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1990: France bans British beef imports

VIDEO : French and UK parliaments debate ruling

The French Government has banned imports of British beef and live cattle because of fears over BSE, or "mad cow" disease.

France is Britain's biggest beef customer, spending some 183m a year. So the news comes as a blow to farmers already suffering financially from a severe drop in beef sales as consumer confidence plummets.

It is bad news for the government, too, as it tries in vain to convince the British public that beef is safe to eat.

Safety guarantees

The French Agriculture Minister, Henri Nallet, said no beef or live cattle would be allowed in from Britain until there were satisfactory guarantees about its safety.

The British Agriculture Minister, John Gummer, said the ban was "unwarranted, unjustified and contrary to European Community law".

In February the French government banned the import of products like offal but said they would wait for a collective EC decision before taking any further action.

Mr Nallet said today's decision was not taken from any new scientific evidence but because of the effect bad publicity about British beef was having on sales of French beef.

"Totally illegal"

The National Farmers Union said it would try to overturn the ban. "France is a major trading partner," said Sir Simon Gourlay, President of the NFU. "It's part of the European Community. It's subject to European Community law and we take the view that this is totally illegal."

Although there are still restrictions on British beef imports to 18 countries, France's ban is unilateral and total, raising suspicions that the move is as much to do with French protectionism as concern with consumer safety.

The fear among many farmers is that no amount of resolute action to control the disease will overcome prejudice against British beef and that other countries will follow suit.

In Context
A few days later, Germany and Italy joined France in banning all British beef.

After fierce negotiation in Brussels the bans were lifted in return for tough health controls on British beef exports.

The BSE crisis reached a peak on 20 March 1996 when the British government acknowledged a link between BSE and CJD, the human form of the degenerative disease first found in British cattle 10 years earlier.

A week later, there was a worldwide ban on all British beef exports. This was lifted in 1999 by all countries except France and Germany, which lifted the ban in 2000.

After the EC threatened to impose huge fines, France finally lifted its ban in October 2002.

In March 2006, the EU finally allowed the UK to export live animals born on or after 1 August 1996, and beef and products from cattle slaughtered after 15 June 2005.


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