22 October 1999

Beef ban meeting

BRUSSELS scientists meet next week to decide whether the French have a case or not in their continuing ban on British beef.

On Monday (Oct 25), the special transmissible spongiform encephalopathy working group will look again at the 600 page report from the French food standards agency, which claims British beef is still unsafe.

If it finds new information, it will refer the matter to a meeting of the full Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) on Thursday.

, which will then decide whether the UKs date-based export scheme should be re-evaluated.

If there is no new evidence, then it will go back to consumer affairs commissioner, David Byrne, who will have to decide whether to initiate legal proceedings against the French.

Delays in getting the matter resolved have caused considerable frustration this side of the Channel. "It is unacceptable that we are having to go over old ground in providing the same information to counter misleading data put forward by the French," said NFU president Ben Gill.

But the French are adamant they have new evidence. Newspaper comments by director of the national institute of agronomic research, Gerard Pascal, last week claimed scientific understanding of the BSE agent had improved since the EU decided to lift the ban last November.

UK experts doubt this, saying the French report is based on false assumptions and a poor knowledge of the date-based scheme. But they are concerned that, if the matter is referred back to the SCC, the whole thing could unravel. Mr Pascal is chairman of the SCC.

* Conservative MEPs took their protest over the French ban to Paris this week, marching down the Champs Elysees with a banner saying "Let them eat cake? Let them eat British beef!" The group of ten were blocked by French riot police from scaling the Arc de Triomphe, but did get in to see ministry of agriculture officials.