The long wait for beef on the bone

30 November 1999

The long wait for beef on the bone

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS, retailers, and consumers have long awaited the end of the much-ridiculed ban on beef on the bone, which was imposed two years ago.

Beef on the bone was banned by former agriculture minister Jack Cunningham in December 1997 after advisors said bone marrow might transmit BSE to humans.

Dr Cunningham acknowledged that the risk was small, but banned beef on the bone which accounted for about 5% of beef sales – equivalent to £140 million a year.

The ban was greeted with a mixture of anger and dismay by farmers. It effectively scuppered an end to the global ban on British beef exports until August this year.

Within days of Dr Cunninghams announcement, the media had nicknamed the agriculture minister “Jack Boots”.

A headline in The Sun told readers: “Youve got more chance of being hit by a meteorite than dying from eating a T-bone steak.”

Some people continued to serve and eat beef on the bone illicitly, and T-bone steaks remained widely available to those in the know at restaurants around the country.

Scottish hotelier Jim Sutherland achieved notoriety after he risked six months in jail and a £1000 fine by serving T-bone steak to 170 farmers at a “prohibition dinner”.

But the most high-profile act of defiance came when Prince Charles publicly tucked into a rib of beef during a beef and lamb promotion in Newport, South Wales.

The Prince, who was accompanied on his visit by Welsh Secretary Alun Michael, was filmed by television cameras as he pronounced the beef “absolutely delicious”.

The ban always risked becoming unsustainable. Only last month, more than 1000 shoppers openly dined on T-bone steaks at a retail centre in Cornwall.

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