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Video aims to put beef back on the menu

A video is being made by the Meat and Livestock Commission to persuade schools' catering organisations that British beef is safe for meals.

Almost 80 per cent of local education authorities have taken beef off the menu in schools since Stephen Dorrell, the Health Secretary's announcement of the possible link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Even in shire authorities where the beef industry is a major employer, councillors have had to bow to pressure from parents concerned about the health risk to their children.

The video, British beef: catering with confidence, which was being edited this week, is based on a meeting between local authority officers and members, and officials from the Ministry for Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the Spongiform Encephalitis Advisory Committee (SEAC).

John Hay, a spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Marketing Commission, said that the video would show the ministry and SEAC presentations to the local authority representatives and school catering organisations followed by a question and answer session afterwards. He said: "The video will put the facts forward and then allow people to make up their own minds."

Pat Fellows, the chairman of the Local Authorities Caterers Association, said: "I am sure the video will be useful. It shows that at last the Government is taking correct protective measures and is policing the new procedures. The problem is that the pressure for a beef ban is coming from parents, and I'm not convinced that they will be persuaded.

"LACA's position is that it is probably acceptable to have beef on school menus as long as there is a choice of dishes on offer."

A survey of 500 parents in York, a month after the Health Secretary's announcement, showed that two-thirds of them wanted processed beef removed from school menus. And despite his statement that there was no reason for local authorities to ban beef, the list of councils taking some sort of action increased.

David Whitbread, the education secretary of the Association of County Councils, said: "While the arguments put forward for the safety of beef were convincing, if the Meat and Livestock Commission wants to change policies it will have to persuade parents. Local authorities cannot be seen to ride roughshod over parents' concerns."

But with signs that the prime minister is at last reaching an agreement with European partners over the BSE debacle, the meat industry believes it could be time to change minds and reverse decisions that have lost the industry millions of pounds.

The video shows officials answering technical questions about the transmission of BSE and the associated statistics. It says any beef sent to schools will now be from animals under 30 months old and therefore free from the danger of contamination.

It also assures school meal producers that such dishes as oxtail soup should be safe from the disease.

So far East Sussex has been the only authority to reverse a beef ban (for secondary schools), while others have left it up to individual schools to make the choice. Some authorities, for example Dorset, are taking beef only with guarantees that it originates from BSE-free herds.

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