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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 06:04 GMT
Assurances sought over French beef
Veal carcass inspected at French meat market
France has already banned beef on the bone
The Food Standards Agency has asked the French authorities to ensure that illegally-sold beef does not find its way into Britain.

A number of European countries have unilaterally announced they are banning all French imports following a rise in the number of BSE cases in France.

The FSA is writing to the French authorities to find out how they are preventing beef banned in their own country from being exported to Britain.

The moves comes after Downing Street said French beef will not be banned in Britain despite concerns expressed by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown: Warned PM of legal loophole
It has emerged that Nick Brown wrote to the prime minister warning him about a legal loophole.

In Britain it is illegal to sell beef destined for the food chain if it comes from cows more than 30 months old.

This applies to foreign as well as British beef.

But Mr Brown warned that beef from older animals reared in France could still be legally imported because it is allowed to be cut and packed in other EU countries.

The Conservatives say that until any uncertainty is cleared up French beef imports should be blocked.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government's decision not to ban French beef was based on independent scientific advice.

'Constant review'

But the decision not to ban French beef will be kept "under constant review", he said.

France has given the UK an assurance that no cattle over 30 months old have been exported from herds where the BSE infection is suspected.

On Tuesday agriculture ministers from across Europe reached an agreement to have a mass screening programme of millions of cows for the disease.

Italy and Spain have already acted to ban French beef because of fears over its safety.

France banned beef on the bone and suspect animal feed because of renewed fears about BSE.

So far this year, French vets have registered at least 100 new cases of BSE, already more than three times the figure for 1999.

Three people are known to have contracted the human form of the virus, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Two of them have subsequently died.

Relatives of the victims are suing the French and British Governments and the European Commission.

In the UK, where the BSE epidemic broke out in 1986, more than 80 people have died from vCJD to date. The death toll is expected to rise.

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See also:

19 Nov 00 | Scotland
Scots call for French beef ban
17 Nov 00 | Europe
Italy bans French beef imports
14 Nov 00 | Europe
France acts on BSE
27 Oct 00 | Europe
More suspect beef sold in France
21 Nov 00 | Europe
EU compromise on BSE tests
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