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Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 10:28 GMT
UK and France - the official story

Britain and France have often been described as having a love-hate relationship. And there's no disguising which of the two emotions is stronger at the moment.

As the row continues over beef, BBC News Online outlines the official government positions on boycotts, bans and EU rules.

The French view
The French Government says a consumer trade war should be avoided. But it has continued to refuse to accept imports of British beef, even after EU scientists comprehensively rejected French claims that beef from the UK was still a health risk.

The EU lifted its three-year ban on beef in August but France says it is still concerned about the risk of BSE. An EU report earlier this year reported there could be no "absolute certainty" about the safety of British beef until August 2001, the fifth anniversary of the UK ban of the use of bone-meal in animal feedstuff.

"We are not doing this in order to be aggressive or for a lack of friendship towards our British friends and their government," said French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany. "We are doing this because an independent French scientific agency told us that it could not guarantee that there is no risk from importing British beef.

Food Row Fears
"From the French government's point of view there is no aggression, no protectionism. It is a matter of public health. And we want it to be dealt with at a European level," he said.

Britain has threatened to take the case to the European Court of Justice.

But French consumers, especially farmers, are enraged by threats of a retaliatory British boycott on French products.

The British view

The British Government says there are no health or hygiene grounds for a ban on French beef in Britain or a ban on British beef in France.

To support its claims, it has made public scientific advice that says there is no risk to human health from French meat products, despite revelations that human waste is used in its cattle feed.

"Nobody wants this quarrel to escalate but it all started off with the French refusing to allow us to export our beef," said Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

"There is a very easy way through this and that is for the French to obey the European Union decision and to let us offer our beef for sale in France.

The EU lifted its official ban on British beef in August, and EU scientists have dismissed French claims that British beef is still dangerous.

The government line is that a "tit-for-tat trade war" would damage British interests rather than even the playing field.

"The French have broken the law," the Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "We are going to play by the rules under the law because it is the right thing to do and also because, be very clear, a tit-for-tat trade war with other European countries is not in our interest when we have a 10bn export market in food and drink."

But while the government tries to hold the line, the opposition is whipping up anger amongst MPs and consumers.

Although the government is not supporting a boycott of French food, the Prime Minister's spokesman said it could not stop British people making their own choices and boycotting French goods.

Mr Brown is boycotting French products but maintains that is a personal choice not a statement by the government.

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See also:
29 Oct 99 |  Europe
Stakes high in cross-channel trade war
27 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Waste 'was fed to UK cattle'
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