HC Deb 06 March 2001 vol 364 cc184-5W
Mr. Yeo

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what advice he has sought on the statistical risks involved in eating(a) French beef products and (b) beef-on-the-bone in the period leading up to the ban on beef-on-the-bone. [146402]

Ms Stuart

[holding answer 22 January 2001]: Responsibility for the provision of advice on food safety matters rests with the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA commissioned Dr. Christl Donnelly to research the risks associated with French beef and her paper was published in Nature on 14 December 2000, as was a letter from the FSA Chairman Sir John Krebs. Dr. Donnelly estimated that the risk from imported French beef from cattle aged no more than 30 months old at slaughter is essentially zero (no cattle within 12 months of developing clinical BSE). If the Over-30-Month-Rule is not fully enforced, the risk rises in proportion to the frequency of the breach. Dr. Donnelly estimated that if compliance with the Rule is 75 per cent., which Sir John Krebs considered to be reasonable on the basis of informal indications to the FSA from local authorities, the risk from French imports would be of the same order of magnitude as the current estimate for Britain's domestic beef.

The FSA estimated that comparable if not greater risks to United Kingdom consumers could arise from imported meat products that contain French beef.

The risk that applied in the period leading up to the UK's ban on beef-on-the-bone was estimated by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) at its 2 December 1997 meeting. At that meeting, SEAC considered the experimental finding in BSE infected cattle that dorsal root ganglia (DRG) became infective in the pre-clinical phase of the disease and that in one experiment bone marrow appeared to be infective. SEAC reviewed a risk assessment which estimated that 24 per cent. of the total infected DRG were attributable to bone-in beef. The remaining DRG related to infectivity arises from the ganglia that cannot be removed from cuts of joints of meat in the normal boning out process. The Committee estimated the risk to people from DRG in food to be "very small", and commented that there was a 95 per cent. chance of no case of nvCJD arising as a result of this exposure and a 5 per cent. chance of one case arising". However, the Committee also noted that given the major uncertainties about many aspects of the transmission of the disease in cattle to humans the actual figure could be anywhere between 0 and 10 nvCJD cases being induced by eating infected DRG.

The risk from UK beef has declined since 1997. In July 1999 the Chief Medical Officer assessed the additional risk of lifting the UK's bone-in beef ban as tiny and unquantifiable in any meaningful way".