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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK


Farmers to keep pressure on France

Farmers say protests will spread unless France ends the beef ban

British farmers who blockaded French imports at Plymouth docks on Monday have promised to repeat the protest until France lifts its ban on British beef.

About 600 farmers and their families blocked the city's Millbay docks, preventing at least two French lorry drivers from landing their cargoes.

Afterwards the chairman of the Devon branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), Richard Haddock, warned they would expand the demonstrations.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore:This is retaliation for the French refusal to buy UK beef
He said: "This is a warning shot across the bows tonight. If the French do not give in to European law by Thursday we will be turning to Poole harbour (in Dorset) and Dover to see what comes in there."

The NFU promised mass demonstrations at ports around the UK if France did not lift its ban on British beef at a meeting of European scientists in Brussels on Thursday.

The BBC's Robert Pigott: "The French beef ban has provided a focus for farmers' anger"
The European Union lifted its ban on British beef - imposed during the 1996 BSE crisis - earlier this year and exports resumed on 1 August.

But France's safety agency decided earlier this month that British beef was not safe and suspended imports unilaterally.

Anglo-French impasse

Last week the agency agreed to allow British beef to be transported through France to third countries.

The UK Government remains adamant Paris lifts the ban and last week Agriculture Minister Nick Brown began a personal boycott of French produce in protest.

[ image: British beef is still off the menu in France]
British beef is still off the menu in France
Mr Haddock said 10 lorries were initially booked onto Monday's sailing from Roscoff in Britanny but only two had boarded the ferry.

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.

The two lorries which did make the trip contained only salt water and were due to carry live British shellfish back to France.

Typical of the protesters was Cornish farmer, Alison Talling, who said: "I've never demonstrated against anything in my life, but sometimes you just have to make a stand."

New evidence

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.

The UK acknowledged 1,534 cattle infected with BSE in the first nine months of 1999, compared with 21 "mad cows" officially registered in France.

[ image: The farmers started a fire during the protest]
The farmers started a fire during the protest
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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