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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 08:28 GMT 09:28 UK
France lifts British beef ban
French market
British beef was declared safe by the EU in 1999
France has announced it is to lift its ban on British beef imports.

The French Government made the announcement on Wednesday, following advice from its food agency that British beef was safe.

The ban was imposed six year ago over fears of mad cow disease and was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice last December.

The UK Government, which had called on Paris to act quickly to remove the ban, said it would welcome an early start of beef shipments to France.

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
June 2002: Commission asks European Court to impose daily fines of 100,000 against France
Sept 2002: French food agency advises lifting the ban and the French government complies
Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "I am very pleased for British farming that this issue is being resolved.

"It has been a completely unwarranted shadow hanging over our beef industry for more than three years.

"I now look forward to the ban being lifted as quickly as possible so that our exporters can work towards recovering markets and providing what has been proved to be some of the safest and best quality beef in the world."

The French food agency certified the safety of British beef on 20 September, prompting a consultation exercise with farm, health, and trade officials.

Losses 'incalculable'

And Wednesday's statement from the French Government said: "Given these facts, the prime minister has decided to lift the embargo."

It has also asked for new labelling measures in restaurants and more stringent rules on animal exports.

France was facing 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.

British beef
Exports will take time to build up
A spokesman for the European Commission said: "We will now be considering the details before deciding whether or not to withdraw the request to the ECJ to fine France."

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said it would be a "disgrace" if France avoided punishment for breaching the European Commission ruling.

He said: "France's decision must mark the end of a sad and sorry episode in the history of the European Union.

"The French have cynically exploited false consumer protection issues in a shameless attempt to protect their own beef producers."


The ban sent out all the wrong messages about British beef

Jon Bullock
Meat and Livestock Commission
A lifting of the ban would be a boost for the morale of British farmers and open up the French market, which was historically worth 300m a year.

But it would be a largely symbolic victory for British farmers because strict export rules mean that little of the meat produced in Britain can be sold abroad.

For example, exported beef has to come from cattle slaughtered at dedicated export plants.

The Meat and Livestock Commission spokesman Jon Bullock said they hoped to resume exports to France as soon as possible.

Mad cow disease has been linked to a deadly human variant, Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease (vCJD), which has so far killed more than 100 people, mostly in Britain but also some in France.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"There really wasn't anything the French government could have done"

CJD

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25 Sep 02 | Business
25 Sep 02 | UK
17 Jul 02 | Europe
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