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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
France faces fine over beef ban
Scientists test for BSE
British beef was declared safe by the EU in 1999
The European Commission is calling for 100,000 a day fines (158,250 euros) against France for refusing to lift its six-year ban on British beef imports.

France has refused to comply with an order from the European Court of Justice to lift the ban.

It claims British beef could still be dangerous due to the risk of BSE.

But every other EU country lifted the ban in 1999, when the organisation's scientific committee - headed by a Frenchman - declared British beef safe.

The EC has urged the Court of Justice in Luxembourg to impose financial penalties on France for failing to comply.

Furious

EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler backed the call saying all member states must apply the community rules.

Asked if he felt the size of the daily fine demanded was tough enough, he said: "We think this strong enough to have the necessary conviction or capacity, so to speak."

Under normal circumstances this could take up to two years but on Wednesday the commission debated whether it could ask the court to speed up the process.

French officials say it will be September at the earliest before its food safety agency finishes its latest risk analysis of British beef.

In statement the commission said France had no option but to implement EU rules and allow the resumption of imports of British beef, correctly marked and labelled to show compliance with stringent British safety standards.

British farmers are furious that France has continued to ban their beef.


The time for dialogue is over

Simon Murphy, MEP

As well as fines, they want more political pressure put on the French authorities for dragging their heels over lifting the ban.

The BBC's Chris Morris says British farmers have suffered losses running into hundreds of millions of pounds because of the ban and they want France to start paying the penalty.

UK farmers estimate the annual beef export losses are about 300m and are seeking compensation in the European Court via the National Farmers' Union.

The amount Brussels is seeking reflects the impact of the French ban - which includes both the direct losses and the knock-on effect on other markets.

Punitive

It had been hoped that a new French attitude would accompany its change of government, elected last month, but there are no signs of this happening.

The EC action comes after a court order made last December demanding that France lift the ban, expired on Friday.

The commission has used such powers before - successfully fining Greece nearly 13,000 a day for failing to comply with waste management laws.

Leader of Britain's Labour MEPs Simon Murphy said: "The time for dialogue is over.

"We must impose punitive fines to show Europe's justice system will back those who keep the law."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris
"British farmers have lost hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of the French ban"
Shadow Environment Secretary David Liddington
"It is a pity that the influence Mr Blair says he has in Europe has born little fruit until now"
See also:

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