(33)  A bone to pick with the Government: having your beef and eating it

On 21 April 1998 Sheriff James Paterson at Selkirk rejected the first prosecution under the Beef Bone Regulations 1997, under which it is an offence to use any bone-in-beef in the preparation of food or ingredient for sale direct to the ultimate consumer. The Regulations were introduced as part of the Government’s drive to eradicate health risks posed by the presence of BSE in cattle (so-called mad cow disease). Since the risk of contracting the human equivalent of BSE through eating beef on the bone is minimal, the Regulations have been much derided. A prosecution was brought against James Sutherland, proprietor of the Lodge Hotel at Carfraemill near Lauder, who is now known as the Beef Warrior. He had served 180 local farmers with beef on the bone at a Christmas feast in the hotel on 22 December 1997, five days after the Regulations came into force. But Sheriff Paterson ruled that the Regulations, made under the Food Safety Act 1990, were ultra vires and void. Since the Act’s definition of preparation would mean that every caterer will, by merely chilling a carcass or part of a carcass of beef, be guilty of the offence under the Regulations, and since therefore in one short sentence in a piece of subordinate legislation Parliament has destroyed the present system of meat distribution, the Regulations were manifestly absurd and could not stand. The Crown has indicated that it will appeal against Sheriff Paterson’s decision. An account of the proceedings in Selkirk Sheriff Court by Mr Sutherland’s solicitor, including extracts from the sheriff’s judgment, can be found in D. Kidd, Preparation is everything, (1998) 43(5) JLSS 23-26. Meantime the Court of Justice of the European Communities has held that the 1996 decision of the European Commission to ban the export from Britain of bovine animals, meat and derived products to other Member States in an effort to contain the spread of BSE was valid, not being clearly in excess of the Commission’s discretion, an abuse of its powers, or in breach of the principle of proportionality (Cases C-157 and 180/96, UK v Commission; R v Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food ex parte National Farmers Union, The Times, 6 May 1998).