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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK


How the beef row escalated

French say British beef is still unsafe

Tensions between British and French farmers and politicians have simmered to boiling point throughout this month.

The French government is flouting European Commission instructions with its refusal to import British beef.

It says it has evidence that British beef is unsafe. The commission says it has misinterpreted reports.

Back in Britain, frustration at France's continuation of the ban - and revelations that the French themselves may be employing unsafe farming practices - have led to demonstrations and calls for an all-out boycott of French goods.

Key events in the escalating row

[ image: The French are facing allegations that they feed sewage to their cattle]
The French are facing allegations that they feed sewage to their cattle
1 October 1999:France announces that unlike the rest of Europe, it will not lift a ban on British beef. The decision is based on a report by France's Food Safety Agency, which states that British beef is not safe for human consumption. Six days peviously, Britain had exported its first beef to Europe in more than three years.

2 October:Amid protest from British farmers and outrage in the British press, the UK asks the European Commission to take action against France for its stance. Its president, Romano Prodi, gives assurances that legal action will be taken - if scientific advisers find that there is no evidence to support France's continuation of the ban.

4 October: The European Commission finds there is no justification for the French ban.

5 October:France agrees to allow transportation of British beef across its borders, but will not allow it onto shop shelves.

6 October:French agriculture minister Jean Galvany says there is "no reason for France to change its mind" about the ban.

[ image: Joyce Quin spoke informally on behalf of British farmers]
Joyce Quin spoke informally on behalf of British farmers
7 October: At a meeting of European scientists, British farmers threaten mass demonstrations if France does not fall into line with the rest of the community.

8 October: Germany delays importing beef as a result of France's continuation of the ban. German health minister Andrea Fischler says Germany will wait and see what European scientists make of French Food Safety Agency's report.

9 October: Deputy Agriculture Minister Joyce Quin announces that she will travel to the annual food exhibition in Cologne, to speak informally on behalf of British farmers. Her boss Nick Brown cancelled his attendance in protest, and had vowed to personally boycott all French goods.

10 October: Lindsay Hoyle, Labour MP for Chorley, calls for a boycott of all French and German produce. The press is also urging its readers to "forget the Dijon, and buy British".

11 October: Approximately 600 farmers block Plymouth's Millbay docks, preventing at least two lorries from leaving ferries from France and entering the UK.

[ image: Prince Charles voiced support for British beef farmers]
Prince Charles voiced support for British beef farmers
12 October: The French government announces that the ban could continue for months, despite the threat of legal action from the European Union. British farmers, meanwhile, promise that demonstrations at ports will continue until the French relent.

13 October: The European Commission finds that the report of the French Food Safety Agency is based on a misinterpretation of scientific findings, regarding the age of cattle and the threat of BSE infection. Prince Charles publicly supports British beef farmers.

14 October: British beef is back on the menu in Brussels at a gala dinner. France's ban is further scrutinised by an EU committee, which calls for more information into the safety of British beef. It is announced that farming profits in the UK have halved in a year.

15 October: At the EU summit in Finland, Tony Blair takes his French counterpart Lionel Jospin aside to warn him "in the stongest possible terms" that France could face legal action over the ban.

18 October: During the day, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Paul Tyler and shadow Agriculture Minister Colin Breed deliver a prime beef joint to French Ambassador Louis Bernard at the embassy in London. They discuss the ban for 30 minutes. In the evening, 200 farmers try to break down the gates of Poole Ferry Port in Dorset in an attempt to prevent lorries from Cherbourg entering the UK. One lorry remains on the ferry, rather than disembarking.

19 October: Farmers say further demonstrations are planned.

[ image: Farmers promised more demonstrations]
Farmers promised more demonstrations
20 October: The south of England local supermarket chain Budgen's announces that it will take French apples and pears off the shelves of its 116 stores, and stock British alternatives.

Armed French riot police are called in as Tory MEPs protest in the Champs Elysees, with a banner reading: "Let them eat cake - let them eat British beef."

22 October: Somerfield supermarkets follow suit, saying they will stop selling French apples "as soon as possible". Every single shop and pub in the Devon town of Hatherington stops selling French goods in a show of solidarity with the community's farmers.

23 October: An EU report says that sewage has been used by French renderers to make animal feed, sparking fears of a BSE crisis on the other side of the Channel. Tony Blair congratulates agriculture minister Nick Brown - who has been criticised in the press for not taking strong action against France - on his handling of the French ban situation.

The European Commission gives France until 28 October to come up with suggestions for supervising conditions in rendering plants.

[ image: French riot police were called when Tory MEPs protested on the Champs Elysees]
French riot police were called when Tory MEPs protested on the Champs Elysees
24 October: J Sainsbury announces an advertising campaign which will concentrate on the supermarket chain's support for British farmers, although along with Tescos, it refuses to support a boycott. Tesco says it will clearly label produce so that customers can choose where they want their shopping to come from. The store announces a drop in sales of French dressing, fresh French produce and Dijon mustard - and it cancels a £2m order for French mistletoe. Asda takes French brie off its shelves.

Following the sewage in feed allegations against French meat producers, Nick Brown says labelling of food is to be tightened to allow consumers to make informed choices. He is criticised for not banning French beef outright.

25 October: While the British government still resists banning French beef in the wake of the sewage allegations, Liberal Democrat MEP Liz Lynne says she will travel to the European Parliament with prime cuts of Herefordshire beef in a Union Jack bag to protest against the ban.

Scientific advisory committees tell Mr Blair there is no scientific case for banning French meat.

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