Eat more lamb, Britons to be told

Eat more lamb, Britons to be told

August 4, 2001 The Guardian (London)  by James Meikle

A multi-million pound media campaign will be launched to persuade consumers to eat more lamb despite the continuing uncertainty over whether BSE has infected sheep.

The meat industry said yesterday there was no reason to abandon plans for the media blitz next month because the food standards agency was not discouraging people from eating sheep products.

The government is considering whether to pay pounds 2.7m toward the campaign, which would match funds from the meat and livestock commis sion and double funds available to boost lamb sales at home following the ban on exports because of foot and mouth .

The food agency said results from one experiment suggested that results could be "compatible with BSE having been in sheep" in the early 1990s.

But the work was incomplete and there was a risk that sheep brain tissue had been contaminated with BSE-infected cow brains when collecting samples or through the use of contaminated instruments.

It added that sheep affected with scrapie, a BSE-like disease, during the later 1990s had been subsequently tested for BSE and had not shown any evidence of the disease.

Suzi Leather, deputy chairman of the FSA, who said her family still ate lamb, told the BBC: "We are not saying peo ple should stop eating lamb. But we are keeping consumers fully in the picture regarding the risk of BSE and sheep."

Fears over sheep have existed for some time, although it is proving difficult to distinguish between scrapie and BSE, which is probably responsible for the variant CJD in humans.

Tightened safety measures have been considered for months. These include radically changing the cuts of meat sold. Even if BSE was deemed to have been in sheep at the time, possibly through their eating contaminated meat and bonemeal from cattle carcasses in the late 1980s, it would be difficult to establish how widepread it is now, if present at all.

Statisticians would also have to recalculate how many consumers had been exposed to infected food.

The meat and livestock commission said it was planning to continue to use Harry Enfield's "nice but dim" character to promote lamb in the media.

A spokesman said: "We await with interest the final results of the research but until then we propose to say sheepmeat is safe to eat. Because of the export ban, there will be a lot of nice lamb around in September. We hope the British public will respond and perhaps eat a little bit more."

* More sheep are to be culled in the Brecon Beacons after further tests revealed levels of foot-and-mouth antibodies, the Welsh assembly announced last night.

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