HL Deb 22 March 1999 vol 598 cc136-7WA
The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment has been made of the risk of death from eating beef on the bone compared with the risk of choking to death from eating fish on the bone. [HL1361]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue)

There is no scientific proof that BSE can be transmitted to man by eating beef, but this is seen by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee as the most likely explanation, and all our control measures are based on the assumption that it is. In these circumstances, before it will be possible to calculate with any degree of certainty the risk to an individual as a result of eating beef on the bone, we need the answers to a number of key scientific questions: how much infectivity is needed to cause disease in humans; whether repeated exposure to small amounts of infectivity over a period of time can cause disease or whether a single dose is sufficient to result in disease; how susceptible man is to BSE compared with, for example, cattle or mice; whether there are factors such as genetic susceptibility, or the physiology of the human gut, that might affect susceptibility or incubation period in humans compared with other species.

It is clearly not possible to conduct direct experiments to test these factors. As the BSE epidemic wanes, any risk declines along with the number of infected animals, but it is not possible to specify the statistical risk for an individual of dying from nvCJD as a result of eating beef on the bone products or to compare that risk with the risk of choking to death from eating fish on the bone.

In such uncertain circumstances we need to be very cautious about any decision to relax public health protection in this area.

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