16 March 2001

Anglo-French relations slump to all-time low

By Philip Clarke Europe editor

BRITISH farmings reputation has slumped to an all-time low in France, after foot-and-mouth disease spread to a farm in the north-west departement of Mayenne.

The outbreak was limited to one site as farmers weekly went to Press on Wednesday (Mar 14). But French farm minister Jean Glavany warned of further likely cases and French exports were banned.

Remi Fourrier, who heads the Meat and Livestock Commission office in Paris, said: "Anglo-French relations are at an all-time low. The general public think that British agriculture is a mess. TV pictures of the pig farm where foot-and-mouth started in England are being shown all the time. When you mention British, they think of dirty, unhygienic conditions.

"We have spent five years telling French buyers that British is best because we have not used meat and bonemeal. Now they see a British farm feeding pigs swill, which has been banned in France since 1994, and they are disgusted."

These views were echoed by an English farmer in Mayenne, who asked not to be named. Anti-British feeling was running high, he said.

"There is enormous anger that so many British lambs exported to France have seemingly disappeared. About 50,000 are believed to have come in during February, yet only 20,000-30,000 have been destroyed."

Questions were also being raised about how serious the British authorities were about disease control, said the farmer. "In France, the fire service, the chamber of agriculture, the gendarmerie have all been involved."

But, while there is almost universal condemnation among the media and general public, some French farmers are still sympathetic to the plight of British farmers.

Dominique Trubert, who runs a pig farm near Gevieze in Brittany, said he was genuinely afraid of the disease and was doing all he could to stop it. But, while the local farmers blamed Britain for sending BSE to the continent, they realised foot-and-mouth was a different problem.

At official level, too, there remains a degree of understanding that the UK has done as much as it could to control the disease.

"There was no change in attitude towards the UK at this weeks meeting of EU vets," said one British official in Brussels. "The only real change was from those countries with land borders with France who wanted stricter controls than the commission was proposing."