Sunday, October 24, 1999 Published at 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Food labelling to be tightened
There are growing calls for a ban on French meat
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has announced he is to tighten food labelling rules following the news that some French livestock has been fed on sewage.
His scientific advisors have told him that the health risks are not great enough to justify an immediate boycott.
However, Mr Brown said he would make labels "more explicit", which would enable consumers to practice their own, unofficial boycott.
Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast With Frost, Mr Brown said: "I do think if people check where the product is sourced from they can make informed choices.
The new labelling rules are to be contained in guidelines sent out to trading standards officers.
But shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo accused Mr Brown of trying to "divert attention from the real issue".
"He is too weak to stand up for the British farmer and the British consumer. He is putty in the hands of the Prime Minister's European agenda," said Mr Yeo.
"We have been asking for honesty in labelling for a year now. It is madness that it takes two agricultural scandals to force Tony Blair to give way to Nick Brown on this issue.
He said labelling would not provide protection from a "very real risk" to public health.
At present products can be labelled "produced in the UK" when ingredients come from outside the country.
The new regulations would force producers to declare when meat does not come from Britain, and give this disclosure as much prominence as the claim that the item is "British".
Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed welcomed the new labelling rules.
He said: "The Liberal Democrats have been calling for tougher labelling for a long time now. Any news that this is to be brought forward is welcome and will help British farming in the marketing of British food."
Professor Hugh Pennington, who conducted the inquiry into the E.coli food poisoning outbreak which claimed 21 lives in Lanarkshire three years ago, said feeding animals sewage was a "classic" means of transmitting disease.
Mr Brown said: "I've asked my officials to get in contact with Hugh to see if advice to ministers can be drawn together.
"But the position at the moment is that there is no health risk."
He said a ban on any other grounds would be protectionist and therefore against EU law.
Mr Brown added that there was no new evidence in a vast French dossier on the dangers of British beef, which the EU will consider for a second time at a meeting on Monday.
He said he was confident that a final meeting on 28 October would make it clear to France that it must lift the ban or be taken to court by the European Commission.