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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Tories demand French beef ban

Cross-channel cases of BSE are more widespread than expected
The Conservatives have called for an immediate ban on French beef imports to the UK following evidence that cross-channel cases of BSE are more widespread than previously suspected.

Although small when compared to British figures, 31 cases of BSE were reported in France last year and 14 cases have been reported so far this year.

The new French Food Standards Agency said the planned elimination of BSE, or mad cow disease, from French herds by 2001 was now unlikely to take place.

"In every country where there are cases the problem will be still here in 2010," the watchdog said.

French agriculture minister Jean Glavany suggested on Thursday that cattle feed contaminated by offal meant for pigs and chickens was likely to have caused the cases.

'Cases rising'

But he also blamed a third, mysterious source of infection in addition to the two suspected methods - cattle feed and maternal transmission.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo called on Britain to respond vigorously to news of the cases, amid France's continuing ban - in breach of a European Commission ruling - on British beef.

Mr Yeo said: "At last the truth about BSE is being dragged out of a reluctant French government. "This is not the first, nor will it be the last report to admit that BSE is much more widespread in France, and in contrast to Britain, the number of cases are still rising."

He demanded that Agriculture Minister Nick Brown "stand up" for British farmers and consumers.

"Britain should now ask the European Commission to review France's BSE risk status and impose a precautionary ban on the import of French cattle products until their safety can be guaranteed."

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed called on France to drop its ban on British beef.

"France cannot continue to ban British beef when cases are rising in France and falling in Britain," he said.

"Countries such as France which have been so insistent about banning British beef must now adopt the same tough rules as Britain."

The calls for a ban were dismissed, however, by a Ministry of Agriculture spokeswoman who said the UK could not "act unilaterally" in contravention of EU law.

She said France had not been in touch with Britain about the latest disclosures and that it was in any case a matter for the European Commission anyway.

"We have the Commission taking action against the French (for refusing to lift their domestic ban on British beef)," the spokeswoman said.

She added that "strict controls" were applied to the importation of any beef into the UK regardless of its origins.

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See also:

22 Jan 99 | BSE
Beef on bone 'still a risk'
17 Mar 00 | Europe
Germany lifts UK beef ban
05 Feb 00 | Europe
France accused of BSE failings
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