16 November 1999
Brown hopes for beef peace

By FWi staff

THE government says it is hopeful of resolving the beef war with France without court action, following meetings in Brussels yesterday (Monday).

Agriculture minister Nick Brown last night said a solution was “very, very close” and that both sides had taken a “major step forward”.

His French counterpart Jean Glavany agreed there was progress and foresaw “no insurmountable obstacles”.

He added that an agreement would have to be “serious and watertight” with public safety paramount

But Britain has not withdrawn its request that the European Commission takes legal action against France if it does not move to lift its illegal ban on British beef by today.

Yesterday Mr Brown kept the pressure up by sending a letter to European food safety commissioner David Byrne formally asking for court proceedings to begin.

Mr Byrne is to recommend to fellow commissioners that France is taken to the European Court of Justice.

Mr Brown vehemently denied reports that Britain made significant concessions to France in discussions on Friday.

Mr Glavany was quoted as saying Britain had agreed to slaughter an entire herd should a single case of BSE be discovered.

And Radio 4s Farming Today programme reported rumours that France is pressing for Britain to adopt a system similar to Northern Irelands export-certified herd scheme.

Even stricter than the British date-based export scheme, which allows only cattle under 30 months to be exported, the export-certified herd scheme permits only the export of animals from herds where there have been no cases of BSE for eight years.

Many doubt whether the scheme could be viable in Britain, questioning whether necessary computer databases going back eight years exist.

The EC would have to send France two formal communications before embarking on legal action at the European Court of Justice. This takes an average of 17 months.

Speaking from South Africa, Prime Minister Tony Blair said persuasion would be preferable to legal action, as it would improve chances of selling British beef to the French.

The EU lifted its three-and-a-half-year BSE ban on British beef in August. France and Germany have continued their boycotts, citing safety fears.

The French food safety agency has concerns about traceability and British figures on BSE.