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Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 23:54 GMT

UK Politics

French raise stakes in beef war

The government said there was no risk from French meat products

French farmers are to block lorries carrying British goods into France as the row over beef imports hots up.

The farmers plan a two-hour protest on Tuesday afternoon in the port of Calais as a protest against a partial boycott of French goods in the UK.

A spokesman for the FNSEA farmers' union in the Nord Pas-de-Calais region, said: "Today's protest is symbolic but there is great anger and we cannot rule out further protests this week. It is likely they will continue until this boycott in England is stopped.

"It is not possible to say whether we sympathise with the problems faced by British farmers. It is our job to maintain the interests of French farmers and that is what we are doing."

As the French raise the stakes of the beef war, UK Opposition Leader William Hague has urged the government to ban French chicken, pork and beef imports following safety concerns.

Ministers have resisted attempts to get drawn into a "tit for tat" dispute and say they will make public scientific advice which suggests there is no risk to human health from French meat products, despite revelations that human waste is used in its cattle feed.

But Mr Hague rounded on the government, saying it was in the "ludicrous" position of banning beef on the bone in Britain, but refusing to ban French meat following the safety concerns.

Conservative leader William Hague: "Eating food that has been prepared in this way is not a good idea"
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They don't need a scientist, they need a psychiatrist."

'Terrible documentary detail'

He said French chicken, pork and beef should be banned from import into the UK.

Mr Hague said: "(The government) cannot go on with a policy so inconsistent that they ban beef on the bone in this country, but don't ban produce from other countries where there is such a clear problem pointed out in such terrible documentary detail."

The government says it has been told by its advisers there was no immediate risk from the products and would not ban them, ending speculation in Whitehall about an impending ban.

Now it is to make public the details of this advice. The move is part of efforts to win support from consumers and farmers angry at the lack of a boycott.

Meanwhile the French Government still refuses to import British beef because of the risk of "mad cow disease".

School dinners ban

Livestock farmers are stepping up their protests, and about 120 gathered in Dover on Monday night to hand out "Buy British" leaflets to ferry passengers.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan: "Farmers would like a tit-for-tat ban"
Kent County Council has already taken a national lead in banning French meat from school menus, a move some farmers say will not help their cause.

Across the Channel, France's biggest farming union will hold a meeting to consider its response to the boycott of French produce by several British supermarkets.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has already launched a personal boycott of French goods.

But on Monday he announced the government's independent scientific advisers had found there was no justification, on health or hygiene grounds, for blocking the import of French livestock products.

Yet only hours earlier Downing Street had indicated the government could have the power to unilaterally ban French meat.

[ image: Shops are pushing the
Shops are pushing the "Buy British" message
It followed a warning from the chairman of one of the three independent scientific committees advising the government on the issue that there was "undoubtedly" a potential risk to human health.

But Mr Brown said imposing a ban on French meat could not be justified under European Union rules, and would simply be a retaliatory measure against France.

'It is safe to eat'

He was pressed on BBC Two's Newsnight to say whether he believed French meat was safe to eat.

"I have to accept that it is, yes, safe to eat," he said.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, repeated Prime Minister Tony Blair's opposition to creating a "tit for tat" trade dispute with France, but said the UK would demand legal action over the French refusal to accept imports of British beef.

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Internet Links

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UK Ministry of Agriculture

French Ministry of Economy (in French)

Meat And Livestock Commission

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