage to the beef sector too," said Mr Forster.

"Everyone involved in the beef sector and in government must surely want to retrieve this increasingly embarrassing situation before it attracts more attention and develops unhelpful political energy of its own."