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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK

UK Politics

Blair gets tough over beef

Beef: Causing a gulf between Blair and Jospin?

Tony Blair is to express his anger to the French prime minister over his country's refusal to lift the ban on British beef.

France has refused to allow the resumption of imports, saying that British beef is still unsafe, despite an official end to the EU ban in August.

The UK prime minister will use the European summit in Tampere, Finland, which begins on Friday, to tell Lionel Jospin that the ban is "unhelpful to Europe".

A British official said Mr Blair and Mr Jospin would discuss the issue on the sidelines of the summit meeting, rather than formally in the presence of the 15-nation bloc's leaders.

BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg: "Tony Blair must now do battle with France over the beef issue"
But he said the two leaders would not skim over the issue. "They will be spending a lot of time together," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said the prime minister would speak strongly.

"We feel particularly strongly about it, Britain's farmers feel particularly strongly about it, anybody who feels Europe and its laws matter should feel pretty strongly about it," he said.

The spokesman added that Britain welcomed France's first step in allowing the transit of British beef to other countries, but that more had to be done.

[ image: France says British beef is still unsafe]
France says British beef is still unsafe
"He will convey the strength of our feelings," said the spokesman.

A 300-page report put together by France, purporting to contain new evidence on the incidence of BSE in British beef, is being examined by an EU committee to see if it is scientifically justified.

The document was discussed by the Commission's committee of 12 BSE advisers on Thursday.

But the subsequent decision on whether the French ban must end, or whether the whole issue should be reopened, could take several weeks.

Professor Roger Morris from Massey University, New Zealand: "We must identify the cause of the current epidemic"
The UK has consistently said there is no new evidence in the French report.

The Anglo-French talks come after a leading expert on the risk of BSE told the BBC he believed the ban on beef-on-the bone in Britain should be lifted immediately.

Professor Roy Anderson of Oxford University said he could not understand why the Chief Medical Officers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were waiting for updated figures from him before making a decision.

He said: "The number of infected animals getting into the food chain is extremely small, about two, and my own view is that represents an extremely small risk in relation to many other aspects of modern life such as other bacterial infections or car accidents."

He has briefed the chief medical officers on this in the summer and believed as a result they should have lifted the ban.

He said the Chief Medical Officer in England, Professor Liam Donaldson, agreed the ban should be lifted immediately, but his Scottish and Welsh counterparts did not.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has said he would not lift the ban in England until he has agreement from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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