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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 11:59 GMT
BSE experts quiz French on safety
French cows waiting to be fed
The French have seen a sharp increase in BSE cases
Officials from the Food Standards Agency are meeting their counterparts in France for assurances about what steps are being taken to stop the spread of BSE.

The team of vets and environmental health specialists want assurances that France is implementing food safety measures announced earlier this month.

If there are any doubts, UK ministers could decide to impose a ban on French beef.

The move comes hot on the heels of a European Commission proposal to ban meat-based products from animal feeds, and to exclude all cattle aged over 30 months from the food chain - unless previously tested for BSE.

Wednesday's visit, which is unlikely to include inspections of French abattoirs, follows the revelation that there has been a sharp rise in the number of BSE cases in France.

Safety measures

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has ordered a range of food safety measures to combat the spread of the disease.

These include banning meat and bonemeal from all animal feed and halting the sale of T-bone steaks.

The Food Standards Agency has already asked the French authorities to ensure that illegally-sold beef does not find its way into the UK.

A panel of European Union scientists is also expected to decide on Wednesday whether the bans imposed on French beef by some EU countries are justified.

New cases

The Conservative Party has called on the UK Government to follow the lead of other European countries such as Italy and Spain and ban French beef imports.

The scale of the BSE outbreak in France has been growing since the government introduced a nationwide cattle-screening programme in June.

The French Agriculture Ministry said on Tuesday that four new cases of BSE had been discovered, bringing the total since 1991 to 196.

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

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29 Nov 00 | Europe
EU moves to contain BSE
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