24 March 2000

Beef ban is to stay in France

FRANCE says it has no intention of lifting its ban on British beef, despite last weeks decision by Germany to end its embargo.

A government spokesman said the country would continue to abide by the advice of its food safety authority (AFFSA) that the ban should stay, even though it is now the only EU country still defying the EU Commission.

"France is conspicuously out on a limb," said NFU president, Ben Gill. "Germany has accepted the assurances given on British beef. This decision serves to further expose Frances refusal to lift the ban as no more than a stalling device to protect its own trade interests."

Legal action against France is continuing its slow progress through the European Court in Luxembourg. The commission published case details at the beginning of March, triggering a three-month consultation period during which interested parties may submit written observations.

These will be processed by the court, which will then set a date for oral hearings.

At this stage, the commission may decide whether or not to apply for fast tracking. A ruling before the end of the year still seems unlikely, however.

German sales

As for Germany, sales could resume within weeks. But no one expects winning market share will be easy. "British beef was never very popular in Germany," said Ralph Gaida of Food From Britain in Frankfurt.

In 1995, the year before the BSE crisis, it took just 2358t of beef and veal, worth £8m, compared with 106,000t to France and 30,000t to Italy.

Any new shipments will have to be clearly labelled as "British" right through to point of retail, carrying a hexagonal logo with the letters XEL to show that it was produced under a special health scheme. The Germans are also adamant that imports of processed foods from other countries should declare whether they contain "beef of British origin", though it is far from clear how this can be enforced.

But even though sales are expected to be slow, Germanys decision to end its ban – following a 39 to 30 vote in the upper house of government – should strengthen UK efforts to kick-start exports to countries outside the EU, says the Meat and Livestock Commission.

"We are under no illusions that there will be some consumer resistance to overcome," said MLC chairman, Don Curry. "But we have seen consumer confidence restored on the home market. There is no reason to believe we cant do the same abroad."

*France this week reported two more cases of BSE in the west of the country, bringing the total number declared so far this year to 10. Both herds concerned have been destroyed.