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British Beef Crisis, The

The dictionary description is the meat of ox, bull or cow. Although this is correct, the best beef is never cow, as these are generally milking animals that have come on the meat market because they no longer produce enough milk. They are however the staple of meat-pie manufacturers, cheap butchers and restaurants with more interest in their bank balance than the quality of their food.

Apart from these dairy cows, there are four distinct types of beef.

1. Organically reared animals, reared for beef - grazing in fields approved by The Soil Association and having natural grass or only organic vegetarian feeds as their diet. There have been no incidence of BSE in any animals managed in this way since records began.

2. Grass-reared animals reared for beef, as opposed to milk production - these are usually fed on silage (fermented grass/hay) in the winter months; most (in fact practically all of these animals have been free of BSE throughout the beef crisis.

3. Animals fed on proprietary cereal mixes - so might have had a life indoors. Some herds reared in this way have also been free of BSE, but buying in feed in this way allows the manufacturer the option of adding bone meal and other unnatural substances. Beef reared in this way tends to produce good but paler meat with less character than that from grass-reared animals.

While we all hope the BSE crisis is behind us - if old dairy cows hadn't been on the market as beef, and manufacturers hadn't been allowed to turn herbivores into carnivores - the beef crisis could have been totally averted. Successive governments have also failed to give support to the organic farmer. Further reading: "Poison on a Plate" by Professor Richard Lacey (Metro).

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