Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
British beef is back
From Cornwall to Brussels - British beef arrives in Europe
By Jonathan Chapman in Brussels
The doors from the kitchen of the Metropole Hotel in Brussels burst open and, for the first time in three years, the waiters carried plates of beef from mainland Britain.
It was prepared in a typically continental way - it was raw. Britain's junior Agriculture minister Joyce Quin put on a brave face, but she clearly prefers hers well done.
This was the meat industry's way of launching the marketing campaign to recapture the markets lost as a result of BSE or Mad Cow Disease.
Forty-five kilos of prime fillet from the St Merryn slaughterhouse in Cornwall formed the first consignment. Only one slaughterhouse has the right authorisation to export and this was a symbolic start to what they hope will be greater things.
The Meat and Livestock Commission were talking up the possibility of new contracts but their initial strategy is to target the luxury end of the market which might be prepared to pay top prices for top quality meat.
The conditions imposed on the export of British beef add considerably to the cost for the European consumers who have anyway stopped eating as much beef as they did before anyone had ever heard of Mad Cow Disease.
There are still some political obstacles to overcome. Both the French and the German parliaments still have to approve the lifting of the beef ban.
But the Belgian Agriculture Minister Jaak Gabriels felt sufficient sympathy with the British experience that he came along to welcome British beef back.
He is in the forefront of Belgium's own meat crisis where beef, poultry and pork have all been contaminated with cancer-causing dioxins. One official commented that he attended the lunch to show a home audience that these crises do come to an end, eventually.