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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
French beef ban 'illegal'
Cows
France says British beef could still pose a health hazard
France's ban on British beef is illegal, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has declared in a preliminary ruling.

The court said France was breaking European Union law in refusing direct imports of beef from the UK.

An EU-wide ban was lifted by the European Commission in 1999 but France kept it in place, arguing that its own scientific advice suggested there were still risks of BSE in British beef exports.

It said the commission had been over-hasty and insisted that its own health and safety findings took precedence over those of EU scientific experts.


As things stand this is purely a moral victory, as all meat exports from Britain are banned because of foot-and-mouth disease

Tim Hirsch
Environment correspondent
Prime Minister Tony Blair has protested directly to the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, but the ban remains in place.

France's refusal to lift it has raised a political storm over the ability of a founding EU member state to flout a binding EU law.

Commission officials said it was one of the most flagrant legal breaches in EU history.

France has never denied that it is in breach of the law, but says that in matters of food health and safety, no member state can be expected to ignore the findings of its own national experts.

Breach

The commission brought an action against France before the Court of Justice in January last year. The court has been considering the written evidence ever since.

A final verdict is not expected until later this year or early next, but this preliminary opinion is designed to guide the judges.

The European Advocate general said in his ruling that France could not legally oppose the ban.

Beef AP
The EU lifted a ban on British beef in 1999
BBC's environment correspondent Tim Hirsch said in most cases his advice is accepted by the full European Court.

"As things stand this is purely a moral victory, as all meat exports from Britain are banned because of foot-and-mouth disease.

"France had been the biggest customer for British beef before BSE, but since the EU ban was lifted in 1999, only very small quantities of beef were sold for export."

The worldwide ban on British beef exports was issued by the commission in March 1996, as fears grew about the possible spread of BSE.

It was lifted three years later after the commission accepted new British health and safety checks on exports.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Experts say french beef now poses the greatest risk"
Stephen Rossides, NFU
"We still await a final judgement"

CJD

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See also:

19 Jun 01 | Europe
French beef ban goes to court
13 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
British beef 'safer than French'
04 Dec 00 | Europe
EU agrees anti-BSE action
09 Dec 99 | Media reports
French minister defends beef ban
08 Dec 99 | Europe
France keeps British beef ban
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