29 October 1999
Beef opinion expected within hours

By Philip Clarke

EUROPEAN scientists examining the French ban on British beef are expected announce their opinion within the next few hours.

Human health commissioner David Byrne will hold a briefing in Brussels at 5.00pm (BST) to outline the opinion of the Scientific Steering Committee.

The committee is currently considering a report from the French food standards agency which France says justifies its ongoing ban on British beef.

The commission is then expected to debate the committees findings at its meeting next Wednesday (3 November) to decide on the next course of action.

European farm commissioner Franz Fischler emphasised that any solution would have to be based on scientific evidence.

The BSE crisis had developed because decisions had been taken for commercial reasons. The same mistakes should not happen again, he said.

Earlier today, British MEPs led a concerted attack on Frances continuing ban on British beef in a heated debate in the European parliament, Strasbourg.

Neil Parish, MEP for the south-west said France should immediately lift the ban and conform to EU law.

The UK was observing all the conditions of the Florence agreement, he said, and no cases of BSE had been seen in animals born after 1 August, 1996.

He also pointed out that the cost of lost markets and other controls to British farmers came to over £1 billionn.

Liz Lynne, MEP for the West Midlands, said French had already picked up most of the UKs former beef trade since the ban was imposed.

Yet standards in French beef, recently found to have been fed rations incorporating sewage sludge, were just as suspect.

Scottish Green MEP Ian Hudghton said Scottish herds had little experience of BSE and farmers were asking what the point was of all the pain they had gone through.

Nigel Farage, from the south-east, went further, saying EU membership was proving bad for British interests.

While the UK had stuck to the letter of the law, others had “driven a coach and horses through the rules”.

The French MEPs retaliated, maintaining France could stick to the “precautionary principle” and restrict imports on the basis of independent scientific advice.

MEP Dominique Souchet added that France was right to keep the ban in the absence of traceability tests.