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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK

UK Politics

Food experts in the spotlight

The European Commission has about 30 advisory committees

The fate of British beef exports is in the hands of a publicity-shy band of distinguished food and animal health experts known collectively as the Scientific Steering Committee.

Food Row Fears
The 16-member group is one of about 30 advisory committees established by the European Commission to provide it with expert and independent views on everything from veterinary medicines to welfare issues.

The members of all such committees are expected to deliver opinions untainted by politics and national interest.

They meet regularly in Brussels to pore over EC proposals in their field and deliver specialist analysis which often shapes the policies which EU governments later adopt.

Virtually all this work is done quietly, anonymously, and well away from the glare of publicity.

[ image: Scientific Steering Committee member Professor Fritz Kemper]
Scientific Steering Committee member Professor Fritz Kemper
But the doctors and professors appointed from around the EU to the SSC will face intense media attention as they pass judgement on the safety of British beef.

The committee's deliberations are considered so sensitive that its members were warned that they would be expelled if they spoke publicly in advance of the start of their two-day meeting on Thursday.

The task facing the experts is to consider a 600-page dossier submitted by France to back up claims from its Food Safety Agency that it would be "premature" to allow UK beef back on to the French market.

If, as the British government predicts, the committee rules there is no new evidence to back up the ban then the EC is expected to take legal action against France.

The committee has two French members including its chair Professor Dr Gerard Pascal.

However, there are four British members.

The other experts include: two Germans, two Dutchmen, a Swede, an Italian, a Spaniard, an Irishman, a Dane, and a Belgian.

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