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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK


Farmers blockade French imports

Farmers say protests will spread unless France ends the beef ban

Hundreds of British farmers and their families have been staging a protest at Plymouth docks against France's continued ban on British beef.

About 500 farmers, many of them from the south-west of England, reportedly managed to persuade two French lorry drivers who arrived on a cross-channel ferry not to deliver goods they were carrying.

The protest follows last week's decision by France's food safety agency to allow British beef to be transported through the country's territory.

Farmers are also angry that the French Government has refused to lift the sales ban imposed following the BSE outbreak.

The BBC's Robert Pigott: "The French beef ban has provided a focus for farmers' anger"
David Hill, vice-chairman of the Devon branch of the National Farmers' Union said: "This type of disruption will expand to other ports in the UK unless France ends its ban.

"Farmers are already devastated by greatly reduced incomes. Their one glimmer of hope is that the export markets will reopen.

"France is in a central location for transport of every sort and if the French will not allow beef to travel through their territory then those markets will be denied to us."

[ image: British beef is still off the menu in France]
British beef is still off the menu in France
Devon National Farmers' Union chairman Richard Haddock said 10 lorries were initially booked onto the ferry from Roscoff in Britanny but only two had boarded.

The fact that eight lorries decided not to make the trip was a victory for public pressure on this side of the channel, he said.

One of the lorries that made the trip was expected to run the gauntlet of waiting British farmers while the other driver indicated that he would not be taking to the road later on Monday.

Safety issue

Earlier this month France tightened up its beef ban regulations, arguing that there was still a threat of humans contracting BSE from British beef.

The European Commission could take legal action if France persists with the ban first imposed across the European Union more than three years ago.

EU officials are currently studying a French report, which is claimed to contain new evidence that British beef still poses health problems.

[ image: Long marketing battle ahead for British beef]
Long marketing battle ahead for British beef
But UK officials are also hoping they can persuade Germany that British beef is safe to eat, despite being forced to withdraw a display of the meat from a food fair in Cologne.

Germany has delayed a decision to resume imports but meat industry leaders are targeting the Anuga food fair, the largest of its kind in the world, to help them get UK beef back on sale.

Lamb and pork - both of which are successfully exported to France and Germany - will be on the British Meat stand at the fair, but there will only be pictures of British beef.

British beef could have been displayed, but only under a stringent set of rules, the application of which might have proved a marketing disaster.

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