21 April 1998
Jack told to ‘put the bone back’

By FWi staff

FARMER leaders and politicians have called on the Government to overturn its beef-on-the-bone ban after the Selkirk Sheriff Court in Scotland ruled it “unenforceable”.

Sheriff James Paterson this morning dismissed the first court case brought against anyone for breaching the beef on the bone ban. And he ruled that some of the regulations under which the case was brought were defective.

Jim Sutherland, a hotelier in the Scottish borders, was accused of serving T-bone steak to 170 farmers at a “prohibition dinner” five days after the ban was introduced last December. If found guilty, he could have faced a £1,000 fine and six months jail.

The National Farmers Union called the ruling “a victory for common sense.”

An NFU spokeswoman said: “We believe the regulation should never have been introduced in the first place. Consumers should have been given the right to choose whether they eat beef on the bone or not. They can plainly see whether they are buying beef on the bone and therefore it should be their choice.”

Michael Jack, shadow minister for agriculture, said the judgement throws the regulation into “chaos, uncertainty and confusion”.

“Conservative spokesmen and Environmental Health Officers warned the Government, when the regulations were introduced, that they were unenforceable. Selkirk Sheriff Court has confirmed this,” he said.

Lib-Dem agriculture spokesman Charles Kennedy said the agriculture department chose to ignore his warning back in February that the ban was unenforceable.

“These regulations were introduced as a panic measure by Dr Cunningham. The banning of beef on the bone was not required by the Ministers advisory panel on BSE, SEAC, which said labelling would be sufficient.”

The Scottish National Farmers Union said it always considered the ban disproportionate to the perceived risk involved.

George Lyon, SNFU president, said: “As farmers, we look to the independent scientists for best advice. SEAC advised Government of three options with which it could be happy. Only one of these involved a total ban – but it was the option the Government chose to follow. We believe SEACs first option, of consumer choice allied to appropriate labelling, would have been appropriate.”

Dr Jack Cunningham said: “The regulations are essential for the protection of public health and would remain in force. The Scottish prosecuting authorities are considering their next step.”

He said the Government needed time to study the implications of the ruling before making any further comment.