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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 02:34 GMT

UK Politics

Beef ban meeting under way

British beef has received a clean bill of health from EU scientists

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown is confronting his French opposite number in the first face-to-face talks between the two men since British beef was declared safe by European Union scientists.

Food Row Fears
At a meeting in Brussels, Mr Brown is challenging Jean Glavany to open French markets to UK imports immediately.

"I hope we can get this resolved and I want to hear what the French have to say," said Mr Brown as he went into the meeting.

"Let's have a discussion and see if we can find a way forward."

[ image: Nick Brown arrives for the talks]
Nick Brown arrives for the talks
Downing Street said Mr Brown would try to be "flexible and helpful", although he did not have it "in his gift" to renegotiate the scheme to get beef exports back into Europe.

"Clearly it is in no-one's interests for there to be a protracted legal situation," said a spokesman.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh: "Another war could be looming"
The talks have been organised by EU food safety commissioner David Byrne, who stands ready to initiate legal proceedings against France if it continues to ban British beef.

According to Mr Byrne, the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has promised to present a "full response" to the EU by Thursday.

The BBC's Christine Stewart: "Legal action could be taken against France if they maintain their stance"
Mr Byrne is hoping that the meeting may help the two parties reach a quick resolution to the dispute, as legal proceedings in the European Court could take years.

Speaking earlier on Monday, he said: "A calm and reasoned approach to resolving this particular difficulty is by far the best way forward."

Concessions unlikely

Mr Brown is determined to rebuff any attempts by France to seek a token gesture from Britain to increase the UK's beef safety measures.

The scientific findings against France were so comprehensive that the government is in no mood to make concessions.

[ image: David Byrne:
David Byrne: "Calm and reasoned approach"
But the French are keen to gain concessions from the UK in order to save face for the country's independent Food Safety Agency which claimed British beef carried safety risks.

The declaration against British beef was the first public pronouncement from the new agency.

The ban against British beef was lifted by the EU on 1 August, but on Monday attempts to restore the reputation of British beef suffered a setback in Germany where several provinces said they would defy the EU and maintain boycotts.

Partial German boycott likely

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports on what Germany thinks of British beef
Up to seven German provinces are threatening to vote for a ban of British beef imports.

Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo has urged Mr Brown to fly to Germany following his meeting in Brussels.

He also repeated calls for the government to lift the ban on beef-on-the-bone, which Mr Brown has said could be lifted by Christmas.

Mr Yeo told BBC Radio 4: "He seems to be the only person in Europe that doesn't realise that if the British government doesn't have full confidence in British beef, it's hardly surprising the French don't either."

But Mr Brown said: "I'll not be taking lessons from the Conservatives on how to win for Britain in Europe. The Tories presided over the BSE crisis, and then waged a petulant 'war on Europe' which only made matters worse.

"Tim Yeo's position is unravelling. While he calls on the French to obey the recommendation of EU scientists and lift the ban on British beef, his leader William Hague is urging the British Government to ignore its scientists and ban French meat imports."

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