25 October 1999
EU scientists probe French beef ban

THE scientific basis of Frances refusal to lift the ban on British beef will face the scrutiny of 15 independent scientists in Brussels today (Monday).

They have to decide whether several hundred pages of documentation submitted by France contain any new evidence to justify its defiance of European Union law.

The scientists are members of the European Commissions BSE working group which has an Irish chairman, two French members and two British.

Its findings will go to the Commissions 16-member scientific steering committee which has four British members and a French chairman.

The steering committee is expected to deliver a verdict by Thursday.

UK government officials remain confident that the French will be forced to lift the ban.

They are adamant that the French have produced no new evidence, and point out that both groups of scientists have previously voted to lift the ban.

France says it will not lift the ban even if it loses. French officials say the government cannot be expected to overrule its own independent food safety committee.

Tony Blair has sold the European Commissions president Romano Prodi that he expects legal action to be taken against France if the ban is not lifted.

He has also said Britain will take France to court if the commission fails to uphold EU law.

The restoration of British beef exports to South Africa has been delayed and the ban is not expected to be lifted until the outcome of the French challenge to its safety is known.