The Gummers eat Beef

At the height of the scare for the Mad Cow disease (BSE) in the Great Britain in 1990, the-then Tory agriculture minister John Gummer famously attempted to allay fears about BSE by publicly feeding a burger to his four-year-old daughter, Cordelia. On May 6th, 1990, the press photographed Mr Gummer and his little girl at a boat show in Suffolk eating hamburgers. Although photographs of the event were staged and the burgers–presumably eaten by the duo–were in fact bitten into by a civil servant, Gummer subsequently become the most reviled politician to come out of the entire fiasco.

The first animal to fall ill with the BSE was in 1984 but it was only in November 1986 that the Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged that it was a new strain. In July 1989, the Europeans banned the British beef, but Gummer delayed a ban on beef domestically. These altercations between the Europeans and the Brits reached its height in 1996 when the European Commission announced the worldwide export ban on all British beef and the UK countered it with a policy of non co-operation with EU partners until ban is lifted.

Gummer remained defiant–the inquiry into the BSE crisis later asked him whether he had changed his eating habits during or after the crisis. Gummer replied that if anything he ate more beef because it was cheaper that it used to be.

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5 thoughts on “The Gummers eat Beef

  1. For me this photograph and the idea behind it is symbolic of the John Major era of the Tory Party, although I’m a little surprised to see that it happened during Thatcher’s final months in power. The Tories during the 1980s had a kind of mad grandeur, and although I can understand why a lot of people hated them, they had a certain epic quality. In contrast, the post-Thatcher Tories seemed like a bunch of clowns. They were small, little people, whereas the Thatcher-era Tories were big.

    In the picture John Gummer is a weedy-looking man trying to pull off a weedy, senseless publicity stunt that seemed incredibly wrong-headed and arrogant at the same time. Even if he had been correct – and perhaps he was – this was the wrong way to go about things. It was if he thought the people of Britain were idiots.

    Cordelia grew up to be very fetching although she hasn’t yet tried to launch a career as a TV chef (there’s still time):

    John Gummer actually looks much better now. He turned into a green activist and Baron and expenses swindler and is now probably counting the ratio of red to grey squirrels in his garden and putting the results in a spreadsheet which he is building up in order to prove a theory that only he can understand.

    Inevitably, a family friend of John Gummer ended up dying of CJD:

    Although in general the CJD scare has now become one of those 90s things that people remember but are no longer scared about. Presumably it still kills people, just as avian bird flu and Africanised killer bees still kill people, but it’s no longer notable when they do. And people still eat at McDonalds, although in the years that followed nugget-ised chicken became Britain’s default meat rather than beef.

  2. I wonder how she feels about this now years later and if she would do this to her children

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