On 20 March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I came to the House to inform right hon. and hon. Members of the latest advice that we had received from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle and its possible link with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Our statements addressed three issues: first, the possible relationship between BSE and CJD; secondly, the assessment of the safety of British beef; and, thirdly, the steps that we propose to take further to ensure the safety of British beef.
I would summarise what my right hon. Friend and I said as follows. First, the most likely explanation of the 10 tragic cases of CJD was exposure to beef before 1989. Secondly, in order to reinforce the already very tough restrictions on the disposal of offal, certain additional steps should be taken—for example, a requirement that all meat from older cattle should be deboned and a ban on the feeding of mammalian feed to all farm animals. Thirdly, provided the controls were vigorously implemented and enforced, the risk of eating British beef was extremely small: or, to use normal language, British beef was safe.
Last weekend SEAC met again and on Monday it presented further advice to Government. That further advice was reflected in two further statements that my right hon. Friend and I made on 25 March.
The substance of the further advice that we received was that, first, SEAC confirmed its previous opinion regarding the relationship between CJD and BSE. Secondly, it reaffirmed its opinion that, provided the controls were rigorously adhered to, the risks involved in eating beef were very low. Lastly, in its opinion, the risks to children were no greater than the risks to others. In addition, SEAC made some further recommendations regarding the disposal of offal, which we accept.
I should like to stand back from the detail to take a broad view. We must ensure that we have the best available scientific advice, which is why we appointed SEAC, an independent committee of experts unsurpassed in their specialty. I pay tribute to the committee for the unstinting and clear way in which it has performed its duties.
The Government accept that the most likely cause of CJD among the 10 identified cases is exposure to BSE before 1989. We agree entirely with the view that, provided the very tight controls now in place are fully implemented the risks of eating British beef today are extremely small: or, to use ordinary language, British beef is safe.