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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
French food agency backs British beef
Scientists test for BSE
British beef was declared safe by the EU in 1999
France's food safety agency has announced it is in favour of lifting the country's ban on British beef.

The report could pave the way for the French Government to lift the embargo, imposed amid concern over BSE in cows.


The French know they can play this right to the cliff edge and escape without paying a fine

NFU spokeswoman

Farm, health, and trade officials have been given 10 days to present their conclusions to prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

He is expected to announce his decision this month after consulting with industry professionals and consumer groups.

UK Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett called on the French Government to act quickly.

"British beef exports are the safest in the world and this has been confirmed by European experts," she said.

Six-year beef row
1996: European Commission imposes a worldwide ban on British beef exports
1999: Commission declares worldwide markets open again
2000: Germany agrees to take UK imports
2001: European Court of Justice rules French refusal to take British beef illegal
2002: Commission asks European Court to impose daily fines of 100,000 against France

Martin Hirsch, president of the food safety agency AFFSA, said lifting the ban "would not put in danger the level of safety of meat guaranteed in France".

France faces a daily fine of 100,000 for continuing its embargo three years after a European Union ruling that British beef no longer carried the risk of mad cow disease.

But if France resumes imports of British beef it may not have to pay fines for contravening EU law.

The European Commission asked for the fines to be imposed if France did not comply, after the European Court of Justice ruled that continuing the ban on British beef imports was illegal.

The court has not yet ruled on whether the fines should be imposed.


It is outrageous the French authorities have dragged their feet for as long as they have

Lib Dem MEP Nick Clegg
France's agriculture ministry asked AFFSA to draft a risk analysis for both French and British beef, taking into account data from the UK's Food Safety Agency.

The French Government has never gone against an AFSSA opinion since the agency's launch three years ago.

'Dragging feet'

Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg told BBC News the AFSSA announcement removed "any remaining excuses" for the ban.

"It is outrageous the French authorities have dragged their feet for as long as they have.

"They should have had to face fines a lot earlier."


Our farmers have been left in limbo for three years by the arrogant prevarication and shameless protectionism of the French authorities

NFU president Ben Gill

A lifting of the ban would be seen as a victory for British farmers albeit a belated one, said the BBC's Paris Correspondent, James Coomarasamy.

Exports of British beef have shrunk to a fraction of their pre-embargo size.

Strict export rules mean that little of the meat produced in Britain can be sold abroad.

British farmers say the French ban has created a stigma for their beef with many non-EU countries refusing to resume beef trade after the BSE crisis.


I want an unconditional surrender

Neil Parish
Conservative Party

And National Farmers' Union (NFU) president Ben Gill called the announcement a "hollow victory".

"Our farmers have been left in limbo for three years by the arrogant prevarication and shameless protectionism of the French authorities.

"Who knows how much desperately-needed cash our industry has been deprived of?"

Mr Gill is calling on European authorities to ensure procedures are put in place "that prevent such flagrant violations of EU law".

British beef
France has refused to lift its ban

NFU chief livestock adviser Kevin Pearce told BBC News: "It raises a lot of questions about Europe and the single market when one of the major players flagrantly breaks regulations and ignores the recommendations of the European scientific committees."

Britain probably had "a lower incidence of BSE" than France, he added.

"France and other European countries have problems implementing regulation we have been implementing for many years."

Conservative agriculture in Europe spokesman Neil Parish said France should pay compensation

"I want an unconditional surrender," he told the BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

The ban on British beef was introduced in the European Union in March 1996 to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a brain-wasting illness.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Martin Hirsch from the French food standards agency
"On the basis of our report the government can lift the ban"
See also:

17 Jul 02 | Europe
12 Jul 02 | Europe
26 Jun 02 | Europe
20 Jun 02 | Politics
23 May 02 | Europe
20 Mar 02 | Europe
15 Dec 01 | Europe
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