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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
France ordered to lift beef ban
Scientists test for BSE
The French remain sceptical about British beef
The European Commission has given France 15 days to lift its ban on British beef.

Failure to comply could lead to hefty fines being imposed by the European Court of Justice.

The EU-wide ban was lifted in August 1999 but France kept it in place, saying its own scientists advised that British beef could still be a BSE risk.

The commission said on Wednesday it had sent a "reasoned opinion" to France reiterating a judgment by the European Court of Justice in December last year that the ban was unlawful.

Complex formula

The fines, calculated on a complex formula, would increase the longer France persists with the ban.

Greece is the only other EU country to have been fined by the European Commission.

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

But it was lifted after the commission accepted new British health and safety checks on exports.

British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, welcomed the move.

She said: "France must understand that if it continues to flout EU law it will pay the penalty for doing so.

'Illegal action'

"However, I hope that France will move swiftly to lift its illegal ban."

A spokeswoman for David Byrne, the EC Commissioner for health and consumer protection which includes food safety, said: "There is a new French Government and they might have a different view than the last one."

The Deputy President of the National Farmers' Union, Tim Bennett, said: "We hope this action will leave France in no doubt about the seriousness with which its illegal action is viewed by the entire European Union.

"The very existence of the ban continues to cast a scandalous and unjustified slur on our product throughout Europe.

"France must take heed and meet its legal obligations as soon as possible."

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The BBC's Kim Barnes
"Financial penalties could be imposed on France"

CJD

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23 May 02 | Health
20 Mar 02 | Europe
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