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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 18:40 GMT
France to face fine over British beef ban
David Byrne
David Byrne met the BBC's Tim Sebastian
The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, David Byrne has said that France will be fined if it does not lift its embargo on the importation of British beef.

Speaking in an interview with Tim Sebastian for BBC HARDtalk, Mr Byrne said that France has a total of two months to comply with the European Court of Justice's ruling or face financial penalties.

France believes British beef could pose a possible health hazard
France believes British beef could pose a possible health hazard
"We're not now talking about British beef," he said.

"We're now talking about whether a founding member state of the European Union is going to comply with an order of the European Court of Justice."

Mr Byrne went on to say that he "expects to get an answer" from the French authorities next week and believes that France will ultimately comply with the order of the Court.

Ban

France imposed the ban because of fears about the spread of BSE and refused to lift it when the commission gave British beef a clean bill of health more than two years ago.

At the start of this year, the European Commission were still deciding whether it would fine France if it failed to adhere to its ruling.

Mr Byrne spoke of a number of "frank discussions" with the French minister for agriculture over the illegal ban on British beef.

However, he would not comment on whether France was now playing for time by delaying a response to the Court's ruling.

And he dismissed claims that he was happy to turn a blind eye to the delay while the French authorities plan an election campaign.

Vigilance

Mr Byrne also went on to warn that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that crippled British farmers last year could happen again.


All of the time we have to be vigilant about this particular disease.

David Byrne
"We have existing foot and mouth disease in the borders between Greece and Turkey," he said.

"All of the time we have to be vigilant about this particular disease."

He said that one of the issues he was working on at the moment is whether to introduce "some type of vaccination and in what form," to prevent another outbreak.

He also defended the use of controversial intensive farming methods, claiming they were only partly responsible for the spread of foot and mouth.

"To say that intensive farming is the cause of foot and mouth disease itself and alone would be a simplistic response," he said.

"A simplistic response to a complex issue."

Friends of the Earth has called for a fundamental review of how we farm in Britain.

Difficulties

Mr Byrne also spoke out about the difficulties the commission had in trying to get all of the member states of the European Union to adhere to a new piece of agricultural legislation.


Some countries were reluctant to stop feeding sheep meat and bone meal
In 1994, the European Union banned the feeding of meat and bone meal to all animals including sheep and chickens, to prevent the spread of infection.

However, 12 member states refused to go along with this for fear of antagonising farmers who would bear the cost.

Mr Byrne confirmed that last year some countries were still allowing the use of meat and bone feed for animals.

"Some member states were slow learners on this," he said.

He named Germany, Austria and Spain as the "reluctant countries" but claimed that everyone is now adhering to the policy.

You can hear the HARDtalk interview in full at the following times:

BBC News 24 (times shown in GMT)
4 February 0430, repeated 2230

BBC World (times shown in GMT)
4 February 0430, repeated 1130, 1630, 1930, 0030

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David Byrne
"I expect to get an answer next week."

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See also:

20 Sep 01 | Europe
French beef ban 'illegal'
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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